La Crosse, WI
Written by Anne Jungen
La Crosse police are investigating accusations the reigning Riverfest commodore shoved a 14-year-old girl carrying a gay pride flag just before Saturday’s Maple Leaf parade.
The teen was rollerblading and carrying a flag pole with two rainbow flags — one a hybrid of the American flag and the gay pride flag — as members of 7 Rivers LGBT Resource Center’s float prepared for the parade about 9:45 a.m. Saturday on Rose Street, said Roseanne St. Sauver, the center’s executive director.
Commodore Mark Schneider, who was on a float nearby, approached the girl and put his hands on the flagpole, St. Sauver said. St. Sauver walked over, placed her hands on the pole and told him, “Please stop, she’s a 14-year-old child.”
“He said, ‘I do not care. Look what you are teaching them,'” St. Sauver said.
That’s when, St. Sauver said, Schneider shoved the girl with his body. St. Sauver said Schneider told the girl: “Go to a country where they will hang people like you.”
The incident left the teen crying, and others upset, St. Sauver said. This is the first year the center has participated in the parade. “I had tears in my eyes,” she said. “He specifically targeted us and made statements about our sexual orientation.”
Schneider today denied shoving the teen or making any offensive comments, saying he has witnesses. “Why would I push a 14-year-old girl?” he said. His objections were to alterations made to the flag, he said, and not to anyone’s sexual orientation.
“It all had to do with the discoloring of the American flag,” Schneider said. “Other commodores on the commodore float were upset because the flag is offensive to veterans … This is not an issue of gays. This is an issue with the American flag.”
A police report wasn’t expected to be completed until today.
Schneider did confirm today that police cited him for disorderly conduct — for grabbing the flagpole, he said — but he hasn’t decided whether he will contest the ticket.
But St. Sauver believes his “clear hostile remarks” and physical contact with the teen warrant criminal charges. She also wants him to resign or be asked to step down, and said he should apologize.
Riverfest President Mike Schieber said officials are looking into the incident and no decisions have been made.