(A quick note from the writer: I was considering what tone I should write this article with, whether I should, for the sake of journalistic integrity, pretend to be objective and uninterested in the subject. But my gay sister and a desire not to mislead the reader wouldn’t want it that way, so if you want to file this baby under “Opinions” or “Disgruntled reporter at the last day of work,” go ahead. ‘Cause this sucker isn’t objective, even if I pretended it was. To the story.)
There was probably a commandment on one of the tablets that Moses smashed that read something like this: “Thou shalt not protest against gayness near the SU campus. The gays will make fun of your corduroy skirt, hold up signs much more clever than your own, and take your shit over.”
That was the lesson that two “evangelical” “Christian” demonstrators—holding signs that cast homosexuality as a sin—learned on Wednesday afternoon on the corner of Waverly and University avenues.
Dozens of pro-gay counter-protesters encouraged cars passing by to “Honk 4 Gays,” held signs that read “Fabulosity is not a sin” and “I ❤ my gay friends,” and quickly overwhelmed the anti-gay protesters and their supporters who, by my rough estimatory method of counting to three, numbered three.
The impromptu protest, and its size, surprised many of the counter-demonstrators.
“It’s incredible,” said Chris Pesto, who held a sign that said “Corduroy skirts are a sin.” (One of the gay-bashing protesters, who held a sign that said “Homosexuality is sin,” was wearing a corduroy skirt.) “Honestly, I just thought I’d get a couple laughs.”
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Pesto was first at the scene, and the counter-protest’s raison d’être. The signs the two anti-gay demonstrators were holding made him feel uncomfortable, he said, so he wanted to return the favor. He got some markers and poster board, and made the sign.
Soon enough, he wasn’t alone.
Drew Sullivan got constructive when he saw one anti-gay protester holding a sign that said, “Thousands of ex-homosexuals have experienced the life-changing love of Jesus Christ.” Sullivan made a sign that read “Thousands of ex-snowmen have melted.”
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It was his second run-in. Sullivan was on his way to get a burrito, he said, when he saw the same man with a sign that said “Islam is an evil, oppressive, violent, murderous religion.” Sullivan made his own sign: “Voldemort is evil. Islam is not.”
“To be anti-anything is just wrong,” Sullivan said.
If the guy with the crazy exhortations and the signs and the shouting and the anti-gay/Islamic/abortion stuff is sounding familiar, it’s because he’s out there about once a week, he told me. Jim Deferio is a member of different evangelical organizations, and visits colleges with his signs and a booming voice that warns people of the fires of Hell. “I’m an open-air evangelist,” he said.
And, amazingly, he does it full-time. Wednesday, he started on the street corner at about noon. He doesn’t have a job. His wife supports him.
He said that the reaction at SU was typical of campuses elsewhere. “Students get riled up at first, then they settle down. They’ll raise their hands and ask questions.”
But he gives little credence to their views. “They could not grasp the laws of logic and inference,” said the man who, as a full-time job, professionally tries to make people feel like shit. Apparently, the “God loves all his creatures” deal, the stuff most Christians (i.e., rational people) believe, is a Biblical typo.
And then, the question I really wanted to ask: When he holds those signs, does he worry that he’ll make people feel bad? “You should feel bad about doing bad things,” he said.
The woman who was demonstrating with him was his daughter, Michelle, a 27-year-old nurse’s aid who, like her father, answers many questions by quoting Biblical verse (interestingly, she did not quote Leviticus 19:19, which prohibits believers from wearing clothes of different fabric. Leviticus is the same source that inspires corduroy-mixed-with-fleece wearing whack jobs to believe that gays are sinners).
Aside from people driving by in a car who she said threw candy at her—there were crushed peppermints at her feet—the counter-demonstrators were civil and much more interested in discussing the nature of the eternal, paleographic dating, what makes a Christian a Christian. Bo-ring.
It started heating up—and turned from “What the hell are these people talking about” to “Gay people rule!,” when reinforcements arrived. One person brought trays of coffee for the demonstrators, who, in turn, got more markers and posters at the LGBT Resource Center.
The spattering of people had turned into a sea of gays and allies, and the anti-gay signs were lost in the mayhem. At about 7 p.m., the counter-demonstrators were still out, holding their signs, chanting, yelling when cars honked. The anti-gay protesters had already left.
John Crandall, the president of Pride Union, a gay support group at SU, happened to be walking by, and also happened to be wearing a t-shirt prominently featuring a rainbow. Divine intervention, I asked? No. “I am that gay,” he said.
Crandall was holding a sign that describes the university’s position on bias, he said: “No place for hate.”
“People know this is a place where they can feel safe and feel loved,” he said. “This is a safe space.”
Crandall was pleased with the student reaction. “We have come together as a campus community,” said Crandall, who is a licensed Unitarian Universalist minister. “It makes me feel great. This is how it should be.”
Amen to that.
-Brian Amaral, Features Editor
(Photos by Jonathan Snyder, Contributing Photographer)