FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | June 3, 2005
St. Augustine Pride Committee Files Suit to Fly Pride Flags on Bridge of Lions
(St. Augustine, FL, June 3, 2005) — Equality Florida and St. Augustine Pride Committee (SAPC), represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), today filed a federal lawsuit against the city of St. Augustine, its Mayor and other administrators. The suit demands an end to the city's discrimination against SAPC and immediate access to fly rainbow Pride flags on the Bridge of Lions.
"For three years, we have been excluded from flying flags on the Bridge of Lions and we are the only non-profit to ever be denied," said Reverend Ruth Jensen, Co-Chair of SAPC. "With the help of Equality Florida and NCLR, I am more confident than ever that we will soon see rainbow flags flying from our beautiful bridge."
SAPC filed the initial application in 2003 and was denied even though they met all of the currently existing requirements. City Commissioners later tried to justify their denial, saying there was an unwritten requirement that applicants must have an historical connection to the city.
Some Commissioners expressed concern over "unwritten" requirements and agreed to hold public workshops to get public input on new criteria. The workshops were never held. Months later, the Commission created and approved a new stricter policy without public input or notice. SAPC's application was denied again in 2004 and 2005, even though they consistently met the new requirements.
"St. Augustine Pride has always met the city's requirement. Even as administrators unfairly changed the rules and increased restrictions, Pride rose to the challenge each time and met those new requirements," said Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida. "The city has forced us to file of this lawsuit as it is the only remaining avenue to ensure that our members and other LGBT families will be treated fairly and without bias."
Flagler College, a 35 year-old liberal arts school, has been permitted to fly flags on the bridge in excess of 50 days between 2004 and 2005. Other permitted organizations include: St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine, The Civil Rights Committee of St. Augustine, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum and even the Broward Yacht Company, a private firm.
"Permitting a group to fly their flag from the Bridge of Lions enables that group to say 'We exist and this is what we stand for,'" said Karen Doering, staff attorney with NCLR and in-house consultant to Equality Florida. "By denying this application, these city administrators are denying my clients their constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of speech and equal access under the law. That violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments."
Beginning later this year, a massive five-year reconstruction project will begin on the Bridge of Lions. It is anticipated that no flags will be permitted to fly during that period.
St. Augustine Pride Committee is a volunteer organization created to promote appreciation for local diversity and to organize St. Augustine's LGBT Pride Weekend and events.
Equality Florida is Florida's largest statewide human rights organization working on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. Through education and advocacy, the organization is dedicated to building a state of equal rights for all Floridians, inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.