Organizers of an annual Halloween parade in Anoka denied a request from a gay youth group to walk in this year's parade.
Justin's Gift, a nonprofit group created to support gay youth after several suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, received a letter dated Sept. 25 denying their request to walk in the Oct. 27 parade. The letter is signed by the parade chair, who included only her first name, Liz.
"At this time we are unable to accept your application for the parade," the letter said. "We have reached our maximum for walking units."
The parade's website lists a phone number for the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce as its contact number. A receptionist at the Chamber of Commerce said she is taking messages for parade organizers. The group did not respond to a message left Tuesday by MPR News. Parade organizers also did not respond to emails seeking comment.
About 30 students planned to walk in the Halloween parade and had selected a theme, as required by parade organizers, said Justin's Gift vice president Jefferson Fietek. They planned to dress up as their favorite fairytale characters. Fietek said he's "still a bit confused and mystified" about why the request was denied.
"The kids are pretty upset," Fietek said. "We're trying to show these kids that they're part of the community and unfortunately it backfired and sent a completely different message."
He said the students are getting some emotional support from people who have posted comments on an online petition asking parade organizers to allow the students to participate. The petition on the website Change.org was started by an employee of the Anoka-Hennepin School District.
Justin's Gift was founded in August 2011 in honor of Justin Aaberg, a gay student at Anoka High School who committed suicide after his freshman year. His mother, Tammy Aaberg, said her son feared for his safety and was harassed and bullied because of his sexual orientation. She said the parade was an opportunity for the community to heal.
"That's why I think it's so awful that they were declined," Aaberg said. "A lot of kids, they're put down, and I'm sure that they're kind of depressed because this is something really exciting."
Justin's Gift plans to hold a Halloween dance as an alternative activity for the students who planned to walk in the parade.