It appears the LGBTQ+ coalition in Pulaski, TN called the Giles County Inclusivity Coalition (GCIC), does not live up to its name. The group has allegedly pressured County Executive (CE) Graham Stowe to rescind permission for local Christian business owners Jason Guthrie and his wife Tonya to use the gazebo, courthouse grounds, and surrounding lawn during the GCIC’s Pride Parade on June 3. As a result, the Pride event will be allowed to carry on, but Guthrie’s event has been shut down. He believes it is a violation of his First Amendment rights.
The Coalition requested and subsequently received a permit from the city to use streets surrounding the gazebo and courthouse area for their parade but allegedly had not specifically requested permission for the gazebo and courthouse. The gazebo and surrounding area require separate approval from the county, something the Coalition may not have known when it requested its permit from the city.
Notably, since the permit was approved, TN state law has changed with the passing of TN SB0003. The law prohibits perverse sexual adult conduct in public spaces. Guthrie states the Coalition has initiated events in Pulaski with perverse adult content in the past. Notably, another city in conservative Williamson County, TN, tried to eliminate its Pride festival this year for the same reason. However, Mayor Ken Moore of Franklin, TN, cast the deciding vote to allow the Pride festival to continue.
What Does Agri-Park Have To Do With It?
As with most things, this issue did not evolve out of thin air. Many communities have begun to request that Pride groups either make their events family-friendly or find a private venue for their adult-oriented live performances. No one in Pulaski is saying Pride groups should be prohibited from conducting their events. However, new rules pertaining to adult events at the Agri-Park would limit the places where the GCIC would be allowed to hold its events.
The Guthries were one of the local families who backed the change in rules for the use of the local Agri Park to reflect standards that are more protective of minors. In the past, the GCIC, according to Guthrie, sponsored events at the Agri-Park that included drinking and adults “dancing in their underwear.” The Guthries worked with the local Republican party to “caucus for the first time and get a slate of Republicans installed on the county commission” to establish new rules for the park. The new rules were approved by a vote of 6-1 by the Agri-Park governing board—leaving the GCIC without a venue for its adult-oriented events.
Once the GCIC got wind of the fact that the gazebo was reserved, they asked Stowe in a committee meeting about who was behind the reservation. When Stowe refused to reveal the identity, GCIC filed a public records request which showed Guthrie’s wife Tonya had reserved it. Guthrie believes that his fight to keep Agri-Park events family-friendly is behind the Coalition’s efforts to persuade Stowe to change his mind about Guthrie’s use of the gazebo and courthouse area.
Guthrie says that while he did reserve the gazebo to block the Coalition from having access to the area, he had no plans to be contentious or “organize a big counter-protest.” He told UncoverDC that he and his wife would probably have “held prayer time or put some speakers out playing gospel music” as an alternative to the Gay Pride parade, which he says has historically been inappropriate for children. Guthrie also said that the Coalition’s goal is to “reduce stigma and stereotypes around gay, queer, and trans people, their failure has been remarkable.”
Guthrie believes Stowe is using the “personal safety” excuse to justify his decision to retract permission to use the gazebo and courthouse area. Guthrie sees it as a clear violation of his First Amendment rights, mainly because the Coalition retains its permit for its June 3 event.
Guthrie says there is no evidence that he or the Coalition will threaten the personal safety of any citizen. Unfortunately, according to Guthrie, the “local newspaper threw gasoline on the fire by running a front-page story about the ‘opposing groups’, the ‘Conflicting Downtown Events,’ and doxed his wife by printing her full name on the front page of the paper. Even though the paper was corrected by numerous angry letters, they refused to issue a correction.”
Guthrie added about the inflammatory article, “This article is an example of poor journalism that either mischaracterized my wife and me intentionally or it fueled unwarranted opposition and created concerns for our safety.” Guthrie is currently considering legal action against the county to restore his right to use the gazebo on the same day as the June 3 Pride event.