LGBTQ youth group Justin’s Gift denied entry into Anoka Halloween parade
Organizers of the Anoka Halloween parade told the group there were already too many walking entrants.

A gay and lesbian youth group has been told its members can’t walk in Anoka’s annual Halloween parade, and the mother of one has launched a petition in response.

Some 30 kids had planned to march with Justin’s Gift, an Anoka-based nonprofit that seeks to provide safe activities for LGBTQ (the Q stands for questioning) youth, in the festival’s Oct. 27 Grand Day Parade.

Organizers told the group there were already too many walking entrants in the parade, the marquee event of nearly three weeks of Halloween-themed events, including an orange-tie ball, a police and fire department chili cook-off and a Pumpkin Bowl, in which the Anoka Tornadoes will face the Champlin Park Rebels.

“It just doesn’t seem to make sense,” said Jefferson Fietek, one of the group’s adult coordinators, of the decision. “It’s Anoka, it’s the Halloween capital of the world. The kids here really go nuts for it.”

Calls to the Anoka Chamber, where the nonprofit Anoka Halloween’s phones ring, were not returned as of publication time.

Long-running event

The city, which seized on the idea of distracting youthful Halloween pranksters with a community celebration in 1920, is part of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, which last year entered into a landmark legal settlement of a discrimination case brought by students who said the district turned a blind eye to harassment.

In the two years prior to the March settlement, at least seven district students killed themselves and so many more attempted suicide that state officials declared Anoka-Hennepin a suicide contagion area. Family and friends of many said bullying about the kids’ perceived sexual or gender orientation was a major factor.

The settlement, which ended a federal civil-rights suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Faegre & Benson on behalf of a group of kids who said they were tormented, was hailed as a national model.

In memory of Justin Aaberg

One of the suicide victims was Justin Aaberg, a 15-year-old openly gay Anoka High School student. His mother, Tammy Aaberg, and Fietek, an Anoka-Hennepin teacher who spoke out about the problems, started Justin’s Gift in his memory.

Fietek said Monday that he can’t say the parade application was rejected because of the group’s LGBT focus, but he wishes the event’s organizers had considered the potential appearance and impact of excluding the kids — particularly at a time when families and educators are trying to rebuild.

“It doesn’t seem to be a very well-thought-out decision,” he said. “The history of the [Anoka Halloween] organization is showcasing youth organizations; that’s confusing to us. Especially when there’s outside groups marching, we got bumped?”

In a poll posted on its website, Justin’s Group members had voted to march dressed as their favorite fairy tale characters. “We foolishly assumed that given we were an Anoka-based youth organization, we were in,” said Fietek.

Parent started online petition

When they first learned their application was denied, he said, he and Aaberg posted a neutrally worded note on the site informing members and encouraging them to attend a Justin’s Gift Halloween dance instead. Angry parents started calling and e-mailing, and one, who also is a paraprofessional in Anoka-Hennepin schools, started an online petition.

“Though this may all seem trivial to an outsider, it meant a lot to these kids to be able to walk as a group and celebrate who they are and that they are part of a positive organization that is working to make every kid feel safe and loved,” Rebecca Krone wrote in a note accompanying the petition. “Participating in this parade is a way to help … start to heal.  The Anoka Halloween Parade committee has simply sent the wrong message to LGBT youth and everyone outside of Anoka.”

Krone also noted, “The guidelines only state that there is a max per group and an application deadline – Justin’s Gift easily met both these guidelines.”

As of Monday evening, 214 people had signed.

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Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/09/2012 - 11:43 am.

    For what it’s worth

    the web-site does say that space is limited for walking groups and that “Each application received is reviewed by the Anoka Halloween Festival Committee. We reserve the right to deny any application.” Of course, that does not allow the organizers to discriminate on the basis of sexual preference. Exactly who the sponsoring organization is and whether it would qualify for an exemption under the bewildering terms of Minnesota’s Human Rights Act is an open question.

    A discussion of that law can be found here:

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/09/2012 - 11:47 am.

