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The ACLU of Iowa sent a letter to the mayor of Essex on Saturday as the group claims the city is prohibiting Shenandoah Pride from participating in its Labor Day Parade.

The ACLU of Iowa said the prohibition is an unconstitutional block of free speech as Shenandoah is six miles from Essex and both cities share resources.

“Failing to (rescind the prohibition and permit Shenandoah Pride to join the parade) will violate the rights of its citizens, potentially expose it to substantial liability and be an injustice to the constitutional rights of every person and every group to participate in its public events,” the letter states.

Mark Stringer, the executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, said city leaders cannot ban participants from a government-sponsored parade because they do not like their viewpoint.

“It is a clear violation of the First Amendment and each person’s right to free speech and free expression in a public space,” Stringer said. “This action also sadly fails to acknowledge the many contributions of LGBTQ community members in our Iowa communities, large and small.”

Cherry Peaks, a drag performer who was going to be in the parade, posted an email that states the city of Essex determined not to allow parade participants geared toward the promotion of, or opposition to, the politically charged topic of gender and/or sexual identification/orientation.

“This parade will not be used for and will not allow sexual identification or sexual orientation agendas for, or against, to be promoted,” a screenshot of the message shows.

According to a Facebook post by Jessa Bears, leader of Shenandoah Pride, the city said the decision was made out of safety concerns.

“If this was truly about safety, why aren’t the threats being addressed appropriately,” Bears wrote. “Why are we protecting the identities of the people or group making a threat violent enough the city considered shutting down the parade altogether? Why weren’t we consulted before this decision was made for us? I think any queer person in southwest Iowa understands the risk they run when they choose to be openly queer in this community.”

The Iowa Standard emailed members of the city council on Saturday, but hasn’t received a response.


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