What Modesto leaders should say about proposed straight pride event

City leaders should announce to the world that Modesto has nothing to do with organizers of a misguided proposal for a straight pride event here in three weeks.

Yes, one of the organizers is a Modesto woman. But she doesn’t represent all of us, and her hate-mongering followers — if there are any — certainly don’t represent Modesto values.

Under the banner of the National Straight Pride Coalition, Modesto’s Mylinda Mason and Don Grundmann of Santa Clara have applied to hold an event in our beloved Graceada Park on Aug. 24. Calling people to an “I’m proud to be straight” rally may not sound horrible on its face. But it appears that this group, known for its disturbing message of racial superiority, now wants to take a swipe at the LGBTQ+ community. That makes this event more hate than straight, and that’s unacceptable.

Let’s be clear: We’re not urging city leaders to deny the permit application. First Amendment rights to free speech must be defended, no matter how distasteful the speech.

Nor are we urging City Hall to grant the application. Officials must carefully consider factors such as security needs, insurance and the like before making what might be a tough decision. That’s their job.

Regardless, our leaders have a moral responsibility to denounce hate.

A few civic leaders already have done so. Latest examples include a bold statement from the likes of E&J Gallo, the world’s largest winery based here in Modesto.

If Modesto leaders need a municipal model to show them how it’s done, they’ve got two, both nearby: Oakdale and Turlock.

Nathan Damigo emerged a couple of years ago as a white nationalist operative, founding Identity Evropa, decking a slight young woman at a clash in Berkeley and helping to organize the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Oakdale was disgusted to learn that Damigo lives just to the east, and Turlock found it repulsive that he was attending Stanislaus State, in that city. Decals pushing white supremacy also popped up throughout Turlock, dismaying many.

How did those cities respond?

Shortly after Charlottesville, a few dozen people rallied in Oakdale to promote unity, diversity and inclusion. Then-Mayor Pat Paul spoke, saying, “There is some man out there who has a post office box that says Oakdale. He’s angry and he’s hateful and I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but he is not Oakdale. We are Oakdale.”

That’s how you do it, Modesto.

Eventually, city councils in both Oakdale and Turlock passed anti-hate resolutions.

The Modesto City Council can consider similar action in time. Official resolutions should never be rushed.

But calling out hate informally and individually doesn’t take a lot of thought or preparation. Maria Figueroa, a member of our editorial board, wasted no time decrying dangerous nationalism and racial supremacy in a thoughtful column on this page last week. Writers of three letters to the editor in Wednesday’s Modesto Bee likewise quickly besmirched the proposal, and more reactions are circulating.

Councilwoman Kristi Ah You is to be commended for immediately condemning this travesty from the start, on TV and in social media. Some of her council colleagues since have offered comments — apparently after being cornered by reporters.

Regardless of whether the event permit is granted, news of its application has put a stain on Modesto via reports in several major media agencies, from The Los Angeles Times to The Washington Post to Newsweek.

It’s time our leaders stood up to assure everyone, everywhere that bigotry, exclusion and hate are not Modesto.

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