Parks update: Park Board denies free speech zones at Pride Fest

Park Board denies free speech zones at Pride Fest

A Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board committee on April 20 denied Twin Cities GLBT Pride an exclusive permit that would allow organizers of the annual Loring Park festival to station opposition in a “free speech zone.”

Several anti-gay activists attended last year’s festival, holding offensive signs, preaching against homosexuality and handing out offensive literature, said Twin Cities Pride Executive Director Dot Belstler.

Pride organizers last year tried unsuccessfully to get the Park Board to prohibit one protester from attending the festival. Pride has a pending lawsuit against the Park Board, which is not expected to be resolved before the June 25–26 event.

Belstler said she was willing to work with the Park Board as to where to place the free speech zone. She said organizers would guide protesters to that area, but in the event they would not be moved, organizers would ask for Park Police assistance. Pride pays a fee for police presence at the event.

The Park Board’s Administrative and Finance Committee voted unanimously against giving Pride the exclusive permit.

Park Board lawyers wrote in a staff memo that Loring Park is a public forum, and the government in a public forum “is strictly limited in its ability to regulate private speech.”

“Yes, we would like to restrict them,” Commissioner Bob Fine said of the anti-gay protesters. “The question is, How do we start restricting? I think that’s what is really difficult. We are all offended by some of the statements that are being made.”

Belstler said she does not doubt the sincerity of Park Board commissioners saying they don’t like the anti-gay messages, but said they’re trusting Park Board lawyers who are giving them bad opinions. She said the Denver Pride Festival has free speech zones.

“Your refusal to compromise is costing the Minneapolis taxpayers an unconscionable amount of money in lawyer fees and court costs,” Belstler said. “When we prevail it will cost the Park Board even more.”

In an April 4 court order, U.S. District Judge John Tunheim wrote of a potential compromise: “In theory, Twin Cities Pride could designate ‘free speech zones’ on the Pride Festival grounds in which anyone who wishes to distribute literature or display signage may do so.”

Belstler said that recommendation should have given the Park Board reason to grant the free speech zones.

“Do you seriously think Federal Judge John Tunheim would suggest a compromise … if he did not think it was constitutional?” she said.

Pride organizers still have the right to deny anyone a booth at Loring Park. Loring Park has been home to Pride Fest for 33 years.

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Rename Lake Calhoun?

He’s only one man, but when John Winters told the Park Board it’s time to rename Lake Calhoun, he drew the applause of dozens of attendees of the April 20 meeting.

Lake Calhoun is named after John. C. Calhoun, a former U.S. Senator from South Carolina, Secretary of War and Vice President. Calhoun was also one of the leading pro-slavery voices in the 1800s and historians credit him for helping guide the South toward secession in 1861, though he died 10 years before the Civil War.

“Calhoun was a racist and a liar, and I think it’s a disgrace that the largest lake in Minneapolis is named after him,” Winters said.

Lt. Col. Henry Leavenworth, who came upon the chain of lakes in 1823, named the lake after Calhoun because Calhoun was Leavenworth’s superior officer at the time. A Dakota Sioux tribe had a village on the Southeast shore of the lake, and the tribe called the body of water Mde Medoza, or, “Lake of the Loons.”

Winters said now is the perfect time to change the name of the lake to Lake Humprey. Recently, the airport changed the name of the Humprey Terminal to Terminal 2 and the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome has been tweaked to include Mall of America Field.

Humphrey was also a leading voice for civil rights in the 1960s.

Park Board President John Erwin said this was not the first request to drop the Calhoun name, and he referred Winters to Park Board staff to discuss the idea further.

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.