ANOKA, Minn. — An LGBT youth group founded in memory of Justin Aaberg, a 15-year-old Anoka High School student who killed himself after he was repeatedly bullied because he was gay, has been denied participation in the Anoka Halloween Parade, presumably because there are already too many participants.
In a letter to the group “Justin’s Gift,” Elizabeth A. McFarland, co-chair of the board of organizers of the annual parade, said “at this time we are unable to accept your application for the parade,” citing, “We have reached our maximum for walking units.”
Anoka is the self-proclaimed “Halloween Capital of the World”, because it hosted one of the first Halloween parades in 1920, and continues to celebrate the holiday each year with several parades and events; the non-profit organization Anoka Halloween oversees the annual event.
But according to Minnesota Public Radio, there are two problems with the contents of McFarland’s letter. MPR reported that it had obtained a copy of the application for the parade license, which was not submitted until today (Oct. 10) — 15 days after Justin’s Gift was told the parade was full.
The second issue, MPR reported, is that Anoka Police Chief Philip Johanson said he is not aware of any official limit on the number of parade participants, although he said the parade route needs to be approved in advance to allow enough time for public safety officials to redirect traffic.
In the application received today by Anoka city officials requesting issuance of proper permits and necessary notifications of city public safety departments, McFarland, estimated the parade will include approximately 31,000 people, 250 parade units, 200 vehicles, 50 dogs and 12 horses. McFarland did not return a call seeking comment.
“The history of the (Anoka Halloween) organization is showcasing youth organizations,” said Jefferson Fietek, a teacher and one of the adult coordinators of “Justin’s Gift,” which was founded by Justin’s mother following her son’s death in 2010. “That’s confusing to us … especially when there’s outside groups marching, we got bumped?”
About 30 students planned to walk in the Halloween parade and had selected a theme, as required by parade organizers, said Fietek. They planned to dress up as their favorite fairy-tale characters.
“The kids are pretty upset,” he said. “We’re trying to show these kids that they’re part of the community and unfortunately it backfired and sent a completely different message.”
Calls and e-mails to Elizabeth McFarland and the co-chairman of the event by MPR, the Star-Tribune, and other media outlets including LGBTQ Nation, were unanswered or not returned. Her husband and the president of the Anoka Halloween board of directors, Jeremy McFarland, said Wednesday that other groups have been denied applications as well, but declined to talk further about “Justin’s Gift” and its participation in the parade.
On the Justin’s Gift website, the following statement was posted Wednesday evening:
Recently Justin’s Gift announced we were not accepted into the Anoka Halloween Parade. We did not speculate on the motives of the committee, we simply made a statement about the application denial and provided what little information we were given.
Yes, our application was received by the Committee on time and filled out correctly. The application did not state that this was a first come first serve event nor did it state that there was a cut off in the parade’s length nor number of walkers.
For nearly two weeks, community members received no response from repeated requests for information from the Anoka Halloween Parade Committee. The Committee’s silence raised concern and questions in their minds, which seemed a logical conclusion based on the recent cases of public discrimination by our school district, and they then shared their feelings with the media. We were also notified by the press that they too were finding it incredibly difficult getting information from the Committee.
The piece that we find most unfortunate in all of this is that we had hoped by walking in the Anoka Halloween Parade that we would not only be showing our youth that they were a welcome part of the Anoka Community but was to also be a public step towards the healing of a community that went through a very public and very ugly situation in regards to our LGBT youth.
For nearly three years, people living in the suburban Minnesota Anoka-Hennepin area have been dealing with not only a rash of LGBTQ youth committing suicide, but a cultural environment that at times seems nearly a war zone as the greater LGBTQ community and its supporters have squared off against the small but well-funded virulently anti-gay conservatives.
At least nine gay, or perceived gay teenagers from the area, including Justin Aaberg, have committed suicide since 2009, and many other students attempted to take their lives, many of them were reportedly victims of anti-gay bullying.