'Stripper poles in the sanctuary': Owatonna mayor’s Pride comments questioned

The mayor of Owatonna is facing calls for his resignation in the wake of "bizarre" comments about a Pride event in the city this month.

The Associated Church hosted a worship service earlier in July, and they found themselves at the center of a firestorm because of it.

A celebration of LGBTQ Pride filled Owatonna’s Morehouse Park with tie dye, rainbows, and cheer on the first weekend of July.

"There was a lot of great energy," said Jen Hansen, a board member of Rainbowatonna. "Lots of smiles, laughter, sunshine. It was a beautiful day."

Rainbowatonna reveled in the success, including the big crowd at the park and a sold out, adults only drag show that followed.

But leaders also reeled at the backlash from Owatonna Mayor Tom Kuntz aimed mainly at the opening event —  an inclusive worship service at Associated Church.

Church leaders confirmed the mayor paid them a visit before the Pride service and, among other comments, questioned whether they’d have stripper poles in the sanctuary.

"We recognize there is great pain in our community right now caused by those who have been speaking out against the humanity of our LGBTQIA+ siblings," they said in a statement released to FOX 9, addressed also to the local LGBTQ community. "Those who seek to say you are anything less than a beloved child of God, perfectly and wonderfully made; do not speak with the authority of God, even though they may claim to do so."

Rainbowatonna’s founder sent a letter to the mayor asking for his resignation, but after a meeting this week, he dialed it back. The group is now asking for diversity and sensitivity training for city employees and an open seat on the local human relations council.

"And we are looking for an apology, a formal apology, from the mayor for the impact of his comments and his actions," Hansen said.

She’s a retired teacher and the mother of a transgender woman. Hansen says the mayor’s comments just brought to light the need for progress in this Steele County town of 26,000 people.

She’s hopeful a couple of distressing weeks will yield positive movement after another meeting Thursday.

"These are my people," Hansen said. "This is my town. You know? I grew up here. We want this to be a better place. We want this to be welcoming and all-inclusive. That’s our ultimate goal. And I think the mayor is committed to that as well."

FOX 9 reached out to the mayor by email, by phone, and by going to City Hall, but we haven’t heard back from him.

Rainbowatonna is hoping to release a joint statement Thursday.