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Holiday Caravan excludes PFLAG because group doesn’t reflect ‘values’ of parade

SALISBURY — For nearly 60 years, volunteers have worked to make the Holiday Caravan Parade a joyful experience for the community.

But one part of the community did not feel welcome during the parade last week — the Salisbury Rowan Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, group.

Donna Odrosky, president of the PFLAG chapter, said Monday that when she and several members of the group tried to ride on a float in Wednesday’s parade, they were told they could not.

“We didn’t have no rainbow flag, no gay agenda,” Odrosky said. “We weren’t walking. No one was passing out anything. That’s where we didn’t understand why.”

Wesley Perry, one of the main organizers of the parade, responded to the Post’s requests for comment by saying via email that the Holiday Caravan board is “made up of individuals from the community much the same way as Salisbury PFLAG and Charlotte Pride groups.”

“We also have the same ‘rights’ to decline participation at our events from any group or organization which does not reflect the mission, vision and values of our organization,” Perry said in his email.

Odrosky said that a representative of Avita Pharmacy, Veleria Levy, invited PFLAG to join the Avita Holiday Caravan float about a month before the parade.

Odrosky said Avita specializes in treating chronic conditions like HIV/AIDS, meaning that PFLAG and Avita try to reach similar audiences.

“Veleria just called us and said, ‘We don’t have many people to ride on the float,’ and, ‘Please come,’” Odrosky said. “We didn’t think it would be a big deal.”

But Odrosky said that when she and five other members of PFLAG arrived at the parade Wednesday afternoon wearing multicolored beads and PFLAG shirts, a Holiday Caravan volunteer approached them.

“(Someone from) the Holiday Caravan committee came up and said, ‘You cannot wear those shirts on the float. This is Avita Pharmacy,’” Odrosky said. “(And I said,) ‘We were invited because we help the people that she helps in her pharmacy.’”

The volunteer went on to say that PFLAG was not listed on Avita’s original application.

“(He said,) ‘Your shirt design and your rainbow colors were not listed on her description,’” Odrosky said. “So we were, like, ‘OK, when Veleria gets here, we’ll come talk to you.’ We were very cooperative, not antagonizing, mean or loud.”

When Levy came and the volunteer told her what he’d told the PFLAG group, the group asked the volunteer if everyone in the parade had been asked exactly what they’d be wearing.

“Did they ask about their hats or any of the things they’ll personally be wearing? (We said,) ‘Show us an application that does that.’ (They said,) ‘We can’t do that,’” Odrosky said.

Odrosky said the volunteer then called the Spencer Police Department to send an officer because Levy and the PFLAG group were “disturbing the peace.”

Spencer Police Chief Mike James confirmed that a call was made about 1:45 p.m. Wednesday — just before the 2 p.m. parade was set to start — and that an officer was requested for a “disturbance of peace.”

“No disturbance was going on. There were two ladies on the float and, according to the officer there, he said they were very nice and they said, ‘We agree we’re not going to be in the parade,’” James said.

Because the Avita Pharmacy team was not allowed to ride on the float with PFLAG, it decided not to ride on the float at all.

Levy was unable to get a refund on the float because the entry fee is nonrefundable.

Avita Pharmacy released a statement about the incident Friday.

“On Nov. 22, Holiday Caravan decided that we were no longer welcome in the 2017 Holiday Caravan Parade in Spencer and Salisbury, N.C., because of our company’s rainbow items and decorations that showcase our deeply held values of diversity and inclusion,” the statement read.

It went on to say that the pharmacy will not participate in the parade again “until the organizers can guarantee a safe and respectful environment for all who wish to attend.”

Matt Hirschy, interim executive director of Equality NC, said, “It’s a shame that this kind of bigotry has reared its ugly head in a wonderful annual celebration that so many in Salisbury really value.”

Perry said in his emailed statement that the reason Avita Pharmacy was removed from the parade was because it violated a parade policy that says, “All units must remain faithful to their description as submitted to the parade board for approval.”

Perry attached Avita’s parade application, which said the float would be blue, gold and white and would have “people from the pharmacy, clients, customers and family on the float.”

In the same email, Perry attached a screenshot of an email exchange between Levy and fellow parade organizer Lindsey Sharp.

In the email exchange, dated Nov. 21, Sharp tells Levy that Avita is welcome to have “whomever you would like to ride on your float” as long as there were no advertisements for anything other than Avita Pharmacy.

Mike Clawson, former president of Salisbury Rowan PFLAG, said PFLAG and Salisbury PRIDE submitted joint applications to have a float in the parade in 2014 and 2015. Both were not approved and were returned.

Clawson said he sent emails and made calls to find out why the applications were rejected but was unable to get an answer.

“We weren’t trying to make a big statement,” Clawson said. “Our kids just wanted to ride on a float.”

Odrosky said that once word spread on social media and by word of mouth about the situation, Salisbury Rowan PFLAG began receiving dozens of messages of support from around the state.

In addition to getting those calls, Odrosky said 50 Salisbury Rowan PFLAG members have been invited to walk in the Winston-Salem Jaycees Holiday Parade on Saturday.

“So I’m calling everyone I know,” she said.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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