AURORA – Aurora Pride, the local LGBTQ+ rights group which hosted a successful Pride Parade in the community this past summer, today filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ordinance that led to the parade’s permit being revoked only a few days in advance. While the City abruptly reversed course, the confusion around the parade was created by statements from the Aurora Mayor (and then gubernatorial candidate) Richard Irvin, who criticized the message of the parade.
The resulting havoc led to a doubling of the costs of policing the parade, leaving Aurora Pride with nearly $22,000 in charges they did not anticipate.
“Our aim was to create a message of community support and peace for LGBTQ+ people in Aurora,” said Gwyn Ciesla, President of Aurora Pride. “That meant not including armed, uniformed police officers. When we refused to back down on this point to pressure from politicians, Aurora city officials threatened and revoked our permit. When we still would not relent, they claimed to ‘fix’ the problem they created, allowing the parade to move forward. But they expected Aurora Pride to foot the bill. And this was all made possible by this flawed ordinance.”
The lawsuit challenges Aurora’s Special Events Ordinance, which allowed Aurora police officers who disagreed with Aurora Pride’s constitutionally-protected message to exercise a “heckler’s veto” over the 2022 Pride Parade.
After a two year hiatus owing to the pandemic, Aurora Pride was excited to host the Pride Parade in 2022. In January, the group filed an application for an event permit to host the event and submitted a deposit. The permit was issued in early May.
Some weeks later, a group of LGBTQ police officers in the Aurora Police Department contacted Aurora Pride and sought the opportunity to participate in the parade. These officers specifically asked if the organizers had any concerns about “anti-police sentiment.” Pride is a celebration rooted in police brutality directed to members of the LGBTQ community at the Stonewall Inn in New York.
Based on discussions with members of the community, Aurora Pride made clear that the police group would be welcome in the parade, but asked that they wear plain clothes rather than appear armed in full police gear. Like all groups, the police were invited to identify their group using a banner or float.
Aurora Pride believed the matter was resolved. Weeks later, Mayor of Aurora Richard Irvin began to complain publicly about the LGBTQ officers being asked to wear the soft uniform. The Mayor misleadingly characterized Aurora Pride as “excluding” police officers. Days later, the Mayor publicly announced that he was withdrawing the City’s float, that he would not personally participate in the parade, and disinvited Aurora Pride from participating in the City’s inaugural Pride flag-raising ceremony. Immediately following the Mayor’s statements, Aurora Pride leaders were summoned to a meeting where city officials informed them that they did not have enough police officers after a number of officers withdrew from the event. Aurora Pride was told that its event was in jeopardy and, days later, the City revoked the permit for the event, days before it was set to step off.
After the cancellation became public, and Aurora Pride threatened to sue, City officials told Aurora Pride that they had “found” enough officers for the event and the event went forward.
The City’s solution to the problem it created, however, was to offer officers “triple time” to work the event. Only after the event was complete was Aurora Pride made aware that the City expected it to foot the bill for the City’s unilateral payment incentive. The end result was Aurora Pride being billed over $43,500 for the cost of policing, rather than the roughly $21,000 the City originally quoted.
“The Aurora ordinance is unconstitutional,” said Rebecca Glenberg, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Illinois, one of the lawyers representing Aurora Pride. “We have repeatedly pointed out to Aurora officials that our constitution does not give the Mayor or the police a veto over whether or not a parade or demonstration goes forward – simply because they do not like the message of the organizers.”
“We want to continue to make the Pride Parade a part of building support and hope for the LGBTQ+ community in Aurora,” added Ciesla. “But we should not be at the whim of elected officials or individual officers in the community in deciding how we send that message of love and support.”
The lawsuit seeks, among other things, an injunction preventing the City of Aurora from using the unconstitutional Special Events ordinance that was applied to Aurora Pride, and assure that the events of 2022 will not be repeated in the future.