With Pride Month Comes Reminders of Its Importance

Urban Brother, Stonewall Inn, East Village, New York City, November 2018
Urban Brother, Stonewall Inn, East Village, New York City, November 2018

As I’ve considered how to acknowledge Pride month this year, my thoughts turned to Oren Yarbrough’s series of articles last June. I didn’t really understand the history and the systemic nature of the abuse of the LGBTQ community at the hands of not only citizens, but the government until I read his articles.

I didn’t know much about the Stonewall Inn or understand what happened there. In a series of articles, Oren also discussed the city’s current relationship with the gay community, the relationship between Knoxville’s gay community and the arts, Knoxville’s history with LGBTQ hate crimes, and past and present gathering spots for the LGBTQ community. Near the end of the year I was fortunate to have one of the greatest days of my life with my brother as we visited the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.

The end of this month marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot and protests that ultimately led to the changing of laws in New York City and, slowly, in the remainder of the country. It ushered in the modern era of the gay rights movement. With the passage of marriage equality it seemed we had finally put the worst behind us.

Stonewall Inn, East Village, New York City, November 2018

Not so much. This week marks the third anniversary of the shooting at The Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando which left forty-nine people dead. London seemed to be the setting for this year’s bad news regarding the gay community when two lesbian women were beaten in an apparent homophobic attack.

And then Knoxville had to find its way into the national news via the hate-filled sermon by Grayson Fritts at the All Scripture Baptist Church on Cherry Street in east Knoxville. Identified as both a pastor and a Knox County sheriff’s detective, he advocated governmental execution of gay people as a matter of Biblical directive.

It made Knoxville look bad enough on a national and international stage that Mayor Rogero felt compelled to address the situation. Here is her complete statement:

As Mayor of Knoxville, I am outraged at the statements by Knox County Sheriff’s Detective Grayson Fritts. To clarify, the Detective is not a City of Knoxville employee but an employee of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

However, Fritts’ statements raise concerns locally and nationally about protecting LGBTQ+ rights and equality. Fritts’ statements have cast a negative light on our community making it imperative to share my personal position and the position of the City of Knoxville.

The City of Knoxville has been proactive in implementing LGBTQ+ equality and promoting inclusiveness in policy decisions and employee benefits for many years, including the following:

  • In 2012, we expanded our non-discrimination ordinance for City of Knoxville employees to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Since 2014, the City of Knoxville has offered equal health, dental, vision and life insurance benefits for LGBTQ+ and other City employees who are registered in domestic partnerships.
  • Since 2012, elected officials have participated in the Pride Parade and offered public welcoming remarks at Pridefest.
  • As a member of the national organization Mayors Against LGBTQ+ Discrimination, I joined other mayors across the country in 2015 in signing on to the amicus brief in support of the marriage equality case before the Supreme Court.
  • Both the Mayor and the Police Chief have community LGBTQ+ liaisons who work locally and nationally on issues of equality.

            A comprehensive list of LGBTQ+ equality efforts is on the City website: http://knoxvilletn.gov/government/mayors_office/lgbt_equality_in_knoxville

June is Pride month. I appreciate the work of Knox Pride in organizing the annual parade and Pridefest on Saturday, June 22. This year’s Pridefest will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and the first pride march in the country.

The City takes very seriously the safety of everyone in our community. We also take great pride in serving a city that is both diverse and inclusive. We are excited to welcome the LGBTQ+ community and their supporters for PrideFest. We are planning and mobilizing staff to oversee the safety of all those in attendance.

Our goal is a safe and secure atmosphere to allow the diversity of our city to be celebrated. Elected officials, the Knoxville Police Department, the Knoxville Fire Department, and other City employees will be present to support, protect, and participate in this year’s Pride events.

We are actively engaged in ensuring our LGBTQ+ residents and visitors know that Knoxville is a welcoming and inclusive City.

In an international and national climate in which we continue to see violence against the LGBTQ community, we do not need encouragement of the hatred. In an era in which our city seems to have turned a corner and entered a more progressive era it is discouraging for the world to see an example of hateful bigotry and threats of violence in our midst and likely see it as emblematic of who we are.

Mayor Rogero and city officials in Knoxville’s Gay Pride Parade

For the people who earlier this month were calling for “straight” parades, implying equivalence, these events make clear that the marches that started fifty years ago need to continue and that there is no equivalent source of hate and bigotry directed at the straight community.

So, how do we want the world to see our city? Does Mr. Fritts get the last word? Is that the image of our city that will linger in the minds of people who rarely consider us, but will remember, “Oh yeah, isn’t that the city where that guy . . .” If there was ever a year we needed to show the world who the majority of us really are, this would be it.

Let’s make this year’s Pride Parade the biggest ever. Perhaps we should dedicate it to Mr. Fritts. Meet me there on June 22 as we celebrate our lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer friends and support their right to simply be who they are.