Milwaukee Pride Parade responds on Grand Marshal change

MILWAUKEE — As many people have become aware the Milwaukee Pride Parade Board of Directors offered the position of 2016 Grand Marshal to Miriam Ben-Shalom for a number of reasons, including her battles for equality with the United States Army, her involvement in the founding of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans of America (now known as American Veterans for Equal Rights), and her protesting of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in 1993, as well as her status as a nationally-recognized leader in the LGBT community who resides here in Milwaukee, WI.

Shortly after the Board of Directors offered her the position, after she was notified but prior to a public press release, we became aware of a post publicly visible on her personal Facebook page which we deemed to be transphobic. This post and several subsequent posts repeat the unfounded accusation that trans women are a threat to women and young girls in bathrooms and locker rooms. As the Board debated how to respond to these posts, other posts were discovered including ones which told the “GBT to get the L out” and “FU-GBT”. In the opinion of the Board, these other posts represent a rejection not just of trans people but also of gay men, and bisexual men and women.

Having reviewed these posts, the Board of Directors unanimously agreed these statements were not in line with the official stance of the Milwaukee Pride Parade, nor, in the Board’s opinion, with the views of the majority of the LGBT population of Southeast Wisconsin. The Pride Parade strives to be inclusive for all members of the LGBT community. We believe that an attack on trans women is an attack on the whole LGBT community. We acknowledge the years of work that trans men and trans women have done in support of their gay, lesbian, and bisexual brothers and sisters, and we feel that it is important for us to stand up for them and their rights.

The Board debated asking Ms. Ben-Shalom to remove the posts but ultimately felt doing so would be an attempt to silence her voice. Ms Ben-Shalom has a right to her opinion and a right to express that opinion on her Facebook page and anywhere else she chooses. We fully support her right to express that opinion.

However, the Board feels that the mission of the Milwaukee Pride Parade is to represent the full spectrum of LGBT individuals, and we feel that because the Grand Marshal is the public face of the Pride Parade during the Parade itself, it is important that the Grand Marshal be someone who is willing to represent the LGBT community as a whole. After much debate, we felt that Ms. Ben-Shalom’s publicly stated opinions were incompatible with her service as Grand Marshal. It was ultimately decided by unanimous opinion to rescind the offer of to be the 2016 Grand Marshal.

Ms. Ben-Shalom was notified by our president in a letter. She elected to make our letter and her response public and open for comment on her Facebook page. This too is her right. To date the Milwaukee Pride Parade has received numerous emails and social media messages from Ms. Ben-Shalom’s supporters, who are under the mistaken impression that she was removed from the post due to her gender. This is incorrect. Ms. Ben-Shalom’s gender was not a factor in the Board’s discussion, only her public statements. Since 2005, when the current Board of Directors assumed responsibility for the Parade, four of our Grand Marshals have been women, three have been men, one has been a mixed group of men and women, and two years have had no Grand Marshal, so in fact we have appointed female Grand Marshals more often than male Grand Marshals.

We deeply regret that we felt it necessary to remove Ms. Ben-Shalom as Grand Marshal. She has done important work as an advocate within the LGBT community, and until this issue arose, the Board was excited to have her as our Grand Marshal. The theme of this year’s parade is ‘Heroes of Pride’, and Ms. Ben-Shalom’s work on behalf of gay and lesbian veterans made her an ideal candidate to lead this year’s parade. Unfortunately her stated opinions do not mesh with those of our organization and we were reluctantly forced to rescind our invitation.

The Milwaukee Pride Parade hopes to see everyone coming together this year on Sunday June 12, 2016 for a celebration of Pride, not just “L”, “G”, “B” or “T” but all peoples regardless of gender identity.

Please direct any questions or requests for comment to:

Brent Holmes
Pride Parade Coordinator

Via press release