Tensions run high at Modesto’s council meeting as Straight Pride organizers go on defense
Modesto has denied the straight pride organizers’ request to use Graceada Park for a rally, citing concerns over safety, that the rally is not compatible with other events in the park, and because organizers’ liability insurance has been voided.
Bay Area chiropractor Don Grundmann — who recently founded the National Straight Pride Coalition — and his longtime friend and Modesto resident Mylinda Mason had been organizing the rally for Aug. 24 in Mancini Bowl, the park’s amphitheater.
The city is proposing an alternative location for Aug. 24 — the plaza in front of Modesto Centre Plaza, the city’s downtown convention center, provided organizers submit an application by Tuesday, including proof of insurance.
There is nothing stopping rally organizers from trying to hold an event at a later date if they cannot make the Tuesday deadline. But Grundmann said an event will take place Aug. 24.
“We will have an event, however it manifests itself, in Modesto on the 24th,” he said in a phone interview. “We are going to have an event in Modesto on the 24th.”
Grundmann said he will meet with Mason and others involved in the rally Saturday to discuss their options. Mason did not respond to a request for comment Friday evening.
The city emailed Grundmann and Mason late Friday afternoon saying it “had credible evidence and a reasonable basis to believe” the rally would draw large numbers of supporters and counter-protesters, creating a potential for violence in a park that would be difficult to secure and is surrounded by homes.
City spokesman Thomas Reeves said the concerns for violence don’t go away if the rally takes place in the convention center plaza but said that venue is easier for police to secure and does not have the vulnerabilities associated with Graceada, including a playground, swimming pool and nearby homes.
Several other events are scheduled for Graceada Park and nearby Enslen Park on Aug. 24, including two baby showers, a bridal shower and a birthday party, according to records provided by the city.
According to its website, the coalition is protecting traditional gender roles, Christianity, heterosexuality, Western Civilization, and the contributions of whites to Western Civilization from the malevolence of the homosexual movement.
Grundmann said in a recent interview the coalition’s goals include “trying to save children from the LGBTQ+ community, from being molested.”
But opponents say the coalition and the rally promotes white supremacy, hate speech and violence against the LGBTQ+ community, people of color and other minorities.
Dozens of people packed Wednesday’s City Council meeting to oppose the rally, and they howled with laughter when Grundmann inadvertently described himself and his supporters as a “peaceful, racist group,” which he said was a slip of the tongue.
Modesto officials have said the city has a duty to respect a group’s rights to free speech and peaceful assembly even if does not agree with its views but the City Council on Tuesday will consider a resolution denouncing hate and oppression and supporting inclusion and diversity.
The council also will consider Tuesday passing an emergency ordinance that bans the use of glass bottles, pieces of wood, rocks and similar material at rallies and similar events because of their potential to be used as weapons. The ordinance also bans the wearing of facial coverings.
Grundmann singled out Councilwoman Kristi Ah You for the setback. He repeated his claims that she has lied about and misrepresented what the coalition and rally are about.
“She chummed the waters from the very start,” he said. “She lied about us. We have nothing to do with white supremacy so called. We just point out the biological and historical facts, and she pulled the race card on us.”
Ah You said in a Friday interview: “I don’t want to create any more drama, but what they have on their website tells their story.”
The proposed rally also is personal for Ah You.
She is the birth mother of Matthew Mason, the adopted, gay son of Mylinda Mason. Matthew Mason is a vocal opponent of the rally, Grundmann and his adoptive mother. He has said that he was no longer welcome in his adoptive mother’s home when he came out as gay when he was 19 years old.
The two are estranged. But Mylinda Mason has said she adores and loves her son, and the estrangement is his choice. “I would say it’s heartbreaking,” she said recently. “Any parent feels this way.”
Matthew Mason, 28, on Friday said while he still does not want the rally to take place, the city has made a “sensible decision.”
Grundmann, 67, founded the National Straight Pride Coalition about four months ago, the latest in a series of groups he has formed over the years, including Citizens Against Perversion.
But his efforts have not drawn many followers. For instance, the Facebook page for the coalition’s California chapter — which was created about two months ago — had 40 members as of Friday evening.