TAYLOR, Texas (KXAN) — For decades, the citizens of Taylor, Texas, have gathered in early December to watch festive floats sail down Main Street. 

“It’s a parade that everybody looks forward to and likes to participate in,” said Stacey Osborne, communications director for the City of Taylor. “Everyone feels like it’s the beginning of the holiday celebration.”

In the past, the planning of this small Austin suburb’s holiday parade hasn’t raised much alarm. But this year, it’s been a hotbed of controversy, sparking fiery debates online. 

The Taylor Area Ministerial Alliance (TAMA), a church group which has helped organize the event for the last few Christmases, is once again organizing this year’s parade. But this year, the organization added language to the application that some felt excluded LGBTQ groups from participating, saying, “entries must be consistent with traditional biblical and family values.”

This language was included after volunteers working with TAMA allowed a float from a group called Taylor Pride to enter the parade in 2021, which TAMA later called an “oversight” on their part.

“(TAMA) made it clear that they did not want certain people to be a part of the parade,” Osborne said. “They were going to go in a little bit of a different direction … and make it a little bit more exclusive.”

Osborne said city staff in recent years have worked to make Taylor a more inclusive place, and they recognize that people of different faiths and lifestyles may still want to attend the town’s annual festivities. 

So, to include more folks in the tradition, the City of Taylor decided to host a second parade — the same night as TAMA’s — calling this one the “Very Merry Holiday Parade.”

“All are welcome to participate,” the registration for this event read.

Putting on a separate parade is a departure from what the City of Taylor has previously done. In the past, the city would sponsor an organization’s initiative to orchestrate the event. After seeing this year’s description, they decided to distance themselves from TAMA’s celebration.

“In order to make sure that everybody in our city was included and felt like they could be a part of the celebration, we (decided to) put on our own parade,” Osborne said. “(TAMA is) welcome to have their parade with the rules, requirements and restrictions they want to put on. It is completely their prerogative. But we wanted to make sure that everyone in the city could celebrate the holiday season with us.” 

Taylor Pride, the group that had a float in last year’s parade, complete with a drag performer, felt excluded by TAMA’s new parade requirements. In the same Facebook post where TAMA described Taylor Pride’s inclusion as an “oversight,” the post’s author used transphobic language and said having a drag performer at a “family-friendly” parade was “unthinkable.” 

“It’s hard, it is hurtful and it’s just really not OK,” said Denise Rodgers, a co-founder and the president of Taylor Pride. “The LGBTQ community — we celebrate holidays, we practice religious faith, we have families and children. We are no different than the people who are hosting or attending these parades, these events and these holidays.”

Rodgers said she is happy the City of Taylor decided to host its own event and looks forward to future annual celebrations sponsored by the City. 

“The last thing I want to do is send a message to any of the children that we support that they are not worthy or valid to be able to celebrate a holiday or participate in a holiday parade,” Rodgers said. “Just absolutely not OK.” 

Jeff Ripple, a pastor at Christ Fellowship Church (a member of TAMA), has claimed that the drag performer’s appearance at the 2021 parade was upsetting to some area families.

“We asked all entries that (they) would not be inconsistent with traditional biblical and family values. We did not single out a particular group; we didn’t call a group and say you can’t be in our parade,” Ripple said.

Ripple said he is saddened by the division in the community that this controversy has created, but stands by the group’s decision. 

“I fully respect Taylor Pride’s right to be an organization, right to have events of their own. And just as (TAMA) is an organization … we could not in good conscience allow what we believe is contrary to what the Bible teaches,” Ripple said.