by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
The board of directors of Seattle Out and Proud (SO&P), the group responsible for the annual Seattle Pride Parade, has recently come under fire for raising the price for politicians to march in the parade and for not choosing State Rep. Jamie Pedersen and State Sen. Ed Murray - the House and Senate champions of Washington State's marriage equality bill - as parade grand marshals.
SO&P's recent woes began when local Gay rights advocate and political campaign manager Thomas Pitchford created a petition on Change.org, calling on the group to 'end price discrimination + be transparent.'
'Public officials and candidates for public office want to participate in Seattle Pride, but at $1,200, registration is $1,000 more than that of a nonprofit, and $500 above that of a national nonprofit. Why?' asks Pitchford in the petition.
'SO&P cites the reason of 'increasing cost associated with putting on such a large event. Your registration fees help cover the cost of organizing and producing the parade.'
Pitchford told SGN that SO&P officials told him the price hikes were associated with the cost of putting on such a large event. That is an answer Pitchford wasn't willing to just accept. SO&P receives a large amount of money from corporate sponsors, and if that money comes up short, he said, the burden of funding shouldn't be allocated to politicians by raising their parade entry fee.
'It makes no sense to bilk people who support us with a number significantly higher than other entries,' said Pitchford. 'Telling them they will absorb these 'rising costs' says to [elected officials] and candidates, 'Go away, unless you can pay much more than everyone else.'
When I spoke with Pitchford during a telephone interview on Wednesday, he maintained that the petition was not meant to be malicious. Instead, he said, 'This is a matter of challenging them to do better.'
Point blank, Pitchford asserted, 'If fundraising is a problem then they need to change the way they do business. I understand that rising costs are an issue but SO&P has offered no real justification for why they increased the price for politicians over everyone else.'
And it isn't just Pitchford who has a problem with the fee hike. Rep. Jamie Pedersen recently spoke out against SO&P as well, telling The Stranger, 'One of the key purposes of Pride has been for the community to show its political power and support. When you have someone like Senator Ed Murray or me making the calculation that it doesn't pencil out to march, there is something drastically wrong.'
So how much does it cost to march? I asked SO&P officials to provide our readers with a breakdown of fees. SO&P board member Michael Campbell reports that, for the 2012 Seattle Pride Parade, registration fees were as follows:
o $1,200 for elected officials, political candidates, and political organizations;
o $200 for individual and local nonprofits with a budget of less than $250,000;
o $450 for local nonprofits with a budget greater than $250,000; and
o $700 for government agencies, local businesses, and national nonprofits.
To encourage early registration, Campbell says, SO&P offers a discounted rate of up to $200.
'When I was president of SO&P, we charged the politicians $500 to help cover the cost of the parade,' said Eric Gauthier, who left the organization in 2011 after 10 years of work. 'We always did our due diligence to keep the parade fees equitable and fair, and reviewed them on an annual basis.'
Gauthier says under his direction SO&P always kept the prices for politicians lower than for local businesses. 'Politicians, local and state level, are very important to the Gay rights movement, and we did what we could to make sure that all who wanted to participate in the parade were given the opportunity to.'
When I asked SO&P to explain why they charge politicians more than they would a local business or nonprofit, Campbell responded, 'A feasible use of a parade for a political campaign is to get someone elected, and is therefore an advertising platform for the campaign. One can argue the social message for the candidate, but the campaign exists simply for the election of the candidate; a campaign has no social message or program to promote.'
Campbell says SO&P doesn't view politicians as 'repeat business' because campaigns are basically active every other year. 'In 2011, we had seven political campaigns - all of them (except Ed Murray) were city positions, and there was an active city election that each of them was running for. Not one of them, including Ed Murray, is participating this year, and one of them participated the previous year.'
'Part of financial responsibility and forecasting an annual event is knowing who and how many of last year's contingents will participate this year & when we know that a participant will probably not participate next year, yet we still have to fund the event next year, it makes sense that we charge them more than we would a 'repeat customer.'
Still, for some members of the community, that rationale simply does not pan out. Is SO&P in such serious financial straits that the parade rests on whether or not candidates and elected officials pay $1,200 instead of $500?
'Seattle Out & Proud needs to open its books to the public,' demands Thomas Pitchford in his Change.org petition.
I asked SO&P officials to provide SGN with a financial breakdown of last year's parade. According to them, SO&P does not have a surplus and lost $4,779.11 on the event.
