Facebook effort urges boycott of Basilica Block Party

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 16, 2011 - 9:18 AM

Boycotters protest archdiocese support of amendment to ban gay marriage. Party sponsors stress fundraiser isn't linked to that.

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Between 20,000 to 30,000 total tickets were sold for last year’s Basilica Block Party. Sponsors say they haven’t seen much effect from this year’s Facebook boycott campaign.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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A Facebook campaign calling for the boycott of the Basilica of St. Mary's biggest fundraiser is gaining followers, though sponsors say it's had little impact.

The "Say No to the Basilica Block Party" Facebook page had over 6,000 supporters and counting Wednesday. It urges people not to attend the annual musical event to protest the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis' support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. This year's block party is July 8-9.

The Basilica released a statement stressing that none of the money from the event will go to the archdiocese, which has been a vocal supporter of the controversial marriage amendment slated for statewide vote on the November 2012 ballot.

"We want the community to know that all proceeds from the Basilica Block Party benefit two areas: funding our ongoing renovation efforts of the Basilica, and supporting the St. Vincent de Paul outreach program that provides food and other services to those in need," the statement said.

Many of the bands on this year's block party lineup are starting to see posts on their own Facebook walls asking them to refuse to play the event. So far, though, no musicians have backed out or even spoken out.

Lauren MacLeash, program director for Cities 97 radio station, the main co-sponsor of the event, said as many or more tickets have already been sold for the block party compared to this time last year. Between 20,000 and 30,000 total tickets were sold in 2010, she said.

The station so far has received about 16 e-mails from people asking that it reconsider its sponsorship of the block party, MacLeash said. She added that the station is not religiously or politically motivated in its sponsorships and intended to support the church's restoration and activities to help the needy.

"We seem to be caught in this crossfire with the archdiocese," MacLeash said. "We absolutely believe in the equality and the pursuit of happiness for all human beings, no matter what culture or race or orientation."

Jason Wermager created the Facebook page after reading a blog written by Nicole Burg, who said she was upset about the Legislature's support of the marriage amendment. Burg, who has a lesbian sister and gay brother, wrote that she wasn't going to attend the block party after exchanging e-mails with the Basilica's pastor, the Rev. John Bauer, in which he referred to Catholic policy describing homosexuality as a "condition."

"People need to take a stand on it and be very vocal about it," she said in an interview. "If people believe in marriage equality, they need to get out and do something about it."

Doug Sprinthall, new vehicle operations director for Walser Automotive Group, which is also sponsoring the block party, said it has received about half a dozen e-mails from people asking Walser to reconsider its sponsorship: "We haven't had anybody say we're going to picket the dealership or we're never going to buy another car from you guys again. At this point it's been very respectful."

Other block party sponsors have had similar feedback: Heidi Bausch, marketing manager with Sun Country Airlines, said the company has seen very little negative response. Tom Rainey, director of partnership marketing with the Star Tribune media company, which owns music and entertainment publication Vita.mn, another sponsor of the block party, said it has received four e-mails and at least one comment posted on the Vita.mn web page.

Veteran concert promoter Sue McLean, who books the acts every year, said she sent out a "proactive" letter to band representatives explaining the controversy and defending the cause of the event. She acknowledged that most of the performers are likely "progressive voters" who would be against the marriage amendment, but she believes they also want to support the two primary beneficiaries of the party: preservation of the basilica building and St. Vincent de Paul charities.

McLean added, "I fully support the gay community for bringing attention to this issue, but I think people are barking up the wrong tree in the case of the block party. I don't think what happens surrounding the Basilica Block Party is going to have any impact on the higher theology and policies of the Catholic Church."

Local singer/songwriter Stuart D'Rozario, opening act on the biggest of the three stages July 9, made a similar statement: "While I fully support the cause, I believe the idea of boycotting the block party is misguided."

Chris Riemenschneider contributed to this report. Rose French • 612-673-4352

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