By April L. Bogle
Citizens Defending Freedom-Nassau (CDF-Nassau) is asking Fernandina Beach cty commissioners to limit or rescind the permit for the June 10 Pride parade and festival, claiming the events violate city and state laws designed to protect children.
Jack Knocke, CDF-Nassau executive director, sent an email to members on April 27 requesting they contact commissioners and attend the May 2 commission meeting to voice their opinions.
“It is time that the citizens of Nassau County who support protecting our children, support the rule of law and support traditional Christian values speak up to stop the misuse of city assets to expose children to sexual material that are inappropriate,” Knocke wrote.
He also suggested message points, including “It is against the law – Rescind the permits for the pride parade and pride festival immediately because they are in the park violating City Ordinances and State Ordinances CS/HB 1423 restricting adult content and performances from public parks, churches and schools.”
The city ordinances Knocke cites haven’t been updated since 1995, according to City Attorney Tammi Bach, and the “state ordinance” protecting children from adult live entertainment is a bill pending in the Florida state legislature.
Bach said she would need to review recent case law to see if the city ordinances (Article III. Adult Entertainment, Sec. 14-53), which apply to adult entertainment businesses, also apply to public events.
The pending state legislation, sponsored by Sen. Clay Yarborough (R-District 4/Nassau County), originally targeted people who dress in drag. Called SB 1438 in its final draft, it now also includes an amendment that applies to any public entity that permits 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. The bill is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis soon, possibly by June 10.
If it does become law, “the bill is not a complete prohibition by any means on Pride or drag/male/female impersonation,” according to Jon Harris Maurer, senior policy director for Equality Florida, a civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s LGBTQ community.
“Drag is not inherently inappropriate. Drag that is done in an age-appropriate manner is not adult live performance. You can have someone who puts on a princess outfit to read a fairy tale,” Maurer said.
SB 1438 never uses the words “drag” or “impersonation,” but Maurer believes drag is the intent of the bill. “The bill uses the term ‘lewd conduct,’ which isn’t defined, so there is ambiguity that leads to a chilling effect.”
Since the bill is not yet law, “it would make sense for a local government to not take any action,” Maurer said, adding, “Rights that we hold so fundamental shouldn’t be infringed upon because there hasn’t even been a law passed that calls the event into question.”
And if it does become law by June 10? Maurer says, “I think the Pride events could be done perfectly legally.”
Genece Minshew, president of Fernandina Beach Pride, said the real issue “isn’t about men dressing up in dresses. It’s about creating an ‘other’ that you can hate, so that you can push your agenda forward. It’s about power.”
Knocke has been vocal in his disapproval of the Pride events since late March, when he emailed city commissioners that he thinks they are “hugely inappropriate to expose our children in public places to.” That email turned into an above-the-fold front page story in the April 5 News Leader. Knocke then wrote an April 14 News Leader “Viewpoint” explaining his position on the matter. “We object to possibly harming young children and exposing them to harmful sexual content,” he wrote.
City and county residents responded with letters to the editor in the News Leader. As of April 28, there were 18 letters in support of Pride festivities and only one letter against them.
On April 14, the same day his “Viewpoint” appeared in the News Leader, Knocke emailed Mayor Bradley Bean, telling him he should “be informed and ready to respond – AND ready to VOTE PUBLICLY on whether Fernandina Beach will approve lewd, adult entertainment and sexual content to be promoted in OUR CITY PARK.” Knocke forwarded a reminder email a week later to Bean with the note, “Please acknowledge that you receive this and please give me a call to discuss.”
Public record requests show no responses from Bean, and the Observer was unable to confirm if Bean has spoken to Knocke about this issue.
In addition to citing city ordinances, Knocke’s April 14 email also questioned what will be “sold, promoted, discussed and given away that is of a sexual nature … discussion on condom promotion, STD/HIV tests, mental illness, women health for all genders, behavior disorders, and gender affirming services for children … presented on tables next to candy to entice children to approach.”
Minshew said this year, as in previous years, the Pride festival will include a host of local organizations, from the Nassau County Public Health Department to Rotary Club, as well as food vendors and local musicians. (A full list of participants is included at the end of this article.) In addition, State Representative Angela “Angie” Nixon (D-District 13/part of Duval County) will give a short address, and Faith-filled Friends, an interdenominational group of Christians, will offer communion and prayers.
“It’s a day of music, food and love for all ages. Everyone’s welcome,” Minshew said.
Knocke’s email also contained two images. One, a screen shot of a January 2020 social media post from “Hecate Queen of Witches,” a persona of Kingsland, Georgia resident Louis Vallejos.
“Hecate is Hades’ best friend who has been performing in the park and in our parades in Fernandina Beach – to children,” Knocke wrote in his email.
Vallejos says Hecate was a Greek goddess who helped people at the crossroads of their lives.
The post reads in part: “I am not a lightworker. I work my magick [sic] in the blackest of nights … There is no bright sunlight found where true healing grows. It’s dark and frightening. Courage and persistence are required … My witchcraft needs the darkness the way the stars need the night.”
Vallejos said he sees how the post could be taken out of context. “But people who have been oppressed or abused see real beauty in the darkness, as I did during my personal struggle through depression until I found the torchlight through Hecate,” he said.
The second image in Knocke’s April 14 email is a screen shot of a YouTube video called “Drag for Kids” showing children posing with men dressed in colorful gowns and wigs. Knocke doesn’t offer commentary about this image, but the Observer learned “Drag for Kids” is a program sponsored by the Lakeland, Florida-based Rose Dynasty Foundation, which provides “a safe and family friendly atmosphere for all people no matter their gender, race, sexual orientation, and/or religion, through mentoring, fundraising, fostering community, and promoting awareness of resources,” according to its website.
On April 27, in addition to the call-to-action email sent to members, CDF-Nassau issued a press release stating that Knocke had received a death threat from a local citizen after being “maligned in the local press for opposing gay pride events hosted in spaces where children are likely to be present.” The citizen apologized and “acknowledged that the media stories … motivated him to send the death threat in the first place,” according to the press release.
“I’m not shocked to have received this threat,” Knocke says in the press release. “The way Citizens Defending Freedom has been treated by the local media here in Fernandina Beach is helping to radicalize people against us. They make us sound like ‘far-right’ lunatics. In reality, we simply do not want our children and grandchildren exposed to sexualization, inappropriate adult materials, and a drag queen performance in spaces designed for children.”
Minshew says there is no drag show or kid zone in this year’s Pride festival, nor was there last year. “People who were not actually in attendance continue to spread false and misleading information,” she said.
And this year, as in prior years, there will be some people dressed in drag. Vallejos (Hecate) is one of them. He has attended Fernandina Beach Pride events since 2019 and will again this year.
“They’re not going to stop me. I’ve found that the most important time for a queen to be there is times like now,” he said.
2023 Fernandina Beach Pride Festival Participants:
- Amelia Island History Museum
- Amelia Music Studio
- Big Brothers and Big Sisters
- Cats Angels
- Faith-filled Friends
- Florida’s First Coast YMCA
- Life Quest/Donate Life Florida
- Millennium Physicians Group
- Nassau County Public Health Department
- Nassau Medical Reserve Corp
- Starting Point Behavioral Services
- Rotary Club
- Take Stock in Children
- Beyond Horizons
- Hot Dog House
- Kona Ice
- New South
- Julie Delfs
- Brian Ernst
- Ray Hetchka, Honey Deacon, Amy Vickery
- Shawn Pfaffman