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Days of '47 Parade organizers have denied a float application from Mormons Building Bridges, saying an entry from the group founded to improve relationships between Latter-day Saints and the gay community would be too controversial.
"The parade is very specific in its requirement that no float can enter that will create controversy," Executive Vice President Greg James said Tuesday. "We wouldn't have the Mormons Building Bridges float in there any more than we'd have the NRA [National Rifle Association] or something else that might turn people off."
The July 24 event, which celebrates the Mormon pioneers' 1847 arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, is Utah's biggest parade.
"We're nonpartisan. We don't take a position on any issue," James said. "One of the problems in the country right now is everyone is too polarized. We're just trying to stay as neutral as we can."
Mormons Building Bridges, founded in 2012, has won cheers for two straight years when marching by the hundreds in Utah's second-largest parade, which takes place during the Utah Pride Festival and celebrates the state's LGBT residents.
For its first Days of '47 appearance, Bridges proposed a convertible car with eight people on board from Utah arts, business and nonprofit organizations, explained group co-founder Kendall Wilcox. Those on board would be Mormon or have LDS heritage and also be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
"We felt we were shying away completely from any sort of politics. ... We worked hard to stay within their guidelines," Wilcox said, adding that he thought the 2014 Days of '47 theme, "Pioneers Pushing Toward Our Future," matched the group's mission.
"Members of the LGBT community are part of the Utah community," he said. " ... They really are pioneers today leading to a better Utah, so why not celebrate them?"
Other LGBT groups, including Utah Pride, Equality Utah and PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), have also seen applications rejected, Wilcox said. Mormons Building Bridges organizers tried to appeal by meeting with Days of '47 organizers but were denied, he added. The group plans to apply again and may attend the parade this year in Mormons Building Bridges T-shirts.
James said Bridges was also rejected a few weeks ago because its application was late, incomplete and the group wanted to pass out pamphlets. Wilcox disputed that, saying the group wasn't told about problems with the application and didn't ask to distribute fliers.
Organizers believed their decision was justified when Mormons Building Bridges mentioned making the rejection public, James said. Bridges announced the denial on its website Tuesday.
Mormons Building Bridges wasn't the only organization whose application was denied, James noted. The parade also doesn't allow political candidates, for example, though it does welcome officeholders.
Most years, about a dozen applications are denied. More than 100 end up part of the parade, which attracts some 250,000 onlookers and a roughly equivalent TV audience. Typically held on the state's July 24 Pioneer Day holiday and sometimes dubbed the "Mormon Mardi Gras," the event is run by a private nonprofit organization, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a large sponsor. Leaders, including LDS Church presidents, are often part of the parade.
The LDS Church has never publicly commented on Mormons Building Bridges, which Wilcox says seeks to "convey a message of love and acceptance" in the historically strained relationships between LDS and LGBT groups.
Growing by up to 200 members a month on its Facebook group, the group convenes monthly "community conversations" at libraries, participates in a suicide-prevention walk and helps outreach centers for homeless youths.
The organization seeks to sidestep political conversations, Wilcox said. Bridges allies, for example, are asked not to campaign for or debate same-sex marriage on the group's Facebook page.