BREAKING NEWS: LGBTQ group calls for mayor’s resignation
An Owatonna LGBTQIA+ group is calling for Owatonna Mayor Thomas Kuntz’s resignation over his apparent opposition to recent Pride events and his refusal to bring forward a Pride-related proclamation.
But Kuntz, who has a little over a year left in his current term, said he will not resign and some of his words have been taken out of context.
Nathan Black of Rainbowatonna sent council members and local media screenshots of an email exchange he had with Kuntz in late June. The July 8 Pride celebration began with a 9 a.m. Pride service at Associated Church, followed by Pride in the Park at Morehouse Park, and then an after party with an adults-only drag show.
Black said Kuntz visited Associated Church on June 27 “and demanded to speak with the pastor. After a staff member explained the pastor is out on medical leave, he finally identified himself. He was upset that Associated was hosting this service and asked bizarre questions like, ‘are there going to be stripper poles in the sanctuary.’”
The staff member then gave Kuntz Black’s email address. The first email to Black came from a Gmail address. Kuntz wrote that as a Christian, “I just want to encourage all of us to follow Gods commandments and am hoping your service follows Gods words.”
Black forwarded the email to Kuntz’s City of Owatonna email address, asking for confirmation that the email really came from him. Kuntz, from that email address, said it did. Black then responded, in part:
“I have been meaning to reach out to you in order to request an official proclamation naming July 8, 2023, as ‘Rainbowatonna Day’ in honor of our LGBTQ+ citizens and neighbors. We would love to have your support in this way.”
He also invited Kuntz to attend the Pride service.
Kuntz’s reply: “I am so sorry, but I just can’t do the proclamation and I will be out of town.”
The correspondence ended there.
On social media, Rainbowatonna posted the open letter in a comment on a City of Owatonna Facebook post of Kuntz’s official statement denouncing racist and antisemitic flyers distributed around the community on Juneteenth.
The group also commented on a June 19 post from Kuntz’s personal Facebook page. With the comment “A good prayer,” Kuntz had shared a photo of a typewritten prayer that mentions “upcoming public events where sin and brokenness will be celebrated and where sexually explicit acts will be normalized” and other anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments.
The prayer does not mention Pride in the Park but refers to July 8, the date of the event. There’s no mention on the post of who wrote it.
Kuntz said he did not write the prayer; it come out of a meeting at Christian Family Church to plan actions for the Pride event. He said he did not attend the meeting.
While he said some of his comments have been exaggerated, Kuntz confirmed that his personal religious beliefs would not allow him to bring forward the proclamation Black requested.
His visit to Associated Church, Kuntz said, is mischaracterized in Black’s letter.
“I did not demand anything. I did ask are they doing pole dancing. I did not say anything about stripper poles,” he said.
Kuntz explained he was looking for information because someone has asked him about it and rumors were flying through the community.
He also acknowledged that he visited Torey’s Bar & Restaurant, the original venue for the over-21 after party, to ask whether it was true they were hosting. By that time, the restaurant had pulled out of the event, after a wave of harassment and intimidation.
“I didn’t do a slam or anything like that,” Kuntz said.
He also feels the email exchange was not as negative as it has been portrayed.
“There was nothing in anything I said that was an attack,” Kuntz said. “Being the Christian that I am, I believe the good Lord says marriage should be between a man and a woman… I just know my faith wouldn’t allow me to put my name on a proclamation like that.”
He said his faith also plays a part in his decision not to resign. “I think resigning would be giving up on what I believe.”
Kuntz said he didn’t know whether his refusal of the proclamation request was appropriate and said that’s a question for the city attorney. He acknowledged that he should have responded to Black’s emails as Tom Kuntz and not “Mayor Tom,” which is how he signed his emails.
Asked about how his response to Rainbowtonna squares with his statement about the racist and antisemitic flyers, Kuntz said, “I think there’s a difference in what we’re talking about here. Our community is welcome to everybody, I think that’s their choice…you have to have your own beliefs.”
“It’s not that I protested the event,” he added. “I just said I could not put my name on a proclamation. As mayor, I should have responded as a personal person, not as mayor.”
Mayor’s racism statement:
This is Mayor Kuntz’s entire statement that he released on June 21 regarding flyers that had been distributed throughout Owatonna. In his final line, he says: “I hope you will join me in standing up for equal rights for all who call Owatonna ‘home.’ All are welcome here.”
On June 20, I was made aware that several Owatonna residents received fliers containing racist and antisemitic statements on Juneteenth.
The statements made in these fliers are a direct contradiction to the City of Owatonna’s Mission Statement: “The Mayor and City Council shall represent the people of Owatonna by making decisions which ensure quality public services for all who live and work in the community.” On behalf of the City Council, I can assure you the City of Owatonna has zero tolerance for racism.
While we support the First Amendment, we stand strongly against those who hide behind it to promote hate. Our message to those who are distributing such messages is that there’s no place for hate in Owatonna. Owatonna is a community that is becoming more diverse as it grows.
The Owatonna Human Rights Commission is aware of this matter. The Owatonna Police Department has also been informed and is investigating the situation to determine whether a bias-motivated crime has occurred.
I hope you will join me in standing up for equal rights for all who call Owatonna ‘home.’ All are welcome here.