Jerry Merrill, the mayor of Rexburg, has expressed concern about contention arising in the Rexburg community from the Pride event, which took place Saturday, June 10.
The event at Porter Park included activities, local vendors, a unity walk and a concert.
“The sad thing about it is a lot of folks just jumped to the very worst,” Merrill said.
At Wednesday’s bi-weekly city council meeting, an unusually large number of community members came to protest the Pride event. Eighteen people spoke in public comment.
Community members attended to ask their elected officials to stop an event that they believe to be a threat to the children in their community. Visitors of the meeting wanted law enforcement to shut down the Pride event. During the meeting, police assured the community members that they’d be on hand in the event that anything inappropriate took place.
“It’s already in Rexburg City Ordinance 1211 regarding activities in the park,” said Ron Nate, the Madison County Chair of Mass Resistance Idaho.
The ordinance Nate referenced prohibits the use of gestures or obscene language.
“So I would encourage the city council to direct the police and the chief of roads to enforce those ordinances this Saturday, should they need to be enforced,” Nate said ahead of the event. “And that includes performers and organizers of the event.”
The mayor responded to those concerns by stating that the police would already be there to uphold the laws and community values.
“There is no such thing as a child-friendly drag show,” Nate said. “It’s robbing our kids of their innocence.”
Their demands were partially met. The drag show portion of the event was forced by community members into the Romance Theater.
“Let us be known as the town that protected the children,” said Sue Widdleton, a community member.
During public comment, the mayor and council listened to the community’s input.
“When you’re in public service, you’ve got to be respectful to the people that are there and let them speak their peace,” Merrill said. “I don’t necessarily condone (the LGBTQ) lifestyle choice, but that’s their choice. I’m not the one who sits in judgment on their lifestyle choice.”
Community members brought signs with phrases such as “Say no to child grooming” and “Stop sexually exploiting our kids.” In a largely Latter-day Saint audience, the speakers used words such as “secret combinations,” “forces of evil,” “satanic gatherings” and “communism.”
“I think they do have valid concerns that they want to protect kids,” Merill said in response to the arguments. “I think that’s legitimate, but the thing that bothers me is they haven’t bothered to come to me or go to the organizers and find out that it’s pretty benign, as far as going into obscenities or pornography or anything like that. It’s all planned to be up to the community standard, and they haven’t bothered to check that out.”
Flourish Point, a Rexburg LGBTQ counseling and support group that organized the event, agreed to follow Rexburg’s community standard and filled out the proper paperwork to hold the event. In June’s edition of The Mayor’s Message, he cites the first amendment, which protects the freedom of speech and the right to assemble peacefully.
Although many have spoken against it, Merrill reminds the community that he and his council must stand and uphold the law. Not doing so could result in a lawsuit that they’d be certain to lose. In the same message, Merrill quotes Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“As President Nelson has repeated, contention is the tool of the devil,” Merrill said. “And so, to me, I think the people who cause contention are doing the devil’s work. It’s funny because some of the people organizing the protests think that’s weak leadership when we need strong leadership. To me, strong leadership is doing what I think is right. And in this case, what is right is following the law, and it’s giving all people the same chance and opportunity in the same respect.”
Merrill felt that the contention brought by protesters does not belong. He and his council push to uphold peace and the law. He emphasized the importance of everywhere in Rexburg being a safe space where people can celebrate.
“Whether it be in our parks or theaters or anywhere,” Merrill said, “as long as they’re obeying the law and not violating any of our city ordinances, then they should all be safe places. I don’t see any place for threats of violence anywhere in Rexburg.”