Organizers of a Halloween parade in a US city plagued by a string of gay teen suicides have been branded 'insensitive' after telling LGBT youngsters there was no room for them in the procession.
Justin's Gift, a support group for gay youth which was formed after several suicides at schools in Anoka, were told they would not be able to join the parade on 27 October because it had reached maximum capacity for walking units.
Around 30 children were hoping to take part in the event, touted as the best in the world.
According to the group's vice president, Jefferson Fietek, the decision has left them 'a bit confused and mystified' as to why their application was refused.
Justin's Gift was named after gay teenager Justin Aaberg killed himself after being the victim of homophobic bullying.
Mother of one of the children, Rebecca Krone, started a petition calling on the organizers to change their mind, claiming the decision sends the wrong message to the kids.
'The decision to deny these youth seems unfair and insensitive considering what they have suffered through over the last number of years in the community,' she writes on the petition website change.org
She added: 'It meant a lot to these kids to be able to walk as a group and celebrate who they are and that they are part of a positive organization that is working to make every kid feel safe and loved for who they are.
'Participating in this parade is a way to help this committee start to heal.'
The petition has already been signed by over 1,500 people.
Writing in support of the campaign, David Hoch from Shoreview claimed the parade organizers were guilty of bullying.
While Colubia Heights resident Julia Bracken wrote: 'It sounds like the city of Anoka really needs an organization like Justin's Gift and to exclude them from a prominent parade like this is ridiculous.
'The organization is trying to stop the discrimination that has led to teen suicides - what message is this sending to teens who are having a hard time because of their sexual orientation.'
However, Sabrina Schlichting of Lake City accused the organization of having an ulterior motive.
She wrote: 'I strongly believe there is a lot more to this than just a shortage of space. Equal opportunity for all is very important and does Anoka really want more bad publicity?
'It would be a wonderful way to honor Justin and would provide a glimmer of hope for those that feel alone in this world'
Justin's Gift say they will hold a Halloween dance as an alternative activity for the students who planned to walk in the parade.