TAYLOR, Texas (KXAN) — For decades, at the start of December, citizens of Taylor, Texas, flood their city’s center to watch festive floats sail down Main Street.
“It’s a parade that everybody looks forward to and likes to participate in,” said Stacey Osborne, communications director for Taylor. “Everyone feels like it’s the beginning of the holiday celebration.”
In the past, the planning of this small Austin suburb’s holiday parade has been innocuous and not raised much alarm. But this year, it has been a hotbed of controversy sparking firey debates online.
The Taylor Area Ministerial Alliance (TAMA) has helped organize the event for the last few Christmases, including this one. This year, the organization added language to the application that some felt excluded LGBTQ groups from participating, saying, “entries must be consistent with traditional biblical and family values.”
To include more folks in the tradition, the City of Taylor decided to host a second parade the same night immediately following TAMA’s, calling this one the “Very Merry Holiday Parade.” “All are welcome to participate,” the registration for this event read.
Putting on a separate parade is a departure from what the City of Taylor has previously done. In the past, the city would sponsor an organization’s initiative to orchestrate the event. After seeing this year’s description, they decided to distance themselves from TAMA’s celebration.
“(TAMA) made it clear that they did not want certain people to be a part of the parade,” Osborne said. “They were going to go in a little bit of a different direction… and make it a little bit more exclusive.”
Osborne said city staff in recent years have worked to make Taylor a more inclusive place. They recognized people might practice a faith that does not celebrate Christmas but still want to attend the town’s annual festivities.
“In order to make sure that everybody in our city was included and felt like they could be a part of the celebration, we (decided to) put on our own parade,” Osborne said. “(TAMA is) welcome to have their parade with the rules, requirements and restrictions they want to put on. It is completely their prerogative. But we wanted to make sure that everyone in the city could celebrate the holiday season with us.”
Taylor Pride was an organization that felt excluded by TAMA’s parade requirements. Last year, it had a float in the parade that included a drag performer. On its Facebook page, TAMA said Taylor Pride’s entry into last year’s parade was an “oversight.” The author of the post wrote transphobic slurs and said having a drag performer at a “family-friendly” Christmas event was “unthinkable.”
“It’s hard, it is hurtful and it’s just really not okay,” said Denise Rodgers, a co-founder and the president of Taylor Pride. “The LGBTQ community — we celebrate holidays; we practice religious faith; we have families and children. We are no different than the people who are hosting or attending these parades, these events and these holidays.”
Rodgers said she is happy the City of Taylor decided to host its own event and looks forward to future annual celebrations sponsored by the City.
“The last thing I want to do is send a message to any of the children that we support that they are not worthy or valid to be able to celebrate a holiday or participate in a holiday parade,” Rodgers said. “Just absolutely not okay.”
Jeff Ripple is a pastor at Christ Fellowship Church, which is part of the Taylor Area Ministerial Alliance. He claims the drag performer’s appearance at the parade last year upset some families.
“We asked all entries that (they) would not be inconsistent with traditional biblical and family values. We did not single out a particular group; we didn’t call a group and say you can’t be in our parade,” Ripple said.
Ripple said he is saddened by the division in the community this controversy has created but stands by the group’s decision.
“I fully respect Taylor Pride’s right to be an organization, right to have events of their own. And just as (TAMA) is an organization… we could not in good conscience allow what we believe is contrary to what the Bible teaches,” Ripple said. “Because we believe the Bible is true, we believe the most loving thing we can do is stand up for the truth.”