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In Small-town Princeton, City Officials Roll Up the Welcome Mat for Gay Pride

Princeton's inaugural Pride event made waves in the small town.
Princeton's inaugural Pride event made waves in the small town. Mandy Duncan Photography
Visitors can still spot Confederate flags in some Princeton neighborhoods, but on June 27, a rainbow wave rolled through town.

Roughly 200 people attended the Collin County town's first-ever LGBTQ+ Pride march and celebration. Children carried signs proclaiming “DISARM HATE” while mothers donned “FREE MOM HUGS” shirts. Later, at the Veterans Memorial Park, attendees got their fill of glitter and face-paint while drag queens lip-synced for their lives.

Outsiders might assume such an event would be at home in a town like Princeton, given that its website boasts the slogan “Progress with Purpose.” They’d be wrong: The Princeton City Council on Monday enacted more stringent restrictions on special event permits, a move many say was made in response to the Pride event.

John Kusterbeck, the co-founder of the nonprofit group Princeton TX Diverse, had helped organize the Pride event to celebrate the small town’s LGBTQ+ community. He recalls getting choked up after seeing “joy” light up the faces of young attendees.


“They didn’t have to hide who they were or pretend they were somebody else, because they were with people who loved them because they’re them,” Kusterbeck said. “It was just amazing.”

But the following week, a group calling itself Princeton Texas Conservatives began circulating a Change.org petition pressuring the council to amend its permitting process. They wanted to prevent similar events from occurring in public, arguing that children had been exposed to “indecency and crude behavior.”

Naysayers especially poo-pooed the routine of one of the drag queens, who’d at one point — wearing hot-pink heels and a sequined leotard — done a headstand on the concrete sidewalk.

Bigots may have balked at the June 27 event, but for Kusterbeck, there was nothing lewd about it. For the city to crack down like this is “sad and disheartening,” he said, especially given that the town is becoming more diverse.

“We have trans people and gay people, like, just everybody,” he said. “And for the city to be like, ‘No, you still have to hide. We don’t want to see you out in the open’ — it’s fucked up, basically.”

Now, nonprofits like Princeton TX Diverse will have to obtain a permit for events with fewer than 250 people, reversing a previous exemption. Organizers must pay for officers if their event hosts more than 75 attendees, which Kusterbeck notes could also apply to gatherings such as large family reunions.

"Progress with purpose." – City of Princeton

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During Monday's meeting, Princeton Mayor Brianna Chacon claimed the council had been considering changing the permit process for some time. For Kusterbeck, though, the timing is highly suspect.

Throughout the planning process, Kusterbeck said, the city fought him every step of the way; at one point, he was told that organizers would have to pay around $900. “The only reason this is happening today is a direct response to the Pride event that we had,” he said.

The Observer attempted to contact city officials to ask for comment. A call to Chacon’s work phone wasn’t returned, nor were emails to her and each council member. And after being put on hold at the city’s main phone line, we were eventually connected to someone who refused to give his full name and title and identified himself only as "Derek" when he picked up the phone. Perhaps coincidentally, Princeton's city manager is Derek F. Borg, but we can't say the speaker was him.

So, absent a response from the city, this is an excerpt of what we had to go on from one surly male employee who, again, is not City Manager Derek F. Borg, as far as we know. 
“I don’t want my name out there. So if you have a permit question, I’ll be more than happy to answer it, but I don’t want my name in print.”

“Well, I’ll have to attribute it to somebody, though, so that [readers] know that I’m not making this up or anything. So, is there somebody who would be willing to go on the record?”

[Overlapping]

“That won’t be — that won’t be me. That won’t be me. So I’m not going to give you my name because it sounds like you’re going to put something in print and I don’t want my name in print, Simone." [emphasis his.]

“OK. Is there somebody else who I might be able to —”

“No. No.”

“OK, um, could I —”

“But you’re welcome to come to the meeting. The meeting is open to the public and you’re welcome to come to the meeting. That would probably be the best way to get information they’re going to be discussing this evening.”

“Right. But I do have questions directly for officials regarding the purposes behind the proposed changes. And so I feel —”

“That would be something you’d have to ask the city council, Simone.”
Our conversation with Derek circled the drain like that for another few minutes.

At Monday’s meeting, the citizens appearance section got a little heated. David Sprawls, a 2020 mayoral candidate, claimed he didn’t have an issue with gay rights but still launched into a bizarre diatribe comparing Pride to fast food. We think.

“I love hamburgers. I love them so much I’d eat them every single day. And I’ll eat them night and day. And I have lots of vegan friends, and those vegan friends do not like hamburgers; in fact, they make them sick. Sick to their stomach,” he said.

“But I’m not going to sit and take my hamburger and say, ‘Oh, how good this hamburger is’ and stick it in your face," he continued. "Without having respect for our community and respect for others, I’m getting something thrown in my face that is offensive to me.”

But to a local transgender young man, Rowan Hunter, the Pride event wasn't offensive at all. For him, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Hunter told city officials that he’d struggled with self-harm, becoming one of the more than 50% of transgender and nonbinary youth who have seriously contemplated suicide. This had been his first Pride parade, and he’d never felt more accepted.

Many fear the city is effectively squelching similar events, which have served as a lifeline for countless LGBTQ+ youths.

“The people who are against us are the reason I almost lost my life,” Hunter said, his voice shaking. “And while maybe my words won’t change much, I hope some people take into account how much this kind of thing helps.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter