3 council members to skip parade over Jerry the Horse & gay rights
Pioneer Day • Organizers of July 24 event have a hard time dodging hot-button issues.
Published: June 13, 2014 07:48AM
Updated: June 13, 2014 07:42AM
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Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Riders in the patriotic horse group Americana's from Rexburg, Idaho, participate in the 163rd annual Days of ‘47 KSL 5 Parade Tuesday July 24, 2012.

No gay guests and a dead horse.

Those are just the latest hot-button controversies dogging a Days of ’47 Parade that strives to dodge controversy.

Earlier this week, the parade committee again refused to let the gay-friendly organization Mormons Building Bridges participate in the July 24 procession — despite a request from the Salt Lake City Council.

Now, three council members are refusing to take part in the parade, which honors the Mormon pioneers’ 1847 arrival in the Salt Lake Valley.

Erin Mendenhall, Stan Penfold and Charlie Luke say they won’t be taking part for various reasons. A statement from City Hall said the other four council members planned to participate. The office of Mayor Ralph Becker said he would be there, too.

In a letter published Thursday in The Salt Lake Tribune, Mendenhall announced she would skip the parade.

She explained that parade organizers had initially invited council members and a guest to be in the procession. But when the first-term councilwoman informed them she would bring a recently married gay man, the invitation was changed to say she could bring only a family member.

“I will not participate in the 2014 Days of ’47 Parade,” Mendenhall wrote. “It saddens me that the organizers of this parade turn their back on a long tradition of Salt Lake City providing sanctuary and refuge.”

Councilman Kyle LaMalfa said he experienced something similar.

He invited as his guest state Sen. Jim Dabakis, who is gay and recently married. But once the parade committee learned of his choice, LaMalfa, too, was informed he could bring only a family member.

Unlike Mendenhall, however, LaMalfa said he will participate in the July 24 gala. He will bring his girlfriend instead. Even though she is not a member of his family, LaMalfa said, she eventually was approved by parade organizers.

Penfold, an openly gay councilman, said Thursday that, unlike last year, he would not be in the parade.

“I’m not boycotting,” he said. “It just doesn’t sound like a welcoming opportunity.”

Luke, who earlier this week wrote a Tribune op-ed piece explaining the council’s reasons for asking the parade committee to reconsider Mormons Building Bridges’ request, said Thursday he would not ride in the procession.

But Luke said his lack of participation has nothing to do with gay issues. Rather, he doesn’t want to ride in a horse-drawn carriage after the demise of Jerry the Horse.

Jerry’s sad saga played out for weeks last summer after the 13-year-old carriage horse collapsed on a city street and eventually died.

The council then wrestled with the carriage issue for months before tightening restrictions on the use of horses downtown.

“They are saying we have to ride in a horse-drawn wagon,” Luke said. “For me, that just isn’t going to work.”

csmart@sltrib.com