FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | June 7, 2005
St. Augustine Pride Committee, Equality Florida and NCLR Win Right to Fly Flags from Bridge of Lions
(St. Augustine, FL, June 7, 2005) — Equality Florida and St. Augustine Pride Committee (SAPC), represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), today won a temporary order allowing them to fly Pride flags from the Bridge of Lions. The request was part of a lawsuit filed last Friday, June 3rd, that demands a permanent end to the city's discrimination against SAPC and local LGBT families.
"Today's decision brings an end to three years of censorship and discrimination," said Reverend Ruth Jensen, Co-Chair of SAPC. "The city thought we would just quietly go away. But with the help of Equality Florida and NCLR, we have triumphed and will finally be able to see our flags fly over the Bridge of Lions."
SAPC filed the initial application in 2003 and was denied a permit even though they met all of the written 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.
"Today's court decision is a victory for our members and all LGBT families in Florida," said Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida. "The St. Augustine Pride Committee has always met the city's requirement. Even as administrators unfairly changed the rules, Pride rose to the challenge each time and met those new requirements. I'm hopeful that today's decision will permanently end this kind of censorship in our nation's oldest city."
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.
"Today's ruling sends a clear and loud message that government sponsored censorship irreparably harms those it silences," said Karen Doering, staff attorney with NCLR and in-house consultant to Equality Florida. "Judge Adams' order will allow my clients to fly their flags during this weekend's Pride Celebration and, in so doing, exercise their constitutional guaranteed rights to freedom of speech and equal protection."
The order, although temporary, comes at a critical time because 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.