Tensions run high at City Council meeting as Straight Pride organizers go on defense

Dozens of people packed Wednesday’s Modesto City Council meeting in a show of opposition to a straight pride rally planned for Graceada Park, an event opponents say promotes white supremacy, hate speech and violence against the LGBTQ+ community, people of color and other minorities.

The fireworks started quickly when Don Grundmann, one of the rally organizers, addressed the council. Audience members booed him, and Grundmann got into a brief shouting match with some of them. Mayor Ted Brandvold called for decorum and respect for all speakers.

And audience members howled, cheered and clapped when Grundmann called his group a “peaceful, racist organization,” though he took that comment back, saying he had misspoke.

Public comment continued past press time.

The straight pride rally is proposed for Aug. 24 in Graceada Park’s Mancini Bowl, the park’s amphitheater. The rally is being organized by Grundmann, who is a Bay Area chiropractor, and his longtime friend and Modesto resident Mylinda Mason.

Grundmann founded the National Straight Pride Coalition about four months ago. According to its website, the coalition is protecting traditional gender roles, Christianity, heterosexuality, Western Civilization, and the contributions of whites to Western Civilization from the malevolence of the homosexual movement.

For instance, regarding Caucasians, the website says this: “(T)he biological majority of the historical developers and founders of Western Civilization, (though) Christ loves and values everyone.”

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Grundmann said in a Wednesday phone interview before the City Council meeting the coalition’s goals include “trying to save children from the LGBTQ+ community, from being molested.”

He told council members the opponents of the straight pride rally are the intolerant ones by trying to deny rally organizers their free speech rights. “Tolerance for them, but not for us,” Grundmann said in the phone interview.

Several other audience members also spoke in favor of the rally, saying it would be a peaceful celebration of what they hold dear. But they were greatly outnumbered in the audience.

Grundmann also accused Councilwoman Kristi Ah You of being a racist and misrepresenting the coalition’s values in her Facebook posts in which she called the rally “hateful, harmful, insincere, and dangerous.”

The proposed rally also is personal for Ah You.

She is the birth mother of Matthew Mason, the adopted, gay son of Mylinda Mason. Matthew Mason said in a previous story that he was no longer welcome in his adoptive mother’s home when he came out as gay when he was 19 years old.

At the council meeting, Mason, 28, called Grundmann a right-wing fascist from the Bay Area. He also said he heard his adoptive mother says hateful things about members of the LGBTQ+ community and members of religions different from Christianity.

Grundmann and Mylinda Mason have applied with the city to reserve Mancini Bowl for their rally. Modesto has not yet made a decision on their request. City spokesman Thomas Reeves said in an interview that the city could have an answer by the end of this week.

City Manager Joe Lopez read a statement before audience members stating that allowing a group to use a city venue is not an endorsement by the city of that group and its message, “but rather a recognition of the free speech rights enshrined in the First Amendment.”

Lopez also said the city will make adequate preparations and will not tolerate “acts of violence or vandalism by event-goers or counter-protesters. ... The city’s fully capable law enforcement team is actively preparing for the event and will be on hand to ensure the safety of our community.”

And Mayor Brandvold said Modesto will consider a resolution in support of free speech while denouncing hate. He also asked for a moment of silence for those killed in the mass shootings in Gilroy; Dayton, Ohio; and El Paso, Texas.

More than 100 opponents of the straight pride rally held a vigil at Tenth Street Plaza before attending the council meeting. Several told The Bee that while they support the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly, they said the rally crosses a line into hate speech that incites violence against the LGBTQ+ community, people of color and other minorities.

Some speakers told council members that if Modesto allows the rally it should be held elsewhere in the city and not in Graceada Park, one of the city’s gems and in the heart of a neighborhood. They also said the rally should bear the cost of police providing security for the event.

The coalition is the latest in a series of groups started by Grundmann, 67, over the years, including Citizens Against Perversion and the American Warrior Ministry.

One of the coalition’s first events, a protest of the Drag Queen Story Time at the JFK Library in Vallejo in June, drew four protesters. The story time drew about 140 people.

Grundmann said in a previous story that the local chapter of the Proud Boys had accepted his invitation to attend the straight pride rally. But the chapter emailed The Bee saying it would not attend. Police Chief Galen Carroll said the chapter also emailed the Police Department with the same message.

The Proud Boys describe themselves as “Western Chauvinists.” The New York Times has reported that Proud Boy members attended the 2017 far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in which one of the rally participants drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one of them.

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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.