Council Splits on Support for Midshore Pride Event

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The Chestertown Council in session in 2018. (L-R ) Ward 4 representative Marty Stetson; Ward 3 representative Elsworth Tolliver; Chris Cerino, mayor; Bill Ingersoll, town manager; Ward 2 representative Linda Kuiper, Ward 1 representative David Foster     Photo by Peter Heck

A group seeking permits for a Midshore Pride celebration in Fountain Park ran into unusual opposition at the Chestertown Council meeting, Feb. 19. Councilmen Ellsworth Tolliver and Marty Stetson spoke against the celebration and voted against granting the permits. The motion passed by a 3-2 vote.

Jim Bogden gave the council a list of the scheduled events, which include an afternoon of music and speakers in the park Saturday afternoon, May 4. The celebration, sponsored by Midshore Maryland chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), is scheduled for May 3-5 and includes events in Easton, Cambridge and at Washington College as well as in Fountain Park.

Jim Bogden tells the Chestertown Council about plans for the MidShore Pride event

Bogden said the event is the first lesbian and gay pride event to be held on the Eastern Shore. “Hopefully, it will become an annual tradition,” he said. He said he wanted to begin by talking about the purpose of the event.

“That was my first question,” Stetson said. “I’m heterosex, but I don’t feel any need to have a festival to celebrate my sexual orientation. I believe people were born that way.”

“Because every day is a festival for the straight people,” said Bogden. “The Pride celebration is for the LGBTQ community to assemble and celebrate the freedom to be ourselves. Pride gatherings are more than just bright colors and good times. They are rooted in the histories of sexual minority groups who have struggled for decades to overcome prejudice and to be accepted for who we are. We cannot underestimate how wonderful it can be to be surrounded by like-minded people for a change. And that is the essence of it.”

Bogden said the celebration is not exclusive. “Everyone can come and participate.” He said the organizers were working with the Social Action Committee to make sure the event was inclusive of African Americans and other communities. He said that PFLAG had been active in Kent County for a number of years, and mentioned that Linda Dutton had been the original organizer. He said the Pride celebration was meant to be youth-focused and family-friendly. “We don’t anticipate anything that will embarrass the town,” he added.

The weekend begins with a Friday night comedy show in Easton and a dance sponsored by the Downtown Chestertown Association. Saturday morning, there is a multicultural festival in Easton, followed by the Fountain Park gathering beginning around 1 p.m., after the Farmers Market closes. Saturday evening there will be a drag show at Washington College, featuring Marti Cummings, a Kennedyville native who has become a Broadway actor in New York. Sunday afternoon, there will be a repeat of the drag show in Cambridge.

The Fountain Park event will feature Cummings as master of ceremonies, with a lineup of speakers. Bodgen invited Cerino to offer opening remarks. The organizers have also invited a speaker from the Gay and Lesbian Educational Network, one from Free State Justice, and Amy Adams, the regional director for PFLAG. Other speakers have been invited but are not confirmed. The Pam Ortiz band has been invited to play, along with several youth groups. The Garfield Center has also been invited to present a scene from Where the Wild Things Are, which will be in production at the time of the celebration.

Bogden then opened the floor for questions. Tolliver asked how the organizers are prepared for any kind of protest or dissent. Bogden said the permit from the town would include police protection.

Stetson said he didn’t recall the council being asked to approve a permit. Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the group had been in touch with him about the celebration but hadn’t at that time provided all the details the town needed. He said the group had filed a request for permits in September. He said the group had requested the town stage and a tent to cover it. He said he had asked the group to come to the council to spell out its needs before a formal vote. “We’re in the process of trying to get you a permit,” he said.

Bogden said the group’s request included a police presence. He said Chief Baker told him that additional security would be at the group’s expense, but he said he didn’t think it would be necessary, considering that it is a family-focused event.

Tolliver said, “I’m struggling with the ‘family-focused event’ part of it. How do I explain to my 13-year-old son about a group of men or women hugging and kissing and some of the things I’ve seen in Pride festivals that happened out in the public arena? How do I explain to my child that this is OK?”

