JACKSON, Tenn. – The small Tennessee town of Troy might not have a Christmas parade this year after community members responded to a “love everybody” float with vitriol and threats of violence.
Dwight Tittle, 47, was born and raised in the 1.4-square-mile community of about 1,500 people near the Kentucky border in northwestern Tennessee. He came up with the idea for the float – which will include a rainbow flag – based on the biblical passage in 1 John 4:7-8.
“All that says is we’re just to love everybody,” Tittle said. “You don’t have to agree with them, you don’t have to accept their lifestyle, but you can still love them. That’s what we’re about.”
Tittle said the float was meant to express love for all people who feel different or shunned, including those who have been ostracized for identifying as LGBTQ.
Some Troy residents seemed to latch onto the idea that the float was specifically about LGBTQ pride, Tittle said, and their reaction on social media was swift and volatile.
One man whom Tittle has known for years suggested people throw 2.5-inch jawbreakers at the float and its occupants during the parade. Someone else suggested they pelt the float with tomatoes.
The city of Troy announced Monday on its Facebook page that the parade would be canceled due to “continued scheduling conflicts.”
The post garnered hundreds of comments accusing the city of shutting down the parade due to the float and the controversy surrounding it.
Troy Mayor Deanna Chappell said a large number of people who typically volunteer to help at the parade, which was scheduled for Dec. 14, won’t be available that day.
But Chappell told The Jackson Sun there’s a possibility for the parade to happen on a different day.
“Since we made our statement about the cancellation of the Christmas Parade (Monday), we have had a lot of interest from citizens wanting to find solutions for our parade issues,” Chappell said Tuesday afternoon. “Several of the ideas brought to light are showing promise, and we are actively working to come up with a plan to make a parade happen.
“At this time, we do not have any concrete plans, but we will announce plans as soon as we finalize the best option for all of the citizens of Troy.”
Chappell also said any float would be acceptable for the parade as long as it was within “reasonable taste” for a Christmas parade for the entire town. When asked about possible threats, she said she’d had comments made to her but nothing threatening.
Tittle teaches an occasional class at local schools on alternative career choices and trade schools. He said he always makes a point to give his business cards to students and adults alike, telling them to reach out to him if they ever feel that life is not worth living or need to talk to someone.
“Over the last few years, it seems to intensify,” he said. “I’m getting students and even adults who will call me more and more because they’re just different, for whatever reason.”
The float, he said, was supposed to be for them.
Tittle’s son, who is openly gay, had planned to walk beside it in the parade. Tittle invited anyone who felt like they were lonely or different to participate in building the float and ride on it. The actual float hasn’t been built yet, but it will display Scripture on the side.
It will not have the letters “LGBTQ” or “pride,” but will display a rainbow flag decorated with hands of all different colors. Tittle said the float’s participants will not pass out any pamphlets, nor do they have any chants or messages.
“I knew I would probably get a few random people that didn’t understand or didn’t believe what our goal was … but I never expected it to blow up into this kind of situation,” Tittle said.
Tittle’s float will run in the Union City Christmas Parade on Dec. 5. The parade organizer there, 10 miles to the northeast, called him to discuss what the float would look like – something Troy’s officials never did.
“I explained it to him, and he said, ‘I see no problem, and we welcome you guys,'” Tittle said. “That’s all they had to do.”
Tittle’s office has received a few anonymous, late-night phone calls with hateful messages. His family is wary of the possibility that some of these comments may turn to violence.
But he and everyone else who wishes to participate don’t plan to respond.
“If the crowd responds, we’re going to turn the Mariah Carey up loud and we’ll just keep right on going,” Tittle said.
Follow Cassandra Stephenson on Twitter: @CStephenson731.