The 6 best responses to Perry’s day of prayer

LGBT Texans Against Hate

Riki Miller, Zombie McZee and Britney Miranda.

The first organized response to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s “The Response” was Friday night’s LGBT Texans Against Hate rally. Despite temperatures that had barely come down from the triple digits, Houstonians thronged to Tranquility Park in downtown. Beyond commenting on the temperature, the common theme of most of the speakers was that the American Family Association and Gov. Rick Perry’s rally is not representative of Houston and was not welcomed.

Robert Shipman, president of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, said: “I kinda think Rick Perry chose the wrong city!”

He continued “They are the bigots, we are not … we are Houston.”

“I guess we should take comfort in the fact that, except for some of his staffers, [Gov. Perry] couldn’t find enough homegrown bigotry in the state of Texas to put on the event himself,” said Mike Craig, co-chair of Out & Equal Houston. “He had to bus them in from Tupulo, Miss., and Colorado Springs, Colo.” Craig was referring to American Family Association (based in Tupulo) and Focus on the Family (based in Colorado Springs), both co-sponsors of “The Response.”

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, provided the closing address. He criticized Gov. Perry for using divisive religious rhetoric for political gain. “Being here today I’m proud that we are fighting back against a narrow, theocratic view of the world that we live in and of our country that says that people are not welcomed — that says that people are bad because of who they are. That is not America,” said Coleman. “That is what is dividing our city, our state and our country.”

— Daniel Williams

 

Non-LGBT groups

A billboard truck paid for by the Freedom from Religion Foundation sits outside Reliant Stadium on Saturday during ‘The Response.’
Han Will and Katherine Godby from First Congregational Church of Fort Worth.

Houston’s Kirby Drive winds past the front entry to Reliant Stadium. At one point, just past the stadium, the road makes a slight curve. The main gate to the stadium’s parking lot is here, and the combination of Kirby Drive’s curve and the thoroughfare-like entrance gate creates a three-way intersection centered around a small concrete traffic island. On Saturday, this intersection became a carousel of non-LGBT groups protesting Gov. Rick Perry’s day of prayer and fasting, dubbed “The Response.”

Each corner was claimed by a different group that feels “The Response” violated values it holds dear. On one corner, the American Atheists — who objected to the response as state promotion of religion. On the next corner, the Freedom From Religion Foundation which, due to its strategic location, was positioned to yell at idling cars waiting for entrance to the stadium. On the last corner, a group of Lyndon LaRouche supporters, who toted a 6-foot poster of President Barack Obama portrayed as Hitler. Finally, cordoned on the concrete island by crowd-control fencing: Westboro Baptist Church. Positioned at the axis of discontent, WBC managed to draw the ire of all the other groups, and every attendee to “The Response” who drove by.

The most fervent shouting matches were between the Atheists and Westboro Baptist Church. Small cadres of Athiests would hurl taunts like “Your imaginary friend doesn’t scare me.” Which would cause the protesters from WBC to launch into another round of what seemed to be their favorite song: “God Hates America,” set to the tune of “God Bless America.”

Dan Barker, co-president of Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Trapped behind the Atheists, in a small strip of grass between the sidewalk and a steep embankment, the people of First Congregational Church of Fort Worth seemed a little lost. Han Will, who drove to Houston with the church Friday night, is a petite grandmotherly lady who would look more at home serving homemade cookies than holding a protest sign, but her determination to have her message of a loving and caring Christianity was undaunted. “We think that God is Love. Some other Christians seem to distort that, but we say that hate speech is not the Gospel.”

Katherine Godby, also from First Congregational Church added, “Obviously we support prayer, but fighting for social justice is another form of prayer.” Godby’s statement was cut off by one of the protesters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation across the street yelling, “Nothing fails like prayer, it’s a waste of time, it’s delusional.”

Lyndon LaRouche supporters.

The group from the Freedom From Religion Foundation traveled from Madison, Wisc., to protest “The Response.” They rented a billboard truck that circled Reliant Stadium the entire day. The truck’s sign read, “Beware prayer by pious politicians. Get off your knees and get to work.” FFRF also hired an airplane to fly above the stadium trailing a banner reading, “Gov: Keep Church/State Separate.”

The parking kiosk collecting $15 from each car entering Reliant’s mostly empty parking lot slowed traffic sufficiently enough that the minivans and trucks waiting to enter the lot routinely were idled in front of the FFRF’s corner. Occasionally one of “The Response” attendees would roll down their window to offer a “God loves you” or “I’ll pray for you.” This would set off a furious rant from the FFRF’ers about God being a delusion and prayer a waste of time, leading to some very hurried rolling up of car windows.

