Minnesota mayor faces pressure to resign or meet LGBTQ+ group’s demands after his comments on Pride

Published 6:51 pm Monday, July 17, 2023

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OWATONNA — Members of an LGBTQ+ group are calling on the mayor of a southern Minnesota city to meet their demands — or resign — after he asked pastors at a church holding a Pride event if there would be stripper poles in the sanctuary and posted a public prayer alluding to “sin and brokenness” at the event.

In an open letter to Mayor Tom Kuntz, a Republican, and the Owatonna City Council, Rainbowatonna organizer Nathan Black said Kuntz used his elected position to harass and intimidate people involved in the city’s Pride celebration on July 8, the Star Tribune reported. The Pride celebration included a service at Associated Church, festivities at a pavilion and a drag show after-party at the Owatonna Arts Center.

In his public letter, Black said Kuntz spoke to pastors at the church about two weeks before the service. He said the mayor appeared to be upset and asked several “bizarre” questions, including whether there would be stripper poles in the sanctuary.

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Black said he wasn’t concerned about the mayor’s behavior until later, when he found that last month Kuntz posted a prayer he wrote on social media.

In the prayer, Kuntz asked for wisdom in the face of upcoming public events “where sin and brokenness will be celebrated and where sexually explicit acts will be normalized.” Kuntz didn’t mention a specific event but called for prayer “until July 8,” according to the Star Tribune.

Black initially asked for the mayor’s immediate resignation, saying: “There is no place for homophobic bigotry in city government.”

But Black told The Associated Press that members of Rainbowatonna met with Kuntz on Monday and planned another meeting later this week. Group members are asking Kuntz for an apology “that acknowledges the impact of his actions,” along with diversity and sensitivity training for the mayor and city staff, Black said.

They are also asking Kuntz to appoint a member of Rainbowatonna’s board to the city’s human rights commission, among other measures.

“If he meets these demands, and we’re hopeful that he will, then we would withdraw that request” for his resignation, Black said.
An email sent to the mayor was not returned on Monday.

But in a public response, Kuntz said to Black: “I did what I thought was the right thing to do.”

He added: “My intent was not to harass or intimidate anyone. My words were my own and not those of the City. I try each day to follow my own faith and beliefs, but I also recognize other people have the right to follow their own faith and beliefs too. … Please accept my apologies.”

Kuntz, who has been mayor since 2004, said he reached out to Black and offered to talk through the issue. Last week, Kuntz confirmed parts of Black’s letter to the Owatonna People’s Press and said: “A couple people asked if there was going to be pole dancing, so I asked that.”

He also said that he felt God would not approve of drag shows and homosexuality.