LONG BEACH — Backers of a gay pride festival and parade have sued the city, alleging that officials discriminated against them by charging more than $14,000 for police supervision that has been free or less costly to other groups.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Inc., the group organizing the festival for June 15 and 16 in Shoreline Aquatic Park.
The lawsuit, which will have a hearing June 10 before Judge John Cole, alleges that the fees for police and other city services are excessive and amount to "a pretext for discriminating against" the festival organizers because they are homosexuals.
According to court papers filed by ACLU attorney Susan McGreivy, city officials have "changed and manipulated" the standard permit process for parades and festivals in an effort to scuttle the event. The suit seeks to have the city drop all fees and asks for unspecified damages.
City Atty. Robert Parkin denied the allegations, saying the fees are necessary to reimburse the city for the cost of traffic law enforcement and other services.
"They are asking to shut down one of the major cross-town thoroughfares (Ocean Boulevard) in Long Beach," Parkin said. "The city has given them the right to parade down that street, but there are costs associated with that, and the city ought to be given the opportunity to recover those costs."
According to the suit, the city will charge at least $14,000 for police supervision, more than $3,000 for the use of barricades at the parade and a $1-million liability policy costing $1,000.
The fees are not the first obstacle the city has placed in the way of the festival, organizers said.
City Manager John Dever attempted early in May to scale back the festival to one day. Backers of the festival appealed to the council, which reversed Dever May 21 in a 5-to-4 vote.
McGreivy said city officials have handled the matter poorly, have drummed up controversy and made the festival a target of fundamentalist Christian opposition. Since last year's festival, the fundamentalists have appeared at nearly every council meeting to protest the event.
More than 300 opponents of the festival packed the council chambers for the May 21 meeting. Afterward, half a dozen fundamentalists confronted homosexual leaders outside City Hall, waving Bibles and chanting, "Homos repent!"
Security Concern Cited
"These people have been so stirred up by the city that I now feel many of the participants in the festival and parade will be in danger," McGreivy said.
Parkin said the "controversial" nature of the festival's organizers and the sale of beer and wine increases the risk of an "incident" and raises potential police costs. He added, however, that the figures quoted by city officials are only estimates, and the festival's organizers will be billed only for actual expenses.
On Tuesday, leaders of Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Inc. met with Deputy City Manager Jerome Lance and other officials to discuss the fees, which festival backers have called "exorbitant."
Judith Doyle, president of the group, said Lance rejected requests that the fees be dropped.
"We're just tired of jumping through all these unfair hoops," Doyle said in an interview Thursday. "We need to begin standing up for ourselves--for now and forever."
McGreivy said in an interview that city officials have waived fees for several other events--among them a Veterans Day parade, the Olympic torch run and a parade of elephants when a circus was in town.
"Then along comes a homosexual group, and suddenly the fees are in excess of $14,000," McGreivy said.
While other groups have been charged in the past for police services, many of the others have been charged less, the suit said.
Fish Fry Example
For example, the Lions Club was charged about $4,700 for police costs at a three-day fish fry that was expected to draw 50,000 people, according to court papers filed by McGreivy. Organizers of the gay pride festival expect fewer than 10,000 people to attend their two-day event.
Police fees for a fund-raiser for the Jonathan Jaques Cancer Center, which is expected to draw between 5,000 and 7,000 people, were about $1,600 for one day, the suit claims.
The lawsuit maintains that the Long Beach festival is the only gay pride event in the nation that is being charged for police protection and other municipal services.
Although similar celebrations are common in homosexual enclaves such as San Francisco and West Hollywood, last year's gay festival was the first of its kind in Long Beach.
The festival is a fund-raiser for gay charities, particularly those helping AIDS patients.