Modesto protesters outnumber straight pride supporters at tense but peaceful rally

While organizers of Saturday’s straight pride rally in Modesto had envisioned an event that would draw several hundred people, the rally turned out to be a few dozen people gathered in a barn, which was cut short by the venue’s owner, followed by a protest in front of Planned Parenthood, which was closed.

The events staged in opposition of the rally drew far more, including the roughly 250 people who attended the Friday vigil at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to celebrate Modesto’s diversity and another roughly 250 people who gathered at Enslen Park on Saturday morning for speeches and a counter protest.

But that does not mean there weren’t heated words at times.

The straight pride protesters in front of Planned Parenthood on McHenry Avenue were met by the counter protesters from Enslen Park around 1 p.m. Counter protesters chanted to drown out the straight pride protesters. Police said there were about 200 people at the Planned Parenthood protest. That included about 20 straight pride supporters carrying signs and banners.

Around two dozen police officers were on hand to keep the peace while allowing protesters and counter protesters to respectfully express their rights to free speech and assembly. There also was a contingent of officers and sheriff’s deputies on horses, who were outfitted in protective eye wear.

“We would like to thank them for remaining peaceful and expressing themselves in a respectful manner while embracing our community’s diversity,” the Modesto Police Department posted on its Facebook page after the events wrapped up around 3:15 p.m. “No major incidents were reported after a day of protests.”

Bay Area chiropractor Don Grundmann who helped bring the rally to Modesto said it does not matter that his side was outnumbered because “that does not change the truth of our message. They talk about diversity and attack us. So-called diversity and tolerance is a one-way street.”

Grundmann’s message is embodied in the National Straight Pride Coalition he started about four months ago. The coalition’s California chapter has 42 members on its Facebook page.

According to its website, the coalition is protecting traditional gender roles, Christianity, heterosexuality, Western Civilization, babies, and the contributions of whites to Western Civilization from the malevolence of the homosexual movement.

Grundmann, 67, worked with longtime friend and Modesto resident Mylinda Mason and others on Saturday’s rally. They say they are protecting the values that made America a great nation. Opponents say the rally promoted white supremacy, hate speech and violence against the LGBTQ+ community, people of color and other minorities.

For instance, Grundmann has equated the LGBTQ+ community with promoting child molestation and has said that is not hate speech but accurate speech. He has been fighting the culture wars for decades through such groups he has formed as Citizens Against Perversion and American Warrior Ministry.

Modesto Councilman Mani Grewal spoke at Enslen Park before the Planned Parenthood protest, saying the assembled crowd of people of all sexual orientations, faiths, races and ages represents the Modesto he knows and loves.

“For every step someone takes to come and divide our community, spread hatred, spread bigotry this many people are standing on guard to make sure it doesn’t happen with thousands more,” he said to cheers and applause.

Grewal was among several elected officials who spoke at Enslen, including state Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman and Tracy Councilman Dan Arriola.

The throng of counter protesters at both locations appeared to be largely local, many carried homemade signs and some chalked the sidewalk near Planned Parenthood with “Love Wins” and “No Hate.”

While some yelling matches ensued when the two sides met, no physical altercations were reported. Chants veered from “Love not hate makes America great!” and “Nazis go home!” to “Four more years!” and “Build the wall!”

Straight Pride protesters also had signs including “Planned Parenthood Harvests Baby Parts” and “Lord, Forgive Us and Our Nation.”

Modesto Junior College student Avery Tobin said as a member of the LGBTQ+ community she came to Enslen and then Planned Parenthood to stand up to what she sees as hatred and bigotry.

“You know people stand with you, but when you can see everyone together like this it makes you feel strong,” she said. “It makes me feel more connected with this town.”

Straight pride organizers had planned to hold their rally at Mancini Bowl, the Graceada Park amphitheater, but that fell through. They then considered Modesto Centre Plaza, but that also fell through.

They ended up holding their rally at Durrer Barn, a private venue several miles west of Modesto, before heading to Planned Parenthood. Grundmann said they picked Durrer Barn for their own safety and he attributed the smaller turnout to that. Mason, the Modesto resident who helped organize the rally, said she collected 58 names on the sign-up sheet for the rally.

Durrer Barn is a popular spot for fundraisers for schools, nonprofits and elected officials. Leo Durrer, one of the owners, said an acquaintance asked him to use the barn Saturday and he did not press him on details.

“This whole thing was presented to me as a little meeting, and I had no idea it was going to end up like this,” Durrer said. “I trusted these people wholeheartedly because I did not think they had a mean bone in them. Maybe it’s a really good lesson for me to check things out better in the future.”

Durrer said he shut the rally down after two people contacted him and told him it was being streamed on social media and there was the potential for protesters to show up.

Durrer’s nephew Erik Durrer reiterated his uncle’s comments in a statement, which said in part: “We want to state again that in no way did we intend to support this event in any way or its organizers.”

It’s been a weird time for Modesto since news of the straight pride rally broke about a month ago. The city has found itself back in the national spotlight, with stories appearing in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and other national media.

The rally even brought out a response from E.&J. Gallo Winery, which seldom publicly comments on controversies in its hometown. But on July 30 it issued a Facebook post to employees saying it remains “committed to diversity, equality and inclusion in our workplace and the communities we live in.”

The rally also struck close to the heart of City Councilwoman Kristi Ah You. She is the birth mother of Matthew Mason, the 28-year-old gay adoptive son of Mylinda Mason.

Matthew Mason has said he was no longer welcome in his adoptive mother’s home when he came out when he was 19 years old. He was among the opponents of the rally, and was at Enslen Park and Planned Parenthood helping to direct the protests. Ah You also has been a vocal critic of the rally.

Then the “Dr. Phil Show” entered the picture. Matthew and Mylinda Mason confirmed a few days ago that the show contacted each of them, inviting them to be a guest on the TV program. Matthew Mason said he expressed an interest. Mylinda Mason said she was not interested.

Matthew Mason said he did not think his adoptive mother would appear on the show because she is not a fan of the TV psychologist. “She thinks Dr. Phil is a bit of a quack,” he said.

A representative from the show did not respond to requests for comment regarding the invitations. Ah You said the show did not contact her.

Related stories from Modesto Bee

John Holland covers breaking news and has been with The Modesto Bee since 2000. He has covered agriculture for the Bee and at newspapers in Sonora and Visalia. He was born and raised in San Francisco and has a journalism degree from UC Berkeley.
Marijke Rowland writes about new business, restaurant and retail developments. She has been with The Modesto Bee since 1997 covering a variety of topics including arts and entertainment. Her Business Beat column runs multiple times a week. And it’s pronounced Mar-eye-ke.
Support my work with a digital subscription