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Proposed Pride Gathering Compared to Ku Klux Klan at Niceville Council Meeting

A heated debate erupted at the Niceville City Council meeting over a planned Pride event, with one man making comparisons of the event to the Ku Klux Klan. Find out what led to this contentious discussion.

You never expect to hear your church’s deacon ask someone if he can host a Ku Klux Klan rally on government property – and have it met with raucous applause. 

But that’s where we are after Tuesday night’s Niceville City Council meeting. 

How’d we get here?

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I’d never have guessed the answer – Gay Pride Month, June, 2024. 

So, here’s what happened:

The Set Up

Earlier this week, a flyer for this event made the rounds on Facebook, advertising a Pride Festival hosted by Niceville PFLAG on June 1 at the Niceville Community Center, between government offices and the Niceville library on Partin Drive. 

The rally advertised the Gulf Coast Pride Choir, “Lighthearted stories read by some special ladies,” an inspirational talk, and a pride walk. 

That flyer was seen by many people who attended the city council meeting and waited through the two-hour affair to have their thoughts heard on it. 

Discussion – Or, Taking Turns Making Points. 

Jeff Mazur, the first person to approach the mic, told the city council he believed the Pride event targeted children. He added that he was concerned that last year’s event’s biggest sponsor was a local sex shop. “When you [are] a rainbow sponsor, one receives recognition at the day’s event, business information [and] logo listed on the [PFLAG] website, [and] permission to set up inside of the event. Tables will be provided at the event.”

The individual then told the council he was worried the event would target children in the community. Finally, he cited Florida Statute 827.11, which has to do with adult performances in front of minors.

City Manager David Deitch intervened on behalf of city staff to note that PFLAG, which lists the Niceville Community Center as the venue for the event, does not yet have a contract with the city of Niceville to use the community center facility. He added that the US Supreme Court told Florida it could not enforce the law Mazur cited, also known as Senate Bill 1438 – or the ‘anti-drag law’. 

Residents then asked Deitch who would decide whether the Niceville Community Center could be used for a drag show. He told the crowd it was an ‘internal administrative decision’ and subject to his approval. 

The Deacon and the Councilman

After Mazur sat down, Councilman Sal Nodjomian attended the council meeting via teleconference and told Mayor Dan Henkel he had a question for the two people who’d just spoken. “I’m trying to understand what your position is,” Nodjomian said, “how [are] parents being forced to bring their children to this event?”

 Another man, who failed to give his name and address as is policy at council meetings, began to speak. He told the council that the types of events—face painting, movies, and a drag queen story hour specifically for kids—unnerved him. “It’s specifically targeting children,” the man said. 

“Are we fearful children will show up on their own?” Nodjomian asked. 

At this point, Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church Deacon Tom Elsesser made it to the microphone and replied, “I’m not fearful of that; I’m fearful that I have to forego what I have in this city. Because somebody else wants to come over and give indoctrination to my children, I shouldn’t have to withhold my children from the library because a drag queen wants to put on a show.”

City Manager Deitch clarified that the library was not being used for any event. In any case, the group needed a valid contract with the city to use the community center – a different building. He added that only library staff were allowed to host readings if a reading hour was held at the library (again, a separate building). 

“Who’s forcing people to come?” Nodjomian asked again. 

“I gather you don’t mind if I have a Ku Klux Klan rally here, do you?” Deacon Elsesser responded, equating the white supremacist group that lynched untold numbers of black men and women and harrassed millions more with the proposed Pride rally, “I’m sure you don’t mind if I want to hold a Ku Klux Klan rally, do you? Because no one’s going to be forced to come to it.”

Wrapping Up

Elsesser went on to say that Nodjomian had, therefore, consented to having a Klan rally at the community center and told the crowd they did not have to accept what he called indoctrination. He then addressed the council again, “I’m sure that you will have to go through some legal reviews, and you might conclude that we have to do this. But we don’t have to accept the points that are indoctrination, like the movies and the reading,” he continued, “and, yes, you’re right, [children] don’t have to go [to the show], but they shouldn’t be forced not to go because it’s something that shouldn’t be done at all.”

Another man commented that he believed the city should treat drag shows like cigarettes or liquor. “We have an ordinance in Niceville that doesn’t allow advertising for liquor or cigarettes near a school or a church. I feel like this falls in there in the constitution,” the man said. 

Councilman Doug Stauffer then told the public about a recent drag show that took place in Fort Walton Beach, “We sent people down to get a video of the show at a bar,” Stauffer said, “I couldn’t go; I’m a pastor, so I didn’t go. But they videoed it – and it was the sexualization of children.”

Immediately after Stauffer’s comment, Mayor Henkel called for a vote to close the meeting. It passed and the meeting ended. 

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