Permit issued to protest at gay pride event

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 24, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — The city will issue one permit allowing people to protest the Salisbury Pride event Saturday in the 100 block of East Fisher Street.
“I have had several calls for protest permits, however, due to logistical concerns, I will only be able to issue one,” Salisbury Police Chief Rory Collins said in an email.
The permit will allow a demonstration on the sidewalk near the intersection of Main and Fisher streets on the west side of Main Street, opposite from the event, Collins said.
Mayor Susan Kluttz has given the Salisbury Pride celebration her blessing, proclaiming Saturday as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Day. Similar events across the country encourage people to take pride in their sexual orientation and gender identity.
The first protest request came from Harry McCora III, a Charlotte resident originally from Salisbury.
“However, after discussions with McCora, he elected to refuse the permit after learning of the stipulations within the ordinance,” Collins said.
McCora is affiliated with the Rev. Flip Benham, leader of Operation Save America, an anti-gay organization based in Concord.
Since McCora declined, police offered the permit opportunity to the next group that made a request, Collins said. He said he will release the name of the group when paperwork is complete.
Collins said he is issuing the protest permit to honor the “same Constitutional rights to both sides of this controversial issue.”
He’s only issuing one so police will be able to adequately protect and manage the event, Collins said.
Salisbury-Rowan PFLAG — Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — also has a permit to use the 100 block of East Fisher Street from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. The actual event will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., including entertainment, food and speeches.
“The Police Department has received various comments from individuals within and outside of our community about this matter,” Collins said. “The calls were a mixture of some who were in support of the event as well as some who were not.”
The department will have numerous officers working the event to make it as safe as possible, he said
The city’s permit ordinance does not specify the number of people who can assemble, Collins said. That decision is made by police during the rules-setting stage of the permitting process, he said.
“The plans and merits of each event will dictate the decision that is made,” he said.
Collins said it’s hard to predict how many people will come to the event, a first for Salisbury.
Salisbury Pride has two Facebook event pages, one listing 183 people who plan to attend and another showing 317 people. Some of the people are the same.
The event’s Facebook profile has 604 friends.
Most likely, the protest permit will be called a group demonstration, Collins said.
On his website, Benham encouraged people to “show up” at the event after Salisbury Pride organizers denied a request from Kerygma Church, where he preaches. The church had asked to rent a booth and hand out water and Bibles.
Pride organizers declined the request, saying “the values and mission of this celebration and those of your organization are quite diverging.”
McCora said he prefers the term “witness” over “protest.” Benham told the Post he has never called for a protest of the event.
“So the devil is throwing a party in Salisbury on Saturday, June 25, 2011,” Benham says on his website. “It is imperative that the true Church of Jesus Christ show up.”
Pride organizers also declined a vendor request from Truth Temple in Kannapolis. Benham has been associated with the church in the past.
But other churches will participate in the event.
Senior Pastor Nathan King said Trinity United Church of Christ in Concord will be at Salisbury Pride not to protest but to support the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities “in their struggle for equality.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.