Gay pride exhibit taken down after mayor objects

Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The removal of a gay pride exhibit from the city's main library after the mayor objected is unconstitutional, the executive director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday.

The third-floor display on the Z.J. Loussac Public Library was taken down Tuesday.

Mayor George Wuerch wouldn't elaborate on why he disapproved.

''I just said 'no,' '' Wuerch said. ''This is a fundamental responsibility of the mayor, to make decisions. Once in a while, you have to say no.''

Under the city's library exhibit policy, a display can be refused if it might cause ''substantial disruptions or material interference with primary library business.'' On that basis, the mayor rejected the gay pride exhibit, said his spokesman, Dennis Fradley.

The third-floor display contained no nudity. It included posters and a large, rainbow banner saying ''Celebrate Diversity under the midnight sun.'' It was installed Monday evening and came down before the library's 10 a.m. opening Tuesday. No one had complained.

''It is a violation of the First Amendment,'' Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, said of the mayor's action. ''Removal of the art work in itself is blatantly unconstitutional... he doesn't have a legal leg to stand on.''

Wuerch was expected to review the display Thursday and meet with organizers.

The exhibit was sponsored by Metropolitan Community Church, a predominantly gay and lesbian congregation, and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG.

The groups sought permission in March to install the exhibit. They brought in diagrams and other materials to show library staff what their exhibit would look like.

''I don't think the word 'sex' appears in the entire piece,'' said Doug Frank of PFLAG, who designed the exhibit. He said he tried to keep the message general enough for a public library. ''I didn't want to push buttons.''

Wuerch is one of a number of politicians who has declined to appear in a parade June 23 as part of Gay Pride Month. A poster promoting the parade still hangs on a library bulletin board.

Tim Lynch, the municipality's head librarian, said he didn't know of the exhibit before Friday, when library staff asked him whether a comment box would be allowed. He said a comment box was fine. But after thinking about it over the weekend, Lynch said he had other concerns.

T-shirts were to be tacked to walls above the elevators, to give library patrons the feeling they were walking in and out of closets. The sign above one read ''Closets are for Clothes Not People.''

Lynch decided T-shirts above the elevators were a safety issue and needed to be moved.

Monday morning, a library staffer tried to contact Jan Richardson, pastor of Metropolitan Community Church, to tell her to hold off on installing the exhibit. Richardson didn't get the message. She and Frank put the display up just before the library closed.

The exhibitors now are regrouping. They hope to find another venue.

''I would like to call it, 'The information the mayor doesn't want you to see,' '' Frank said.

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