Safety Concerns at SMSU Homecoming Parade go Unadressed

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Safety Concerns at SMSU Homecoming Parade go Unadressed

Ross Pyka

Ross Pyka

Ross Pyka

The SMSU GLBTA float was joined by "vote yes" marchers.

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Homecoming is a time for students to show their school spirit, football teams to triumph, and school organizations to boost their numbers and show off their hard work with parade floats, parties, and events. It’s the veritable Christmas of the Southwest Minnesota State University school year, with good spirits, good times, and more than a little tradition. But what happens when a student organization is singled out and threatened with absolutely no one to defend them?

On Oct. 6, SMSU’s Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Ally club (SMSU GLBTA) participated in the annual homecoming parade, as they did last year. Their float was modest at best, but their passion for the club, and the current marriage amendment vote they were promoting was clear. Students handed out bags of skittles and vote no pamphlets from Minnesotans United for All Families. Suddenly, along Main Street, two men came out of the crowd, seemingly unaffiliated with each other, and joined the SMSU GLBTA float. However, these men were not supporters. One of the men held a vote yes sign, and reportedly walked in front of the float and alongside it, blocking people from getting pictures of the float. The other man, Pastor John Chisham, walked alongside the float carrying a large wooden cross and a jacket that said, among other things “homosexuals will burn in hell.” Chisham has been asked to leave the SMSU campus several times in the past due to his radicalism.

“I was frightened,” said a GLBTA student who was a part of the float. She asked to remain anonymous in fear of further backlash. “I have [Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder] from a personal assault while I was in the military. I couldn’t testify to defend myself because I was gay and I would have been kicked out for that. So when I see someone threatening me with ‘death to homosexuals,’ of course I’m going to be afraid.”

The students with the SMSU GLBTA float asked local police officers who were assisting with crowd safety to remove the men as they were not a part of the float and they felt threatened. The officers reportedly denied the students help, citing that was not their assigned job.

“Someone should have done something,” the anonymous student said. “I don’t want to say it was personally against us, but I feel that if it had been democrats or republicans doing it to each other, or us doing it to the vote yes floats it would have been stopped.”

Student Activities Director Scott Ewing said he was made aware of the event after the parade when the club filed a report with SMSU’s Public Safety.

“These [other] individuals clearly abused the parade process, they didn’t register with us. If they wanted to be a part of the parade all they had to do was register,” Ewing said. He said his primary concern during the parade is “safety of the students and bystanders. Making sure no one falls off their float or lights it on fire, and no kids run out and get run over is a lot of work. It’s impossible to handle an issue like this during the parade, we don’t have the man power.” He added that the Marshall police department had no role in the incident.

“I’m happy that the students came forward, though. But there’s nothing I can really do. It’s in public safety’s hands. They’ll possibly talk to me about what we can do in the future to avoid things like this, but unless they hire a hundred more people it’ll be impossible to stop,” said Ewing.

Though the protesters were using their right to free speech, the space had been reserved for parade purposes only and neither of the men were affiliated with floats nor had signed up for a spot in the parade, therefore making their actions illegal. Homecoming is a time for SMSU’s students to celebrate who they are as Mustangs and as people, but these students faced backlash for expressing that right in a place reserved specifically for them.

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