    Here’s an idea…

    How about we keep our sexual preferences out of the Halloween parade… Sheesh

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 10/09/2012 - 02:39 pm.

      They’re just walking . . . . Sheesh!

      I’m pretty sure they’re not planning on any “demonstrations” that would be unsuitable for a public forum.

      Talk about sheesh!

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/09/2012 - 04:23 pm.

        Oh b

        They can leave their banners and flags at home,

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 10/09/2012 - 04:39 pm.

          Only if . . . . .

          Only if all the other groups have to leave their banners and flags at home, too.

          Which is – of course – a ridiculous suggestion.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/09/2012 - 04:34 pm.

        That’s bull…

        They are turning a wholesome fun time for kids into a media event. Just another opportunity to use kids…it’s disgusting.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 10/09/2012 - 05:02 pm.

          What’s disgusting . . . .

          is trying to make kids feel ashamed of being who they are.

          This was a group of kids who were going to have the fun of dressing up in costumes and walking in a parade, just like all the other kids there. If they had also carried signs identifying the group they were with – well, so are the other groups that are there as part of an organization.

          There is nothing wrong with these kids. There’s something very wrong with trying to convince them otherwise.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/09/2012 - 10:37 pm.

          really? REALLY?

          Well, then I guess we can expect a new line of nonsensical reasoning in your now near daily diatribes Mr. Swift. This is of course since virtually all they are is an attempt to “USE THE CHILDREN” as it were to provoke some desired emotional response in those readers who bother to peruse them. I also expect your sternly worded condemnation of a certain Archbishop for sending speakers to the assorted Catholic schools in our fine state in an attempt to “USE THE CHILDREN” to further the church’s agenda regarding the marriage debate. Don’t worry, I don’t plan to hold my breath waiting for either.

  3. Submitted by mark wallek on 10/09/2012 - 11:50 am.

    Is Anoka Homophobic?

    Or is it particular members of whatever committee exercising their right to prejudicial decision making? More than likely Anoka at large is not homophobic. The individual/s involved in this decision should resign their position/s. For a healthy society, in toto, personal beliefs have no place being imposed on public situations. It’s one reason why we have church and state seperation. So let’s identify these “organizers” and get them out of their positions of exclusivity and put “people” people in their places.

  4. Submitted by Bruce Bednarek on 10/09/2012 - 12:48 pm.

    Additional Information Would Be Helpful

    What I fail to find in Beth’s article is the following information –

    1. How many “walking entrants” were there in the 2010 and 2011 parades?
    2. How many “walking entrants” are registered in the forthcoming parade?
    3. How many “walking entrants” have been refused from previous years parades and what were the reasons?

    This information would assist in determining if the parade organizers were acting based on principle or reacting based on someone’s prejudice and bias,

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 10/09/2012 - 02:16 pm.


      It would also be helpful to know the dates of application for the various “walking entrants” and whether applications for any “walking entrants” that were permitted into the parade were dated later than the application from the Justin’s Gift group.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 10/10/2012 - 09:37 am.

      I totally agree

      The whole story is not here.

  5. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 10/09/2012 - 02:34 pm.

    Good questions

    You all pose great questions, which we will certainly answer if the Anoka Chamber returns our calls. The adults associated with Justin’s Gift told me they don’t know whether entrants are chosen on a first-come, first-served basis, but if they are there is no mention of it in the application materials.

  6. Submitted by T J Simplot on 10/10/2012 - 07:42 am.

    I have been part of planning and organizing parades for 15 years (I have no connection to this parade) and in my opinion it is far too easy of a leap to simply say the parade committee doesn’t like the message. While that may be the case there are so many other things that go into planning a parade.

    First, no matter what a group’s message is, too many walking units in a parade can make for a boring parade. When looking at walking units you need to consider (a) are they just going to be walking and handing stuff out? (b) what are the handing out? Fliers? candy? giveaways? I can tell you that regardless of the organization, if an org, is just handing out fliers, most of them just end up on the street or in the garbage. (c)Will there entry be entertaining? Costumes? music?

