It’s pretty typical for Halloween to be in the news come early October in Anoka.
But this year Anoka Halloween’s Grand Day Parade is receiving some extra attention after its decision to deny Justin’s Gift permission to march in the Oct. 27 Grand Day Parade.
Justin’s Gift is an organization formed to offer support to the area’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.
The group is named in honor of Justin Aaberg, an Anoka High School student who committed suicide in 2009. According to his mother Tammy Aaberg, Justin faced bullying as a result of his sexuality.
Thirty members of Justin’s Gift had hoped to march in the parade dressed as their favorite fairy tale characters.
But last month the organization received notice there would not be room for them in the parade.
Justin’s Gift’s application was filled out correctly and received by the committee before the deadline.
Aaberg said once the news of the parade application’s denial was posted on the Justin’s Gift website, some community members started asking why.
When they didn’t receive any answers from Anoka Halloween Inc., some of those people suspected bias against the GLBTQ group.
A Facebook petition started by Rebecca Krone, a parent and employee of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, has garnered more than 2,200 signatures calling on Anoka Halloween Inc. to reconsider its decision.
“It would have meant healing for the community,” said Aaberg on the chance for the students to walk the parade.
Bullying and harassment of GLBTQ students has received a lot of attention in the area over the past couple of years. In March the Anoka-Hennepin School District settled with six students who filed a lawsuit accusing the district of ignoring the bullying they had been subjected to.
Aaberg said she wishes Anoka Halloween Inc. had been quicker to respond to questions and that the group should have provided Justin’s Gift with an explanation as to why it was not being included.
“This would have been Justin’s senior year,” said Aaberg. “A lot of his friends, some of them who have come out since he died… wanted to walk in or watch the parade. I just want the kids to know whatever the reason we were denied they can still have a fun Halloween.”
The community celebration is run by volunteer members of Anoka Halloween, Inc.
Liz McFarland has been in charge of the parade as that sub-committee’s chairperson for the past eight years.
According to McFarland, the spots are filled in the parade based on six division categories she uses to make sure there is enough variety.
She also has a goal of keeping the parade time to less than three hours, McFarland said
“We were maxed out on our walking entries,” she said of the reason why Justin’s Gift did not receive approval.
The entries are evaluated as they are received in the mail, McFarland said.
She said she has followed an unwritten structure and traditions that have been handed down with the Halloween parade, which is in its 92nd year.
Anoka Halloween Inc. does not allow any political entrants, which McFarland says is a challenge to police during an election year.
Justin’s Gift was not the only group turned down for the 2012 Grand Day parade.
“We turned down 28 various groups,” said McFarland.
This happened for a number of reasons ranging from not supplying a theme or payment or because there were already too many of that particular type of entry already booked, she said.
Last year “Anoka LGBTQ Friends and Allies” were a part of the Grand Day Parade. This was the first time the parade included an openly LGBTQ group.
Aaberg said she has heard from people in the community who are planning to boycott the parade and the parade’s sponsors, an idea she does not support.
“We don’t want the community to hurt anymore,” she said.
Aaberg said next year the parade committee should consider including more information on its website about the selection of entries.
ABC Newspapers and the Anoka County Shopper is a sponsor of the Grand Day Parade, but is not a member of the Anoka Halloween committee and is not involved in the selection of parade entrants.
Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]