By April L. Bogle
Fernandina Beach City Attorney Tammi Bach will advise city commissioners against rescinding the June 10 Fernandina Beach Pride parade and festival permit at tonight’s commission meeting — if she is asked for her response. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in City Hall.
“The city does not consider the proposed Pride festival or parade an ‘adult entertainment business’ because nothing in the application for the Pride festival or parade indicates that this is an ‘adult entertainment business’ under the city code,” she said. “Therefore, Section 14-53 of the city code does not apply to the proposed Pride parade or festival.”
Regarding pending state law SB 1438 that blocks venues from admitting children to “adult live performances” depicting sexual activities or lewd conduct, Bach said, “None of the parties have indicated this is going on, so there is no violation of the statute based on what they said they’re planning to do. We’ve already issued a permit, and it’s the responsibility of the permit holder to follow the law. I will advise the commission against revoking the permit at this point because it’s my understanding the [pending] state law doesn’t protect the city from violation of the First Amendment if we revoke it. It’s my job to protect the city from federal lawsuits.”
A large number of city and county citizens are expected to attend the meeting to voice their support or opposition to the Pride festivities. To accommodate a potential overflow, outside speakers will be on and the upstairs conference room television will air the meeting. There also will be additional police presence.
As of this writing, Chip Ross is the only commissioner who has asked Bach for information about city ordinances and the pending state law, according to Bach.
Pride festivities have been challenged this year for the first time since they began in 2019. A local chapter of a national conservative political organization, Citizens Defending Freedom-Nassau (CDF-Nassau), has claimed the events are dangerous for children and violate city ordinances and state law. CDF-Nassau Executive Director Jack Knocke issued a call to action to members on April 27, urging them to contact commissioners and attend the May 2 commission meeting to voice their views.
In response, Fernandina Beach Pride and allies have been organizing to show their support for the parade and festival.
A driving force behind those opposing Pride events is SB 1438, informally known as the “drag show bill,” sponsored by Sen. Clay Yarborough (R-District 4/Nassau County). The bill has passed both houses of the state legislature and is awaiting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature. The law goes into effect upon signing.
Although SB 1438 does not outlaw Pride events or use the term “drag,” it does enable the state to fine, suspend or revoke food and beverage licenses of businesses that allow children to attend any “adult live performance” that “appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest.” The bill lists specific actions, including “the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.” It also includes an amendment, added by Sen. Yarborough, that applies to any public entity that permits such adult live performances where minors are admitted, making the person who receives the permit liable to a misdemeanor of the first degree and subject to a first offense fee of $5,000.
Pride festivity organizers in Port St. Lucie, Florida canceled their parade and restricted events to those age 21 and older in anticipation of the new law.
Fernandina Beach Pride President Genece Minshew has no such plans. “Our event is and always has been family oriented. We don’t foresee any issues with following the stipulations of SB 1438 should it be effective by June 10.”