MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Tennessee Equality Project has sued the City of Murfreesboro over an ordinance and a local policy that they say targets the BoroPride Festival.
According to the ACLU of Tennessee, the lawsuit was filed after the Murfreesboro mayor and city manager “engaged in a yearlong, concerted anti-LGBTQ+ campaign to chill TEP and Murfreesboro residents’ protected speech and expression” through an established official policy prohibiting the issuance of permits to TEP; discriminatorily and unconstitutionally denying TEP’s request for a permit for 2023 BoroPride; and implementing a “sweeping and vague ordinance designed to censor any LGBTQ+ speech or conduct” within Murfreesboro and by the TEP.
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“BoroPride celebrates the growing and vibrant LGBTQ+ community in the Murfreesboro area,” said TEP Executive Director Chris Sanders. “Being able to hold our events in public spaces on the same terms as any other group is the basic fairness that we seek.”
The ordinance, passed in June, placed restrictions on “indecent behavior” considered to be “harmful to minors,” using what the lawsuit calls “staggeringly vague and overbroad” language. The ordinance was drafted after allegedly dragging out a permitting process for TEP when it applied for a permit to host the 2023 BoroPride in the historic Cannonsburgh Village. TEP applied for the permit in November 2022, the lawsuit states, and the city “refused to state whether it would grant the permit.”
By July, the lawsuit states, TEP “was forced to abandon its plans to host the 2023 BoroPride event at the Cannonsburgh Village location and seek out a new venue.” TEP later partnered with MTSU for a later event date.
The ordinance also contains language that includes any acts that may be construed as homosexual in nature in the definition of “indecent behavior,” putting any material or event that might even suggest at being related to the LGBTQ+ community at risk of facing civil or criminal penalties.
“The government has no right to censor LGBTQ+ people and our expression,” said ACLU-TN Legal Director Stella Yarbrough. “Restricting drag performances and censoring affirming LGBTQ+ messages are discriminatory actions and violate community members’ First Amendment rights.”
The lawsuit states the ordinance has already been used to ban books within the city library, using what the TEP claims is “unfettered discretion” to “harm and silence the LGBTQ+ community.”
The ACLU of Tennessee filed the suit along with the ACLU and law firms Ballard Spahr and Burr Forman on behalf of the Tennessee Equality Project. The suit names the City of Murfreesboro, the Murfreesboro City Council, Mayor Shane McFarland, City Manager Craig Tindall, Police Chief Michael Bowen, Director of Code Enforcement Kevin Jones, and City Council members Jami Averwater, Madelyn Scales Harris, Austin Maxwell, Kirt Wade and Shawn Wright individually as defendants.
“We stand with the plaintiff and the ACLU in challenging these blatantly unconstitutional restrictions on expression, as well as the city’s discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community,” said Michael P. Robotti, partner in Ballard Spahr’s Litigation Department. “The city is taking these actions against the Tennessee Equality Project and the BoroPride Festival simply because city leaders disagree with their pro-LGBTQ+ message- and that’s a violation of the law and plaintiff’s constitutional rights.”
TEP is asking the court to find Murfreesboro’s new anti-drag ordinance unconstitutional and to stop the city from enforcing its blanket denial of all future special event permits applied for by TEP.