“A lot of people believe it is OK, that it’s normal – a normal variation of humanity,” said Bogden. He noted that there have been same-sex relationships in every culture and every period of history.

Stetson asked why the event needs to be public. “I don’t know what you’re doing. Are you exhibitionists? Do you want to show off?” He said that everyone has a gay relative and that there’s nothing wrong with it. “But I don’t understand why you have to celebrate it in such a manner. Why not go down to Wilmer Park and have a party?

Caren Samuels compared the celebration to Legacy Day, which recognizes the African American community’s contributions to society.

Tolliver said, “That’s always the argument, that the LGBT community is somehow tied to the African American struggle, and I have a problem with that.”

Larry Samuels, Caren’s brother, said, “Of course it’s different, but the celebration of people’s humanity in a public way – who could be against that?” Bogden said that Coretta Scott King has spoken out in recognition of the struggle of gay people.

Councilman David Foster said he sees the event as “a celebration of the fact that we are a diverse society; we are a welcoming society.” He noted that people sometimes go to churches other than their own and that they are welcomed. He said he’s been welcomed in other countries, and that he was welcomed to Chestertown when he moved here from India. “I would hope my home town can also be welcoming to other people. It does not mean espousing.”

Bogden said that many gay people grew up “with a deep sense of shame of who we are,” and that it has affected their personalities and careers in negative ways. He said that cultural shifts in recent years have reduced the amount of shame, but young people still feel it and are damaged by it. He said the Pride celebration is an attempt to “bury that shame, to eliminate it.”

Tolliver said that the other events during the weekend are at indoor venues where there is a degree of privacy. He asked whether government permits were needed for those events. Being told that no permits were needed, he pointed out that PFLAG was requesting government permission for the celebration. “That to me is the problem,” he concluded.

Larry Samuels said that New York City, Boston and other major communities around the nation have had Gay Pride parades for many years without problems. “It’s just a celebration of our diversity,” he said.

Mayor Chris Cerino said that he supports the celebration and that he was aware it might be “a little controversial.” He said the reason there hasn’t been a previous pride event on the Shore was that “this is a pretty conservative part of the world.” However, he said, there is a very prestigious LGBTQ community in Chestertown – “These are some of our very finest citizens, and I would feel kind of remiss not to support this.”

Foster said, “At a time when our nation is so horribly divided, I think we do need to make the extra effort to welcome people, shake hands with people who think and act differently from us. It’s not that painful. It’s not that hard to do.”

Kay MacIntosh, manager of the town’s Arts and Entertainment District and the Main Street program, said, “We are trying to build a diverse, vibrant artistic community, and I really support this. I think it would be a black eye on our community if we didn’t.”

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper said the Farmer’s Market closing time might need to be adjusted, which would require the market managers’ cooperation. She said that when she took her oath of office upon election to the council, she had promised: “to serve without partiality or prejudice.” She said she couldn’t put her personal beliefs into the decision, and that she didn’t have a problem with the event other than concerns about safety for attendees or the general public.

Cerino said he was sure Police Chief Baker would be able to handle any security issues. He said he didn’t expect violent protests; people with strong objections would probably avoid the event. He added that he favors the event, and wants to support community members. “There are more of them than a lot of people know about,” he said and added that he would support it even if some people turned their backs on him because of it. He asked for a motion from the council, adding that he would vote in favor of the event.

Ingersoll said the organizers had provided most of the information necessary to issue the permits. He said a request to hang banners in the downtown area ran into a problem with trucks running into them. He suggested hanging one over High Street where the rail trail crosses the road. He said the rest of the requests were pretty routine – “We’ll work out the details once the council says yes or no.”

Foster moved to express the council’s support for the celebration and to issue the necessary permits assuming details were worked out. Kuiper seconded the motion, and Cerino joined them in the final vote to approve the event.