This is what SO&P provided: 'Aside from in-kind donations from our generous sponsors, the following is all cash contributions the organization received, including sponsorship and parade fees in 2011. These numbers also include all event expenditures, which we have seen an increase from in 2012 due to coverage of equipment the city no longer provides, the closure of the Union Street off-ramp, and others. You will notice we did not have a surplus and made arrangements with one of our vendors to pay the overage with 2012 funds once they arrived in March 2012.'
SO&P officials maintain that until the Slog post, 'no one at SO&P was made aware of any ill thoughts towards our efforts.'
In addition to the fee controversy, SO&P officials have had to defend their decision not to choose Rep. Pedersen and Sen. Murray as parade grand marshals. The work the two lawmakers did to ensure the passage of the state's marriage equality bill was widely hailed as heroic - and that's not to mention the enormous contributions both men have made to the local LGBT movement over the years.
When asked about their decision not to honor Murray and Pedersen, SO&P officials placed ownership of the gaffe onto the community.
'When the Marshals were chosen, much like the [parade] theme, the [marriage equality] bill had not been signed,' officials told SGN in a statement. 'SO&P has chosen to honor the Governor and Equal Rights Washington, who have been in the fight for many years. It's unfortunate that it has ticked people off because very few people have stepped up to help or even make suggestions.'
According to SO&P, 'When the Marshals selection took place, a social media campaign brought in a number of names from which the board and parade committee picked. Unfortunately, SO&P cannot wait until June to select Marshals; there is planning involved in the process and publicity that needs to be done.'
As of press time, Gov. Chris Gregoire has informed SO&P that she will not be able to attend the parade.
Another point of contention among some community members is the fact that SO&P has not put a major focus on marriage equality. The annual Pride parade is the largest visible show of presence for the LGBT community. Yet SO&P officials have shied away from making it known that this year's event is all about marriage equality.
By way of contrast, One Degree Events, the organization responsible for the annual PrideFest at Seattle Center, has fully embraced the movement, saying on its website, '2012 is all about marriage equality in Washington State. Seattle PrideFest is ALL IN on making this, the civil rights battle of our generation, a reality. If you're not working for marriage equality this year, then you're letting history pass you by.'
SO&P officials say that when it comes to politics, they don't 'lean in any particular direction.'
'We allow the participants to choose which direction it goes because it is a 'free speech march' more than a political statement from our perspective,' said officials.
It is important to note that SO&P officials have gifted Washington United for Marriage, the campaign working to keep our marriage equality law unscathed, a spot in front of the Parade among the key sponsors.
Josh Friedes, marriage equality director for Equal Rights Washington and one of the parade grand marshals, told SGN, 'The Pride Parade means so much to different people. For me pride will always be deeply rooted in the struggle for LGBT civil rights and social equality. So much is taken for granted today because, especially in Seattle, things are so good for LGBT people.
'I think one of the challenges for LGBT people is that we don't pass down our history from generation to generation like Jews, African Americans, Latinos, or members of the API community. It's shocking to many veterans of the LGBT civil rights movement that we don't make it easy for elected leaders to march with their supporters displaying their signs. There was a time when seeing elected officials march in the parade was a hopeful sign that perhaps someday things would get better.'
Part of things being so good in the Seattle area for LGBT people is that we do see political apathy, says Frides, and the current controversy may be more of a symptom of the success of the LGBT community than a problem with SO&P itself.
'It's easy to blame SO&P for not being political, but I think what the current controversy really speaks to is the need for more engagement by political people in the planning of the parade,' he said. 'Perhaps SO&P will form a political subcommittee in the future to retain part of the original character and meaning of Pride parades.'
Friedes says that although the parade is just a few weeks away, perhaps there is time to figure out a way to give elected leaders and candidates who support marriage equality an opportunity to be visible.
'The Pride Parade will and should be an opportunity to thank local elected heroes like Senator Ed Murray and Representative Jamie Pedersen,' he said. 'I think we need to put the controversy aside and focus on the important work that is ahead. I have always said the perfect is the enemy of the good. And I am confident that the Pride Parade will be an important opportunity to build support for the Approve 74 campaign and equality candidates like Jay Inslee for Governor.'
'I hope SO&P will learn from this experience and make adjustments,' Friedes continued. 'And it's important that we support SO&P because it does take money to produce the parade, and the parade does play an important role in the political and civic life of the LGBT and allied communities.'
The 38th annual Seattle Pride Parade is scheduled for Sunday, June 24, at 11 a.m., starting at 4th Avenue and Union Street in downtown Seattle. For more information visit SO&P's official website, www.seattlepride.org.
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