    Also, it’s also too easy to consider the order the entries come in? If the first 10 entries received are just walkers handing stuff out in my opinion they would not automatically be entered. You need to look at the entertainment value of the entry. Tough decisions have to be made.

    I could go on more but my point is that there is so much more in planning a parade than just looking at the message of an entry and deciding if they are in or out. The Anoka parade is a long running tradition and I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt until I have reason to think otherwise.

    p.s. I actually support the message of this youth group

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 10/10/2012 - 08:47 am.


      Your points are well-received. However, there is no denying that other comments on this thread confirm the existence of an attitude against this group based solely on its mission of support for LGBT youth, and so, the possibility of that being part of the decision to exclude must be kept in mind.

      Hopefully Beth will be able to obtain enough additional information to help figure out what “the real story” most likely was.

      • Submitted by T J Simplot on 10/10/2012 - 09:13 am.

        I agree that the possibility does exist but as I said, I’m going to give the parade people the benefit of the doubt. I too am hoping to here additional details.

        I can tell you that it is very difficult to come up with official parade policies because of the numerous things you have to consider (like I mentioned in my previous post)

        My prediction is that they will not be able to come up with official guidelines regarding parade policies and will let the group in.

    • Submitted by Bruce Bednarek on 10/10/2012 - 09:17 am.

      T J –Thanks for sharing your

      T J –
      Thanks for sharing your experience. Having had experience in orchestrating large events I concur, the devil is always in the details.

      However, referring back to my earlier post above, answers to “how many, how many, how many?” would help all of us understand the decisions by the Anoka Chamber – by not responding to Beth it leaves their decisions open speculation. As an additional thought, if the concern is too many walking units, KICK OUT ALL POLITICAL CANDIDATE WALKERS!!!

  7. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 10/11/2012 - 07:51 am.

    Parade officials’ response

    They appear to have answered some, but not all, of the relevant questions in the Star Tribune:

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 10/12/2012 - 08:45 am.

      Yes, some

      It appears that yes, other groups were denied participation. It does make sense to limit the parade’s length. However, not discussing how groups were selected or rejected does feel…off. Whether it was fair or unfair, this silence seems to paint the situation darkly. I hope the kids don’t take away too much from this, though, as it’s possible it was simply a matter of numbers. But they should also try again, applying earlier next time.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/12/2012 - 09:09 am.

    Actualy the Strib article raises more questions than it answers

    Three hour limit? So what, the LGBT youth group would have pushed them over the time limit? How do you determine that? Look, this was simply stupid, you have a town that has gotten national press attention for having a war on gays, and you block a gay youth group from a parade? Because what? You think they’ll run the parade past a time limit? Does anyone actually time these things? If they really wanted to answer some questions they’d provide a list of participants, then we could compare them in character with the ones rejected. And yeah, they brought this scrutiny on themselves so I have no sympathy for them as organizers. As organizers they should have realized what they were doing.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 10/12/2012 - 01:06 pm.

      If anyone is attending

      Of course, it’s ultimately “transparent”. If anyone is attending and has the patience for it, they could list the units in the parade, each unit’s type (so as to get some sense – percentage-wise – of how much of the parade is represented by various types of units – walking units, marching bands, floats, etc.). They could guesstimate the size (as in number of participants) of each unit and the amount of time each unit took to pass by v.s. the total time the entire parade occupied. And so on.

      Of course, this wouldn’t answer the question of when each application was received v.s. accepted or rejected. But it would give some sense of just how “balanced” the makeup of the parade actually was, and whether one type of “unit” was disproportionately represented v.s. another.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/14/2012 - 11:10 am.


    The fact that this is a public parade and all participants will be perfectly visible anyways only makes any refusal to release information MORE suspicious. It looks like someone is keeping this information under wraps until after the fact. Look, this story will go national and the scrutiny will only increase. Why not get ahead of it?

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