Vice President Mike Pence will be at Savannah's St. Patrick's Day Parade on Saturday, but not everyone is excited about the news.
Savannah Pride Festival director Dusty Church read a statement Wednesday afternoon on behalf of his organization, along with First City Network and the Savannah LGBTQ Center, expressing concerns with the vice president's political stance on gay marriage and other equality-related issues.
"Mr. Pence has proved himself to be one of the most anti-LGBTQ political crusaders to serve in government," Church said at the news conference.
"Ordinarily, there is no place for his brand of discrimination in Savannah. However, this weekend, he will feel right at home at the largest St Patrick’s Day Parade in America that discriminates against LGBTQ organizations," Church said. "LGBTQ organizations have never been represented at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade nor have requests to be represented been responded to from the organizers."
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First City Network chairman Michael Ploski and Church alleged that LGBTQ organization's have applied for permits to be in the parade but have been ignored, in spite of the city's anti-discrimination ordinance approved in 2015.
St. Patrick's Day Parade committee chairman Brian Counihan told The Savannah Morning News that the parade committee has not received applications from the group.
The groups will not be staging formal protests, Church said.
"We Savannahians are proud of our diversity, so we welcome Vice President Pence to join our interracial gay families raising adopted children, trans service members proudly defending their country, queer artists inspiring creativity, immigrant students dreaming of a bright future with a same-sex spouse, and the many other faces of the Hostess City that will be proudly lining the streets this weekend," Church said.
He invited the vice president to meet with representatives of the community at the LGBTQ Center.
"This is something that is an opportunity for us, we hope, to create dialog and draw attention to the needs of our community here locally," Church said, "and his presence is something that we hope is able to ... increase dialog nationally as well."
The city has announced an enhanced security zone for Saturday's parade route, complete with checkpoints and a list of things that will and won’t be allowed in.
Extra security will be enforced between Bay, Oglethorpe, Whitaker and Drayton streets beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, according to a news release from the city.
Items commonly seen at the parade such as alcohol, backpacks, umbrellas and portable chairs will not be allowed in the zone.
Business owners within the security zone have expressed concerns about what the extra security will mean for their customers.
"I've gone from 'it's St. Patrick's Day and I'm excited' to 'it's St. Patrick's Day and I'm in the enhanced security zone,'" Bonnie Walden, owner of Bay Street Blues, a bar located inside the security area told The Associated Press. She’s concerned potential customers won’t jump through the security hoops to reach her bar during the parade.
The Collins Quarter restaurant and bar downtown had 80 people reserve a spot at $200 apiece to watch the parade from chairs on the sidewalk while indulging in an open bar and unlimited food. AP reported that managers now are confused about what the security prohibitions on chairs will do to their plans.
Organizers expect 500,000 or more people in Savannah for the parade, AP reported.
Details of what Pence will do during the parade haven’t been released.
Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach previously said the vice president's visit will showcase the city to the nation.
"They will see what we have enjoyed for the past 194 years," he said.