Homer AK Chamber apologizes for gay float snub (photos & video)

After a series of letters, denials and meetings, the Homer Chamber of Commerce apologized to PFLAG in a public letter yesterday, because the emcee for the city's 4th of July parade refused to introduce the LGBT float. Paul Dauphinais, Executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce, apologized for the "omission." (Emcee Tim White has not apologized.)
"It has been brought to the attention of the Homer Chamber of Commerce that part of the narrative provided by Homer PFLAG for its participation in the Fourth of July Parade was not read during the parade. The Chamber regrets this oversight and apologizes for the omission."
The fallout from the gay float snub in Homer just kept getting worse: First, emcee Tim White wouldn't say the names PFLAG and GSA or the words gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender in the introduction of the float. Then the Homer News censored White's name out of PFLAG's first letter to the editor about the parade incident. The Homer Tribune, which printed the full letter and posted it online, pulled down the online version. (PFLAG contacted the Trib and the letter is back up.)

Then PFLAG members met with the Chamber of Commerce director, because the Chamber organizes the annual parade and chooses the emcee. PFLAG asked for an apology for this year's insult and the assurance that next year's emcee will read the group's statement as written.

But director Dauphinais initially blew off PFLAG's concerns, saying that the emcee "has the option to reword material for time, readability, etc." and that this is a normal practice of "adlibbing" which occurs every year.


This is how the incident was described by Band of Thebes, who marched with the gay group:
"Along the route, when the crowd realized who we were, they often loudly increased their cheering. However, the emcee in the judging booth who read every other group's information or prepared statement refused to announce our name, mission, wouldn't say PFLAG, GSA, lesbian, gay, or anything about us other than "Float #10... uh... building community... and diversity."
That's not an ad lib, that's an insult! Joseph Lapp, vice president of Homer PFLAG, responded with this excellent open letter to the Chamber, which he also sent to Bent Alaska:
"I appreciate both your taking the time to meet me in person and the emailed response you sent last week. PFLAG were and remain very concerned about the fact that the emcee chosen by the Homer Chamber of Commerce omitted the words "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered" during our participation in the Homer 4th of July Parade. I would like to take this opportunity to provide you with some background about who we are and what we stand for, respond to a couple of points in your email, and hopefully identify some positive ways to move forward. I have decided to reply publicly in hopes of answering some questions among our constituency that have been raised since the incident, and since the incident occurred in a public venue I think that the discussions that come out of it ought to be public as well, so I will be forwarding this message to our Homer PFLAG list and to other groups and individuals who picked up the story. I hope that you will share it with the board of the chamber as well.

First, I'd like to say that marching in the Fourth of July parade is enormously meaningful for our organization. Last year when we entered the parade it was the first time that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (lgbt) people and their friends and allies publicly marched down a Homer street in the town's history. For many of our participants it was the first time that they publicly identified themselves either as an lgbt person or a straight ally to our community. I think it's safe to say that we were all terrified, and with no small of amount of reason, many of us having been victims of harassment, violence, and discrimination at various points in our lives. So to say that we were thrilled by the overwhelming support we had in terms of numbers (our float fielded more participants than any other in the parade) and from the amazingly supportive on-lookers would be a great understatement. For me, and I'm sure for many of our marchers, it was one of the proudest moments of my life.

Hopefully that gives you some idea why our reaction to what happened at the parade this year is so strong. When your emcee failed to read the words "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered" it felt like a slap in our collective faces. The amount of personal courage it takes to stand up as an lgbt person in Alaska, where it is perfectly legal to fire us from our jobs or kick us out of our apartments solely because of our sexuality, is enormous and to be met with such a bold dismissal from the professional announcer chosen by the Chamber of Commerce was awful.

Second, I'd like to respond to a couple of points from your email. You write that the emcee "has the option to reword material for time, readability, etc." and that this is a normal practice of "adlibbing" which occurs every year. I'm curious because there were a number of much longer and wordier statements announcing other floats in the parade. Our written statement was a bit less than 25 words long. It takes less than 30 seconds to read. So I don't see how time could have been a factor in the emcee's "editing" process. As for readability, I can see that a word like transgendered might be a mouthful, although one would think that an emcee who works as a talk radio host could probably tackle it, [but] a word like gay, consisting of three letters and only one syllable, is extremely pronounceable. Next I would ask why it is the policy of the chamber to allow their emcees to personally and without any accountability edit the contributions of parade participants. I'm curious if you would find it acceptable for one of your emcees to edit out references to military service from the VFW folks, or references to boats from the Homer Wooden Boat Society. Either one would render the statement meaningless, just as what your emcee announced was completely devoid of meaning. You also state explicitly in your email that you did not speak with the emcee regarding what happened. Is it the policy of the Homer Chamber of Commerce to ask no accountability from its employees and volunteers when evidence exists of possible willful discrimination against a whole segment of the population? It's my understanding that people like this represent the organizations they work for; is discrimination a proper representation of the Homer Chamber? If so I think that there are many of your members who would like to be made aware of that fact.

Third, I would like to offer two suggestions for moving forward in a positive way. While I'm outraged by the emcee's actions during the parade I do not believe that the chamber as an organization is one that favors discriminating against people based on their sexuality or gender identity, but the events of the 4th cast some doubt on that. I think it's fair to ask that the chamber both make a public apology for what happened and to publicly clarify the organization's position on this form of discrimination. In addition, I think that it's fair to ask that the chamber make a commitment to more carefully screen emcees in the future to prevent against selecting one that has such an ideological bias as to prevent them from reading references to the race, gender, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or gender identity from the written statements provided by the parade participants.

In closing, the emails I've received from you end with a quote that I rather like, it says "it is curious that physical courage should be so abundant in the world and moral courage so rare." I agree with Mark Twain here, and I can only assume that you do as well, so while it takes a degree of moral courage to take a stand against hate, fear, and discrimination, I hope that you and the Homer Chamber of Commerce have that courage. I would hate for the young people who courageously marched in the parade with us to have their first experience with public support for lgbt people to be insulted.
The letter was shared on Homer PFLAG's Facebook page, and they asked us to call and write to the Homer Chamber of Commerce, which many people did. The Tribune posted Joseph's letter yesterday, the same day as the Chamber's apology.

The Homer News also published the Chamber's apology, along with a response from PFLAG thanking the Chamber for "it's commitment to not engage in any sort of discrimination against people based on their sexuality or gender identity." PFLAG also thanked the people of Homer:
"We would like to thank the Homer community for the support you've shown us, and look forward to continue working with all of our partners and allies to make Homer a community free of hate and discrimination."
Congratulations to Homer PFLAG and the people of Homer for resolving the Chamber's role in this incident with letters and meetings!

The only question now is whether emcee Tim White will take responsibility for his actions and apologize to PFLAG. Mr. White, will you step up to the plate, or will you hide behind the Chamber?

Miriam Elizondo made this very cool video of Homer PFLAG marching in the July 4th Parade. Please watch it:


Anonymous said...

I'm pleased for your results. You did not let it go, it wasn't acceptable and you made the community aware of it.

I surely hope you have the proper coverage next summer and that that DJ either isn't brought in again or if he isn't at least contrite, that he be professional.

In his clumsy omission, he embarrassed himself, not you.

Bethel, AK

Happy... Ms Alaska Leather! said...

BRAVO! I love that PFLAG did not quit until they were heard! I am a very proud supporter of the GLBTQA community, today and always.

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