Members of the Ku Klux Klan protested a Sunday pride event in Florence, Alabama, thought to be the first ever LGBT pride parade in the northwestern part of the state.
When the demonstrators showed up, Equality Shoals executive director Benjamin Newbern said parade attendees were “shocked and then embarrassed.”
“It was just crazy,” he told AL.com. “This was a huge day for the LGBTQ community with the fact that nothing like this had happened before with members of the LGBTQ community marching in the streets here.”
“Hate has always been here but it reared its ugly head yesterday to show that it’s still around.”
In a video posted to Facebook, one of the KKK members explained that he and his fellow white nationalists crashed the event to stand up for their “Christian beliefs,” which they felt were under attack at the pride parade.
While police showed up in force to ensure that the more than 300 participants remained safe, some parade-goers expressed frustration with statements shared by the department after the event.
One of these statements read: “Two sides, opposing views. Peaceful rally. Our duty and honor to provide security and ensure the safety of both groups.”
“That’s very odd because that group to me is based on hatred and is like a terrorist group to me,” said William Cross, member of the Equality Shoals board of directors. “I don’t think there should be an equivalence there because we paid and got permits and hired police officers, and they just kind of showed up trying to scare people.”
In spite of the tension inspired by the KKK’s presence, pride organizers focused instead on the event’s large turnout and the support it received from most of the community.
“Honestly, I’m really impressed that as many people showed up as did, especially in our small town where it’s typically really conservative,” said Cross. “I was also really impressed that there were tons of families and small children there with signs saying things like ’I support my gay child.'”
Last month, Alabama, which still requires schools to teach that homosexuality is a “criminal offense,” made it legal for faith-based adoption agencies to deny services to LGBT families on religious grounds.