Following the meeting, Stetson emailed the other council members, copying the Spy, saying in part, “I am not sure I made myself clear on the opposition to the use of the park by the Midshore Pride people. I think they are making a mistake by showcasing themselves, saying look at me I am different. They should just continue to become a part of society and if asked or feel it necessary to let people know they are gay, do so on a personal basis. To equate their difference as that of being the same as the black people is wrong.  They have never been refused service at a lunch counter or not admitted to a school of their choice because they are gay.”

The motion to approve the permit passed with Cerino, Kuiper, and Foster voting in favor and Stetson and Tolliver voting against.

The council then went on to discuss other matters, including a police report and the possible acquisition of a new portable town stage, which will be covered in a second Chestertown Spy report.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Maybe the LGBT community is wanting to help destigmatize their gender and sexual roles as human beings sharing life on this planet?:”In recent years LGBT violence has been on the rise in the United States. In 2016, the killing of LGBT people hit a record high. The biggest act of violence occurred in Orlando when Omar Manteen attacked the Pulse nightclub in the city killing 49 and wounding 53 others.” (FBI data) Just a thought.

    • Carol Schroeder says

      Agree completely, Jim. The LGBTQ community may not have been refused service in a restaurant or admission to a school (so long has they had white skin) but they have been killed just as African Americans have been for hundreds of years. I imagine Matthew Shepard’s family wish that he HAD been just refused service at a lunch counter. Being killed is the ultimate sign of prejudice and hatred and referring to lunch counters and schools is way out of date. Our society has escalated to violence and murder. Stetson and Tolliver need to visit the Stonewall memorial park in Sheridan Square in NYC.

  2. Phil Ticknor says

    Mr. Stetson’s follow-up seemed to make the claim that gay people do not suffer from discriminatory acts … yet he also makes it clear that his no vote stemmed not from any specific aspect of this event but because he opposes the very notion of gay pride. So, a government official voting against an event simply because of what it is celebrating – not because of safety concerns or anything else. Do you not see the irony, Mr. Stetson?

  3. Denise Tontarski says

    I can’t say how sad and disappointed I am in Mr. Stetson and Mr. Tolliver and their decision to vote against the Midshore Pride Event. I didn’t realize in this day and age how “Narrowminded” public officials in Chestertown/Kent county could be. In these times, we all need to stand in solidarity and love. I could say a lot more but will decline to share how hateful this feels. Thank you to those who voted “Yes” and thank you to the organizers of this valued event.

  4. Holli Mathison says

    Thank you to Jim Bogden, and Caren and Larrry Samuels for your considered and eloquent explanation of the planned Celebration.
    To Mr. Stetson and Mr. Tolliver, expressing the views you did in the meeting is disturbing on many levels. I feel quite strongly that you should both consider attending workshops which can enlighten you about LGBTQ. You were voted into offices to represent the people in your districts, all of whom live in 2019. It is time for you to educate yourselves and join us in the current century.

  5. The very best response to Mssrs. Stetson and Tolliver is for all of us in Chestertown to turn out in force on May 4 to celebrate in a public fashion community diversity in Chestertown. I hope they can join us. They might learn a few things.

    • Adam Goodheart says

      What an absolute disgrace. Stetson and Tolliver are pure bigots, embarrassments to our community whose ignorant and insulting views are throwbacks to another era. They both should be put out to pasture where they belong. If they had prevailed in the vote — denying the permit based simply and quite openly on their own aversion to a certain group of people — Chestertown could’ve been dragged into a major First Amendment lawsuit, quite justifiably .

      • Adam, it is not whether they prevailed or not, they should be removed from office in our next election. We are a community of people, all people regardless of one’s sexual identify or ethnicity, we are all one. Sometimes we elected people that we “think” has our best interest at heart or we vote for them because “we” think we know them, we actually don’t. Celebrations of humanity is a cause that any town should be proud of, we all know, the eastern shore still has a undercurrent of intolerance and hate. We as one people must make sure that those that can’t accept people as humane, loving and fair, must find another way of serving, not here in the public square, not in politics. Andy Harris, too is someone who must be removed from office, not because he is a Republican but because he has no empathy for those he represents. I will see you on the 4th, be well and stay strong.

