Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker won’t reverse her decision on removing the LGBTQ badge from her summer reading program, but a council member offered an alternative Tuesday.
Clergy members, LGBTQ residents and library patrons criticized Parker during the council’s June 6 public comment meeting.
“LGBTQ and trans rights are a slippery slope, and you’ve taken a dangerous step,” Jonah Murray, who serves as board president at Finn’s Place, a community center for trans and gender-diverse people. “We can’t trust you with an issue as small as this, we cannot trust you when it comes to larger issues. And those larger issues are coming.”
Following public comment, Parker publicly addressed her decision. She acknowledged that residents felt attacked by the decision, apologized to library staff and explained that she believes the reading challenge should be focused on literacy alone. The program also includes badges for activities related to Juneteenth, Independence Day and others.
She is open to continuous conversation on the subject, Parker said.
“I recognize that what matters to me is a sense of belonging, especially in our public spaces here in Fort Worth, and we want every family to belong,” Parker said. “My entire goal for accepting the opportunity to participate in their summer reading challenge again was to encourage reading books, period.”
She was not aware of the activities included in the challenge before it was launched, she said.
The pride badge was created three years ago and has been a part of the mayor’s summer reading challenge up to this year. The badge was removed after the mayor received about 30 emails asking that the badge be removed, according to WFAA.
Minutes before Tuesday’s public comment meeting began, District 9 council member Elizabeth Beck, who represents parts of Fort Worth’s southside and downtown, announced her own pride badge challenge. Participants can sign up to join the challenge through Beck’s city webpage.
All participants who complete the challenge will be invited to an ice cream social. To earn the badge, readers will have to complete four activities that include reading a book featuring an LGBTQ protagonist, and making a list of the things and people in your life you are proud of.
“This initiative not only promotes a love for reading but gives parents the opportunity to decide how they want to share inclusivity and acceptance within our community,” Beck said in a statement. “I invite families across Fort Worth to participate in this exciting program, embracing the joy of reading and celebrating diversity together.”
Fourteen individuals spoke at the public comment meeting asking Parker to reconsider the removal of the optional badge. Rev. David Grebel, cantor Sheri Allen and several other pastors spoke representing 20 communities of faith that are part of the Justice Network of Tarrant County.
The clergy directly addressed a call to action from the conservative For Liberty and Justice political group, which is affiliated with Mercy Culture Church and led by state Rep. Nate Schatzline, R-Fort Worth.
In an Instagram post published by the group, they characterized the badge as “pushing an anti-biblical agenda straight towards our children.”
The clergy members, who represented both Christian and Jewish faiths, said bowing to the For Liberty and Justice group perpetuates the idea that the most conservative members of the christian faith have a monopoly on what is “biblical.”
“Why, if the pride badge was instituted three years ago, is this suddenly an issue now, other than the obvious reason that those who espouse their own brand of religion want to impose it on everyone else?” Allen said. “How are LGBTQ members of this community in the people who love them supposed to feel safe when any validity is given to such incendiary accusations? I urge you all to reconsider your decision and add the pride badge back.”
Parker’s decision was hers alone, and not swayed by input from outside groups, she said.
“Candidly, I was out of the country and didn’t know there was any kind of uproar from any organization,” Parker said. “I just knew that I hadn’t agreed to what I saw.”
Along with the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting, over 2,000 people have signed a petition opposing the removal of the badge.
“I know my decision to remove the pride badge from the Summer Reading Challenge was celebrated by some and supported by many,” Parker said. “But it also created mass confusion, and hurt and pain, and frankly, fear, especially from those in our LGBTQ community.”
Rev. David Grebel, who is a pastor at Celebration Community Church, said Fort Worth should stand up to residents who seek to enforce their views on the rest of the city.
“This biblical understanding affirms and celebrates each person, each child for living lives that are true to how God created them,” Grebel said, quoting the Bible. “Yes, we do have a biblical agenda toward children and toward young people. Our biblical agenda is to love them as their truest selves.”
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