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Piece of Mind: Pride Causes Stir in Princeton

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John Kanelis
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Charlise Lee, with baby daughter Zelda, already has begun planning for next year's LGBT+Pride event in Princeton.

Pride has shown itself in Princeton in a manner – depending on your point of view – that presents a positive or a negative image for a rapidly growing Collin County community.

The term “pride” refers to gay pride and a movement among those to declare one’s pride in their sexual orientation. Princeton was the site of its first LGBTQ+Pride celebration on June 26 … and organizers intend for it to be the start of an annual event.

It caused more than a little bit of an uproar in the community, according to Mayor Brianna Chacon and those on both sides of the divide over the manner in which the event took place.

It occurred at Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Princeton. Chacon said it was “not a city-sponsored event.” It was attended by slightly more than 200 people who came in the name of gay pride. There were the usual food and drink vendors found at such community events. There also was an array of entertainment – namely a show featuring “drag queens” -- that some folks found offensive; others said it was no big deal to put on a drag show.

The Princeton City Council amended an ordinance at its July 12 meeting that tightens the permit process for staging community events. According to Chacon, the city previously did not require a permit for a non-profit organization, such as the one that staged the LGBT+Pride event. Now it does. The amended ordinance would subject all groups to the permit process, including non-profits.

Critics of the pride event say the amended ordinance doesn’t go far enough in establishing who can apply for a permit. They told council members that the city should be able to ban certain groups from staging events in public places. Those who stand with the gay pride movement have suggested the city acted in response to the criticism it got from social conservatives. Chacon denies the accusation that the city was responding to LGBT+Pride critics. “We were considering changes in our permit ordinance before the event took place,” Chacon said.

Charlise Lee, a Princeton resident and a co-founder of the non-profit organization that staged the event, said the enactment of ordinance “seems like a huge coincidence” coming as it did after the protests emerged from the pride event.

Chacon considers herself an “LGBT advocate” and denies any attempt on the part of the City Council to get back at the pride event organizers by amending an ordinance covering public events; the council voted unanimously to approve the new rules.

“The previous ordinance was too vague,” she said. “It consisted of just six pages. Now everyone needs a permit issued by the city” for gatherings in publicly owned places, such as Veterans Park, she said.

The non-profit that staged the event, PTX Diverse, disputes the criticism leveled at the celebration. The drag show was not “lewd” or “obscene,” as some have contended, they say.

Lee co-founded PTX Diverse, and said the drag queen show bore no resemblance to the criticism that some have leveled against it. She said the entertainers were “fully covered,” some with “nude-colored leggings,” which she described as an “illusion.” Lee, a 36-year-old mother of eight children, said she has seen “more sexualized activity at a high school football game.”

Lee said she and her husband moved to Princeton a couple of years ago from Dallas. She added that one of her children, 16-year-old Brandyn, has come out as “pansexual,” which she described as someone who is attracted to both men and women. She said her son has a “trans boyfriend” who is in the process of transitioning from female to male.

The Princeton Herald reported in its July 15 edition that some residents were offended by what they understood occurred at the park. According to the Herald: “Princeton ISD board member Cyndi Darland said she was out of town when the event occurred, but she did watch a video of it and began a petition to prohibit lewd behavior in public. ‘I saw several alarming things,’ Darland said. ‘You have to be 21 in Las Vegas to go to something like this.’”

Lee said PTX Diverse intends to stage a LGBTQ+Pride event next June 26, but likely will move it to the site of the former World War II POW Camp next to J.M. Caldwell Municipal Park.

Lee said she and fellow PTX Diverse founders – John and Brandy Kusterbeck, also of Princeton – formed the organization to “educate people on the needs of those who seek acceptance for being who they are.” PTX Diverse has a Facebook page that Lee said currently has 561 followers, which she considers to be a sign of growing acceptance of the message that PTX Diverse seeks to deliver.

She said next year’s pride event will be “bigger and better” than the first-ever event that occurred this past month. Lee said that as a non-profit, PTX Diverse is seeking money to help pay expenses associated with future events. One of those expenses involves paying for off-duty police officers to provide protection. The amended ordinance, which is still to be written, would allow for non-profits such as PTX Diverse to pay for police protection.

Lee also said she plans to enact rules for future pride events that require entertainers to avoid the “perception” that some might have that they are engaging in what critics describe as “lewd behavior.”

Lee also said she intends to “hold Brianna (Chacon) to her word that she is an ‘advocate’” for LGBT rights. “We are going to send teams out there to counsel these kids,” Lee said. “They need someone to talk to.”

John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, also is a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is retired but is still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis’s blog for KETR, “Piece of Mind,” presents his views and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff or its members.

Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.

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