    • Adam Goodheart says

      Ultimately, I don’t care if Stetson and Tolliver are bigots— as long as they do it in the privacy of their own homes.

    • Nancy Balliet says

      Discrimination and intolerance are rooted in fear. I imagine that Mr. Tolliver’s 13 year old son has much to teach his dad about acceptance.
      Please be brave, sirs; not a person seeks to take what you own, what you prize or what you covet.
      Sad that you’ve made a kind, inclusive and happy celebration about yourselves and your personal fears. Chestertown deserves better.

  6. jacqui caine says

    What antique attitudes abound amongst the fine elected representatives of Chestertown. Regress much? #wakeup #its2019dumbass

  7. Michael McDowell says

    I am glad the vote passed in favor of the event, but saddened by the narrowness of 3 to 2. Kudos to David Foster, Chris Cerino and Linda Kuiper. INclusion and tolerance won. So much of the negative remarks in the meeting reflects fear of the “other”. Knowing the “other” usually removes the fear. I see the event as just as important in celebrating rights as those earlier efforts on race. Work to do there too. E Pluribus Unum!

  8. Gren Whitman says

    Recent anti-gay bigotry spouted by two Chestertown councilmen is antediluvian and ignorant, and in “liberal” Chestertown, no less.
    Chilling that this gay pride event—an event so common in many other communities around the country!—was approved by only one vote.
    For shame, Stetson and Tolliver.

  9. Dan Menefee says

    I am appalled that two councilman would deny the permit because the gay experience doesn’t mirror the exact same history and struggles as ethnic minorities. Of course the experiences are not the same, but to say there is no history of discrimination, violence and intimidation against gays clearly ignores the struggles of the LGBTQ community. They have the right to be out of the shadows and celebrate their legacy and contributions to our society and culture. It’s the whole point of having a public celebration.

    Tolliver and Stetson have essentially told the LGBTQ community to remain in the closet, unseen and unheard to the rest of us; this is Jim Crow on its face.

  10. Deirdre LaMotte says

    I must say this article left me speechless. I am shocked at the comments made by two councilmen. This is appalling and I do hope
    there was a very “healthy” discussion initiated by others in the room. If not, shame on everyone there.

    • Signy Rich says

      I feel as though the 2 men opposed had a good questions asked the wrong way. Guess there is no good really to ask. I have seen Festivals and Parade wear attire was, well, again no good way, not whole family appropriate. I really cant think of a better way. I’m trying. How can we grow and understand something out of our comfort zone if we can not be honest and ask questions. I have a lot of questions. I have had a lot of homosexual friends in my life. I still have some questions. Questions some might take offense to. Dont make others afraid to ask questions. By publicly shaming these men you only push them further from your goal. Maybe at the gathering someone from the community can answer his questions. Help him understand so he can appreciate and accept. Knowledge kills fear and ignorance.

      • Doc Bridges says

        The problem is that they didn’t ask questions. They basically made statements which show how they feel about the event and then tried to be the devil’s advocate. So they are not interested in learning or opening up to new ideas. It was clear how they feel about an LGBTQ event in town. No one is publicly shaming them. We are asking for better representatives who are informed and if they are not informed they should state that and not spew some nonsense about what they believe other people should do.

  11. Joanne Ghio says

    I have been proud of what I perceived as openness and acceptance for all among Chestertonians. The comments of Tolliver and Stetson shocked and saddened me. However, I appreciated the response of Chris Cerino, Linda Kuiper, David Foster, and Kay MacIntosh. I believe that they expressed the feeling of the great majority of the residents of our town. The comments that the Spy is receiving in reaction to the article are also extremely heartening. Hopefully, the dissenters will attend the events, so that they can move toward appreciating all the fine people in Chestertown.

  12. Lynn L. Bergeson says

    Our democracy is rooted in core values, tolerance, respect, and equality key among them. We are a better society because of our diversity, not in spite of it. Any elected official who does not embrace these values has no business serving in office. Messrs. Stetson and Tolliver should apologize for their remarks and resign from office. If they decline to do so, efforts can and should be initiated to remove them. Messrs. Stetson and Tolliver took an oath to uphold and support the Constitution of the United States and the facially discriminatory statements each of these council members made at the February 19th Chestertown Council meeting evidences a breach of their oath and an animus to members of the very community they purport to represent. Shame on you both.

