Norwegian parade leader faces criticism over Facebook post

February 13, 2019 Paula Katinas
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A longtime leader of the Norwegian Day Parade in Bay Ridge is coming under fire over a post she put on Facebook that critics charged politicizes the charming annual event that features participants marching along Third Avenue dressed in Norwegian folk costumes.

Arlene Rutuelo, the former general chairperson of the Norwegian Day Parade, posted an invitation to an anti-abortion rally underneath her name and the parade committee’s logo on Facebook, according to critics, who said she did not make it clear whether she was speaking only for herself or whether she was issuing the invitation on behalf of the entire parade committee.

“If you are in Bay Ridge Sunday, join us for a peaceful rally against the New York State Legislature’s adoption of late term abortion this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. across the street from Fort Hamilton High School. #StandUpForTheBabies,” the post read.

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A group of protesters, including Rutuelo, held a rally across the street from Fort Hamilton High School in Bay Ridge while Democratic state Sen. Andrew Gounardes was celebrating his inauguration inside the school.

Gounardes was a co-sponsor of the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), a bill signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that codifies for New Yorkers the protections contained in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision allowing abortion.

Abortion opponents charged that the new law would allow abortions in the ninth month of pregnancy.

Rutuelo was a staffer for former Republican state Sen. Marty Golden, whom Gounardes defeated in November.

Facebook user Jay Brown objected to the fact that the invitation to the anti-abortion rally appeared next to the Norwegian Day Parade’s logo and wrote a comment on the page where it appeared, referring to the march by its official name, the 17th of May Parade. The parade celebrates the anniversary of the signing of Norway’s constitution.

“In stating this on the parade’s Facebook group as the chairwoman, is this now an official position of the Parade Committee? I understand there are passionate opinions on this topic, but as a Norwegian-American from Brooklyn, whose parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have participated in this great family event for generations, I’d never expected to see the 17th of May Parade to wade into this matter, whether it be in the pro-choice or anti-choice manner,” Brown wrote.

Another Facebook user, Reem Jaafer, questioned the logic of having the invitation to a political event on a non-political page. “Why use a non-partisan event page to promote a rally of an inauguration. It doesn’t seem right. Perhaps write Senator Gounardes to let him know your views,” Jaafer wrote in a Facebook comment.

Brown said in an email to this paper that he, and two other people who had commented on the post, were removed from the group. In addition, after the criticisms were posted, the parade committee’s Facebook group page, which had been public, was changed to a private setting.

Rutuelo, whose maiden name is Bakke, has taken an active role in the planning and execution of the 17th of May Parade Parade for several years.

She dismissed the criticism.

“This is America. I put the notice on an events page. Putting it on an events page is fine. I didn’t hear any objections from anyone except three or four people who want to make an issue out of it. This is fake news as far as I’m concerned,” she told this newspaper in a phone interview.

Rutuelo added that she had no intention of arguing the point. “I try never to get into an argument with people,” she said.

Rutuelo is a well known figure in Bay Ridge, where she has a long record of community service. She served on the boards of the Norwegian Christian Home & Health Center and the Scandinavian East Coast Museum. She is also the former president of the Guild for Exceptional Children, the non-profit organization that offers assistance to the developmentally disabled and their families.

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