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Fort Worth event on ‘LGBT ideology’ spurs disputes over free speech, community center use

Members of Latinos United for Conservative Action protest outside Fort Worth's Galileo Church in October 2023. Carlos Turcios, right, is a lead organizer of an event on the "social contagion of transgenderism" set for June 8, 2024, at Fire Station Community Center.
David Moreno
/
Fort Worth Report
Members of Latinos United for Conservative Action protest outside Fort Worth's Galileo Church in October 2023. Carlos Turcios, right, is a lead organizer of an event on the "social contagion of transgenderism" set for June 8, 2024, at Fire Station Community Center.

The city of Fort Worth will allow a conservative political action group to host a June 8 event on LGBTQ+ issues at the Fire Station Community Center after revoking an event registration from the same group in April. The decision comes amid concerns from LGBTQ+ residents and local faith-based organizations.

The event, titled “Protect Kids,” will feature a panel of activists discussing “the impact of LGBT ideology, the social contagion of transgenderism, and the dangers of pornography,” according to an event flier. The panel includes Kelly Neidert, a University of North Texas graduate who has protested drag shows across the state, and Jeff Younger, a former Texas House candidate known for his widely publicized custody battle over his transgender child.

Texas Latinos United for Conservative Action is hosting the event, along with the Tarrant County branch of Citizens Defending Freedom and the Texas Coalition for Children.

LGBTQ+ residents and local faith organizations have voiced concerns about the event, contending it promotes anti-transgender ideology and poses safety concerns. Event opponents have spoken at City Council meetings and sent letters detailing their concerns to city leadership. The dispute has sparked a debate over how far cities can go in regulating the use of government facilities and the practice of free speech.

Mayor Mattie Parker’s office did not respond to specific questions regarding the event, but the city published a statement May 30, saying “the renter submitted a complete application and acknowledged that they will follow the city’s policy.”

“By accepting facility rental reservations, the city of Fort Worth does not condone or endorse the content of facility rentals,” the statement adds. “The city is reviewing all facility rental policies thoroughly and will update the community on any relevant changes to those policies.”

Council member Elizabeth Beck, who represents the Fairmount neighborhood where the event will be held, said staff reviewed the organizers’ application and chose to approve it.

District 9 City Council member Elizabeth Beck listens to public comments during a City Council meeting on June 4, 2024.
Alberto Silva Fernandez
/
Fort Worth Report
District 9 City Council member Elizabeth Beck listens to public comments during a City Council meeting on June 4, 2024.

“While I certainly do not agree with the content of the event, it’s my job to ensure that city policies are followed. Staff felt this particular event fell within our policies,” Beck said. “I think it provided a good opportunity to evaluate our policies to ensure that while we’re not policing content and while we’re still promoting free speech, we’re keeping our community members and staff safe.”

Texas Latinos United for Conservative Action attempted to rent the Victory Forest Community Center in April for an event titled “The Danger of Transgenderism,” which the city canceled after not receiving a signed rental form, according to a city statement on the matter.

City staff also determined that the rental “did not comply” with the city’s community center policies, which “doesn’t permit groups that discriminate,” the statement said. Organizers eventually moved the event to Republican congressional candidate John O’Shea’s office.

Parker later voiced her disagreement with the city’s decision to cancel the April event, writing that it “is a slippery slope when government restricts free speech.”

“I believe (the decision) was the result of unclear policies and inattention to detail and advised the city management team to clean up the process to avoid such issues in the future,” Parker wrote in an April 23 statement published by Texas Latinos United for Conservative Action.

Residents opposed to the April event said the organization would have violated the city’s nondiscrimination policy when using community centers. Organizers said the city’s decision to cancel the event violated their First Amendment rights.

Carlos Turcios, director of Texas Latinos United for Conservative Action, said the June event is meant to start a dialogue, and he welcomes people both in support and opposition of the event to “show up and ask questions.” He doesn’t think the nature of the event promotes hate speech against LGBTQ+ people.

“We’re just simply giving a different perspective on social issues because today society has decided on one perspective — why don’t we have different perspectives?” Turcios said. “We’re [practicing] free speech and our civil rights.”

He added that he and the event organizers do not condone violence against the LGBTQ+ community, and they do not intend to incite violence at the event.

