It wasn't just me who raised an eyebrow over today's news about Seattle's gay pride parade. Elected officeholders, business leaders, and activists are growing increasingly peeved that political officials are being asked to pay $1,200 to march this year—while businesses only have to pay $700.
"It's like a tax on being a supportive candidate," says Representative Jamie Pedersen, who sponsored the House version of a marriage-equality bill passed by the Washington State Legislature this year. And it's a big tax on politicians. Since last year, the fee for Pedersen and other elected officials went up $530, while business saw only a modest $30 rate hike.
"They are basically saying, 'We don't want candidates or elected officials in the pride parade,'" Pedersen says.
Seattle Out and Proud (SOaP), which produces the parade, simply explains on its website that participants must pay higher fees this year due to "increasing cost associated with putting on such a large event." Reached by e-mail, SOaP director Adam Rosencrantz said that the group created a fourth category of parade entrants—elected officials and political organizations, which used to pay the same amount as businesses—because "we needed to be proactive in our fund raising and to increase parade fees was one of our options." What's the logic in targeting political leaders for the money? Rosencrantz refused to elaborate, saying, "I clearly answered that question." He added that "we are maintaining the current pricing structure."
But several LGBT leaders have terse words for pride organizers.
Gay-rights activist Thomas Pitchford has created a Change.org petition that accuses the parade of "bilking candidates and office holders" and questions SOaP's accounting. "Where does the money go?" the petition asks.
And as Pedersen points out, "One of the key purposes of pride has been for the community to show its political power and support. When you have someone like Senator Ed Murray or me making the calculation that it doesn't pencil out to march, there is something drastically wrong."
Meanwhile, Louise Chernin, president of the Greater Seattle Business Association, is nonplussed: "I am not even sure why they would do that. If the fee discourages participation from people who are working to support equality and rights, that is a serious problem. I am going to call them and ask what is the purpose of this is."
Finally, the marriage equality director of Equal Rights Washington, a group named one of the parade's grand marshals, expressed his concern, too. "SOaP is not a deeply political organization," Josh Friedes acknowledges. "We can do a better job educating SOaP on making it easy for elected officials who want to show their support to do so."
"There are an awful lot of elected officials who worked hard this year to secure marriage equality," Friedes adds. "They deserve thanks, and we need to be raising money to get them reelected, not taking their money."