Matthew Jelalian: Freedom Festival has some ‘splainin to do | Opinion Shapers


America’s Freedom Festival organizers kicked out the Provo-based LGBT group Encircle from participating in this year’s Independence Day parade.

Karissa Neely from the Daily Herald included the following bit in her parade coverage:

“One event prior to the parade marred the celebration for some, though,” wrote Neely. ”A symbol of patriotism and freedom, the Grand Parade did not include Provo’s own Encircle LGBTQ Family and Youth Resource Center. According to Encircle representatives, the nonprofit organization had previously been approved to walk in the parade, but its application was revoked Monday by parade organizers.”

According to Encircle, the reason why its parade acceptance was rescinded was because organizers considered Encircle to be an advocacy group.

“We are disappointed that we have been rejected for being classified as an ‘advocacy group,’” wrote Encircle on its Facebook page. “As a 501c3, we dispute this classification. We do not and never have advocated a certain political party or legal action. We maintain, as we always have, that our mission is to ‘Empower families to sustain the circle of their love, enabling each member to thrive.’”

The IRS specifically says on its website that a 501c3 “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”

That’s why people are finding this advocacy explanation suspicious.

According to KUTV, Paul Warner, executive director of the Freedom Festival, said he had plans to talk to the leadership at Encircle soon. He said he would not release a statement until after that conversation.

So what do we know for sure?

Encircle was approved to march in the parade. It was denied that privilege the day before the parade on the grounds that it’s a political advocacy group. Its registration as a 501c3 forbids it from doing any political advocacy.

So what don’t we know?

We don’t yet know the Freedom Festival’s side of the story.

Let me be clear, if this is merely a matter of the Freedom Festival denying access to Encircle because it’s an LGBT organization, I think it did the wrong thing.

Identity politics is a game that almost everyone plays, but your identity doesn’t have to be political by nature. If LGBT activist and Provo business owner Tosh Metzger eats a veggie burger, he’s not doing it as a gay activist, he’s eating the burger as a hungry person.

Serving Provo’s gay community doesn’t make Encircle inherently more political any more than my wife’s family reunions make the Richardsons political advocates.

If Freedom Festival directors decided Encircle was still an advocacy group, even after the IRS let it register as a 501c3, I think that is wildly unfair at best. If I comply with government standards and qualify as a 501c3, then what more can someone expect of my organization?

That’d be as if my son was hospitalized, and he went to a nonprofit hospital, and the staff refused to let me see him because they did not consider me to be “close family,” even though I had his birth certificate in my hand proving I was his father.

Can we all agree that would be outrageous?

All of this being said, I have to recognize that there could be more to this story.

It’s possible.

I have no idea what the people running the Freedom Festival were thinking aside from what I’ve heard Encircle supporters say.

I can’t think think of any reason why it’d be justifiable to pull the approval and the timing of it all makes the whole event seem more devious.

Waiting until the last minute to kick out Encircle is like when I waited until the last minute to announce that I was sick and needed someone to cover for me and teach Sunday school. I wasn’t really sick. My wife and I stayed up all night watching Stranger Things. I knew what I was doing.

I just played it off as an emergency.

The Freedom Festival’s timing has a similar stink to it.

All I can do is encourage everyone to keep an eye out for the Freedom Festival’s side of the story.

The directors have a lot of explaining to do and I expect that they will eventually put out some statement.

You can’t keep radio silence forever when every major news outlet in the state, and several national news outlets, are covering the story.

I’d just ask that people try not to jump to wild conclusions until they release their statement.

I’m not sure what the Freedom Festival could say to make its actions seem justifiable, but I have to assume there’s more there than, “Eww, gay kids.”

This has been a major point of debate over the last couple of days in the Provo Forward Facebook group. I could take some comments that residents made and pick them apart, but I don’t think that would help anyone in this situation.

However, I do think Provo mayoral candidate Sherrie Hall Everett made a good point in one of the many threads on the topic.

“I understand it is terribly disappointing to those who continue to work to support those in our community that Encircle serves,” wrote Hall Everett on Provo Forward. “Looking forward it doesn’t require an event or a parade for us to be kinder. Increasing love and extending kindness is a choice each of us can make.”

I don’t consider myself an LGBT ally nor am I going to spend much time defending that statement.

I don’t consider myself to be a feminist, and I’m not the white guy hanging out at the Black Lives Matters protest. I’m not the religious person standing outside a Planned Parenthood clinic. My family’s Southern roots don’t compel me to protect the Confederate flag.

Most groups have enough core principles that I don’t agree with that I’d rather not affiliate with them officially.

At most, I identify as husband, father, son, American, Mormon and writer.

But none of this means I can’t be nice to others. Nothing says I have to wait for a special moment to show kindness to someone else.

I’m not ready to throw stones at the Freedom Festival organizers, although I’m doubtful they’ll win me over.

But nothing says I have to wait a year to support someone who’s in need. I don’t have to wait for a better job, for a new law to pass or for anyone’s permission to be kind and charitable.

And neither do you.

Do something good for someone else this week and, if you can, try to do something nice for someone who’s not usually in your social group.

The people running the Freedom Festival might feel the need to wait, but you don’t have to.

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