The Fire Station Community Center at 1601 Lipscomb St.
Cristian ArguetaSoto
/
Fort Worth Report
The Fire Station Community Center at 1601 Lipscomb St.

City could face legal challenge if it prohibits speech, expert says

Lynne Rambo, a professor emerita with Texas A&M School of Law, said speech seen as offensive or discriminatory is still protected by the First Amendment.

Fort Worth’s policies to not permit groups that practice or profess or are affiliated with groups that discriminate against sex or sexual orientation could also prompt a challenge under the First Amendment, Rambo said.

“The cost of free speech is that if the state has a facility, then it has to be open to all viewpoints,” Rambo said. “And the state is responsible for protecting the constitutional free speech rights of the speakers.”

Christina Brooks, chief equity officer and director of the city’s diversity and inclusion department, said city leadership did not consult her department regarding either the June or April events. She learned about the events through media coverage.

“I believe we might have been able to add perspective to the conversation, [although] we’re never the sole point of contact for issues that impact the community,” Brooks told the Report. “It’s a community issue because people in the community are involved, and so I think we could have been a valuable voice in those conversations.”

She said she supports the right to free speech and thinks it’s important for people to be able to share and hear different perspectives. But it’s also important that those conversations don’t harm the community, Brooks added.

Jonah Murray speaks during a Human Relations Commission Meeting on June 3, 2024, at Hazel Harvey Peace Center for Neighborhoods.
Camilo Diaz
/
Fort Worth Report
Jonah Murray speaks during a Human Relations Commission Meeting on June 3, 2024, at Hazel Harvey Peace Center for Neighborhoods.

LGBTQ+ Fort Worthians share concerns about safety, city policies

Jonah Murray, a board member for the transgender community center Finn’s Place who serves on the city’s Human Relations Commission, said they feel unsafe as a trans person living in Fort Worth, knowing that city staff has approved this type of event. He added that the event’s panelists are known to attract a following of neo-Nazis and Proud Boys.

“It’s unacceptable for the city to so blatantly disregard the safety of not only the queer community but the Fort Worth community at large because Nazis are bad for everyone. It’s not just the queer community, it’s bad for everybody,” Murray said. “It is absolutely beyond me how this event has been approved, and I’m angry about it. This needs to change. This pattern of behavior with the city needs to change.”

Beck said parks staff will monitor safety, as they do at any event that falls under their purview. As of the morning of June 5, she said she was not aware of any plans to put additional security measures at the June 8 event.

“I certainly hope that there aren’t safety concerns for our staff and for our residents, but I’m sure [staff] will continue to monitor the situation,” Beck said.

The city’s communications office did not respond to requests for comment regarding whether additional security measures will be in place at the event.

Kat Valentine, an LGBTQ+ mother who has lived in the Fairmount neighborhood for 17 years, said they are also concerned about anti-LGBTQ+ groups coming to the neighborhood for the event.

“I don’t know if it would cause violence there at the event, but it definitely fans the flames of hatred and makes people feel emboldened to lash out and attack,” Valentine said.

The Justice Network of Tarrant County, an interfaith consortium of over 20 Tarrant County organizations, sent a letter to Parker expressing concern over the event. The letter, signed by 117 people, stated the event would “heighten fear and spew inaccurate and dangerous information about the transgender community.”

Katherine Godby, chair for the organization, said she’s worried about the speech having “an effect on people who are vulnerable,” such as LGBTQ+ residents in the area.

“If you’re going to have an event, and you’re going to say it’s free speech, that’s fine. But we all know what their speech is going to be. It’s going to be hate filled,” Godby said.

Murray spoke in opposition to the event being held at the city’s Human Relations Commission meeting June 3. Regardless of whether staff end up canceling the event, Murray wants the commission to receive a full briefing from city staff about their decision making process for booking events at community centers.

Bethany Warner, communications coordinator for the mayor’s office, said Parker has previously requested that city management work to review its processes for facility rentals and improve the clarity of its policies. That effort is ongoing, she said.

Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member, covering faith for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at marissa.greene@fortworthreport.org or @marissaygreene

Cecilia Lenzen is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at cecilia.lenzen@fortworthreport.org or @bycecilialenzen on X. 

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Copyright 2024 KERA

Marissa Greene | Fort Worth Report
Cecilia Lenzen | Fort Worth Report