‘Straight Pride’ proposal prompts rare reaction from Modesto’s highest-profile business

The world’s largest winery has taken the rare step of wading into a public controversy in its hometown of Modesto.

The controversy: The “Stanislaus County Straight Pride” event proposed Aug. 24 in Graceada Park by a group whose purpose includes “preventing the current and future generations of all races and colors from being destroyed by the inherent malevolence of the Homosexual Movement toward” such principles as traditional gender roles, according to its website.

E.&J. Gallo Winery issued a statement Tuesday on Facebook to its employees saying that Gallo remains “committed to diversity, equality and inclusion in our workplace and the communities we live in.

“Although we agree with the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and peaceable assembly protections, we do not support groups that advocate divisiveness or express hatred or hostility toward anyone in our community.”

Gallo officials would not comment further Wednesday. But it’s rare for the winery to issue public statements on local controversies.

San Jose-based chiropractor Don Grundmann, 67, formed the National Straight Pride Coalition and its California chapter nearly four months ago. He is working with longtime friend and Modesto resident Mylinda Mason on organizing the straight pride event in Graceada Park’s Mancini Bowl.

“I’m unsure I heard an opinion,” Grundmann said Wednesday about Gallo’s Facebook post. “What was inferred is that we are intolerant of fill in the blank. But it did not say that directly. I hope Gallo would support all the principles that we are promoting at the event. I hope Gallo would support these values of life and these American values we are promoting at the event.”

Grundmann and Mason applied June 10 with the city for a permit. Deputy City Manager Caluha Barnes said Wednesday that city officials still are reviewing the application.

She said one issue the city needs to resolve with the organizers is what they plan to do. She said the flyer for the event calls it a parade while the application calls it a “picnic/event” in the park. Barnes said the city has different requirements based on the nature of an event. She said city officials were expected to speak with organizers Wednesday.

Several other events also have been permitted in Graceada and nearby Enslen Park for that day, including a swim party, a bridal shower and a baby shower. Barnes said the city also needs to consider what accommodations need to be made for these events and the proposed Straight Pride event.

Grundmann has been fighting the mainstream for decades without much success, opposing the LGBTQ+ community and abortion rights and calling for the abolition of the Federal Reserve and IRS.

He’s been a perennial and unsuccessful candidate for elected office for nearly 30 years, from school board to the presidency. He’s formed such groups as Citizens Against Perversion and American Warrior Ministry. But his protests have drawn few followers.

For instance, the coalition’s protest last month of the Drag Queen Story Time at the JFK Library in Vallejo drew four protesters. The story hour drew about 140 people, according to an official with the library.

Still, Grundmann believes the coalition — whose principles include promoting Caucasians as “the biological majority of the historical developers and founders of Western Civilization,” though “Christ loves and values everyone” — can grow nationwide and influence the 2020 elections.

Grundmann said in a recent interview that the Central Valley-Modesto chapter of the Proud Boys accepted his invitation to attend the event. He said he recently joined the chapter. The organization describes itself as “western chauvinists,” though it is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Grundmann and Mason hope for at least 500 people at the event, which they recently described as a church service in the park.

The city has received 47 phone calls or emails about the proposed Straight Pride event since July 22. Barnes said two were in support and the rest opposed it except for a couple of media inquires. “It’s generating a lot of attention,” she said.

The event also has galvanized the local community.

MoPRIDE, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Congregation Beth Shalom are planning to host “safe spaces” for people who feel uneasy about being outside the day of the Straight Pride event.

There is also groundwork being laid for a party Aug. 24 to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. The party comes fully funded, with an anonymous donor willing to meet whatever expenses are required.

And those wanting to counter-protest the Straight Pride event will find support from the Stanislaus County Democratic Central Committee.

“There is a valid time for protest, and if the community feels this is it, then we can make it happen,” said Jessica Self, chair of the SCDCC, at a meeting for counter-protesters held July 28.

The Bee also asked Mayor Ted Brandvold and Big Valley Grace Community Church senior pastor Rick Countryman to respond. Countryman is running against Brandvold in the November 2020 mayoral election.

Both said it was important to respect everyone’s rights to free speech and to assemble peacefully.

“We have a very diverse city,” Brandvold said, “and a lot of good things are happening in our city. I’ve always respected and fought for what is right for all of our citizens, regardless of their race, faith and sexual preference. Whether we agree with others or not, we have to respect their First Amendment rights.”

Countryman said he’s baffled by what he’s read on the coalition’s website, finding it convoluted and confusing, including its discussion on whiteness and Caucasians. He added that it would never occur to him to celebrate people’s sexuality, whether they are straight or not. “I personally would not attend an event like this,” he said.

Mackenzie Shuman is a summer news intern for The Modesto Bee. She originally hails from Colorado Springs, Colorado, but goes to school at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication where she is studying Journalism with a minor in Political Science.
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Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University and grew up in San Jose.