    We applaud the wisdom, character, and commitment to our core values reflected in the comments made and votes cast by Mayor Cerino and council members Kuiper and Foster.

  13. Mr Stetson,
    Gay people have been banned from private commercial establishments and schools. Some still are.

    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/karen-pence-immanuel-christian-school_us_5c3e62c2e4b0922a21d99f58?0b3

  14. Daniel Menefee says

    Many cities and towns do not require a vote for lawful assembly; permits are handled administratively to make sure scheduling does not conflict with activities scheduled at the same venue, AND THAT IS ALL. This should never have come to a vote in the first place because elected bodies can’t deny First Amendment rights for lawful assembly.

    The current system needs to be changed.

  15. Carol Dobson says

    I applaud the manner in which council members conducted business about the Gay Pride permit vote. The explanations of what would take place throughout the weekend in several cities for daytime and evening events showed extensive planning and thoughtfulness to provide a variety of activities for all ages. The concerns raised by two members were sincere and received thorough and respectful responses. A majority vote passed the resolution. While the concerns of dissenters may be considered archaic and misguided by many citizens, they do reflect sentiments that exist in our society. I am thankful for majority votes instead of requiring unanimity. I am also thankful that public discussion like this can take place without fear of retribution. Differences of opinions about appropriate public sanctioned gatherings are not new and will likely continue. I am glad to be a part of a community that has taken the leap to hold activities that have not been held before. To stand for inclusion, respect and joy for human relationships. That we don’t all agree is to be expected. Majority rule works well for this reality. I look forward to participating in this upcoming weekend of celebration organized by PFLAG and supported by our town.

  16. Signy Rich says

    Good. This will be fun. As for explanations to to a teen, um I think your son has already seen it school, on TV and movies! No worries.

  17. As a way to move forward in the future, maybe some criteria for assembly permits must be established. Does the permit request infringe on other groups right to free speech at the requested time and will it infringe on other citizens right for safety? Personal beliefs of those granting permits should not infringe on other citizens right to gather.

  18. Joanne Tobriner says

    I support and welcome the Gay Pride celebration. When I read the remarks of Mr. Stetson and Reverend Tolliver I was saddened and embarrassed for the town. Such mean spirited words and thoughts. So backward and primitive, so narrow and small.
    Thanks to the council members who voted for inclusion and kindness. Thanks to the Chestertown citizens who have condemned bigotry.

  19. Alan Girard says

    Mr. Tolliver, “How do I explain to my 13-year-old son about a group of men or women hugging and kissing and some of the things I’ve seen in Pride festivals that happened out in the public arena? How do I explain to my child that this is OK?”

    I ask you how I should have explained to my child when he was 13 and told me that he was gay that this level of intolerance exists. Knowing that it does cut through my heart like a knife when he came to me with his heart in his hands then. Reading this article cuts through my heart like a knife now. As it should anyone who truly cares about life on this planet. Look your child in the eye and ask yourself if he or she were gay would you love them any less. And if you think you would, PLEASE put yourself fully in their shoes and think again.

  20. Doc Bridges says

    And if Tolliver can’t explain to his children what it means for two people to be kissing, then he should really be considering his parenting skills. It’s people kissing; it’s not that difficult to explain. What’s really alarming is to have public officials without basic skills. And what’s really ridiculous on Tolliver’s part is to think that a 13-year-old doesn’t know what it means to be gay or be aware of gay people.

Trackbacks

  1. […] to learn that two out of five council members (Ellsworth Tolliver and Marty Stetson) had voted against issuing the special event permit after expressing concerns over the impact the event might have on […]

  2. […] quiet erosive slide of regression. For some Chestertonians, news of the Town Council’s recent vote on permits for a Pride Celebration in Fountain Park was such a moment. To hear elected officials in […]

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