On the corner farthest from the stadium the Lyndon LaRouche supporters and their Obama-as-Hitler poster remained largely unengaged from the other assembled rabble. One of the LaRouche supporters, who refused to be identified, said that the group was there because “it’s all the same thing, Obama, Perry, they’re all trying to take over and take away your decisions.” He added, “We have to stand up to politicians who lie to us, one’s a Muslim, the other’s a Baptist, but that won’t matter when the jackboot comes down. … The fight between the Democrats and Republicans is just a distraction from the real fight against the government taking over our lives.”

In the center of it all: Westboro Baptist Church, who spent most of the morning singing parodies of songs by Lady Gaga and Madonna (and, of course, “God Hates America”) and showing off their skill for holding four protest signs at once. Whether by their own design, or the machinations of the traffic cops, WBC’s concrete island station was positioned so that the only way to speak with them was to stand in the street. “God hates America, It’s too late for prayer!” howled one woman when asked why the group was protesting “The Response.” This reporter was then firmly told by police to get out of the street.

— Daniel Williams

 

GetEQUAL’s mock funeral procession

A block from the merry-go-round of the American Atheists, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Lyndon LaRouche supporters and Westboro Baptist Church, a more somber, if no less energetic, response to “The Response” was taking place. Organized by GetEQUAL, the event sought to give voice to people killed by the violent rhetoric of transphobia and homophobia.

The training camp for the Houston Texans sits opposite Kirby Drive from Reliant Arena, its driveway intersecting with Kirby directly in front of the main entrance. Saturdays during the summer the camp plays host to a children’s football camp. At 8 a.m. Saturday, when parents dropped their kids off at camp, a small group of a few dozen GetEQUAL activists graced the main entrance. By the time parents returned to pick their kids up in the early afternoon there were hundreds of protestors.

GetEQUAL staged several mock funerals throughout the day to represent the more than 13,000 people killed in America because of anti-LGBT bias since 1980. The funerals were complete with coffins and a New Orleans-style street band. Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL, says that the band was not originally planned to be part of the protest. “They were a local group who had come to Reliant to protest ‘The Response,’” said Cates. “When they saw what we were doing, they wanted to help.”

Between funerals the GetEQUAL protestors chanted and sang. Their rousing rendition of the civil rights era classic “We Shall Overcome” drew attendees of “The Response” out of the stadium to look down from the third floor mezzanine. Chants of “This is what democracy looks like” and “Pray away the hate” rang out all day, crescendo-ing as more and more protestors arrived. At one point the chant spontaneously morphed into “Show me what hypocrisy looks like” and the assembled protestors turned to point at Reliant Stadium and chant, “This is what hypocrisy looks like.”

Protesters braved temperatures that approached but never quite breached the triple-digit mark. GetEQUAL’s prime spot at the Reliant Stadium entrance also placed them in the shadow of the leviathan structure. As the afternoon wore on, many protestors who had stationed themselves at the stadium’s parking lot entrances relocated to the relative cool provided by Reliant’s shade, swelling the crowd at the entrance to what Cates called “comfortably thousands of protesters.”

Watch video from the protest below.

— Daniel Williams

 

LGBT Trailblazers Luncheon

A member of Westboro Baptist Church protests outside the LGBT Trailblazers luncheon in Houston on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Noel Freeman)

On Saturday, while Gov. Rick Perry was throwing his prayer rally “The Response” inside Reliant Stadium and GetEQUAL was staging mock funerals at the front gate, the Harris County Democratic Party sat down to a quite luncheon honoring LGBT Trailblazers. The highlight of the luncheon was the videotaped acceptance speech by Houston Mayor Annise Parker (WATCH IT BELOW). In 2009 Parker became the first out LGBT person elected mayor of a major American city after years of community service as an activist, city council member and city controller.

Parker was unable to accept her award in person due to previously scheduled city business. Via pre-recorded message she thanked the luncheon’s co-chairs, Robert Shipman and Brad Pritchett, and the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, who took the lead in organizing the event.

Parker’s son, Jonon Tyler, accepted the award on behalf of his mother. Tyler talked about the thrill of riding with Mayor Parker in the 2010 Dallas Pride Parade, about how the crowd seemed to swell with hope and pride at seeing her. “When we see Mayor Annise Parker, we see the best in ourselves,” said Tyler. “We’ve only seen the beginning; the best is yet to come.”

Also honored as LGBT Trailblazers were Judge Steven Kirkland, City Councilwoman Sue Lovell, Judge Phyllis Frye and Linda Morales. Judge John Paul Barnich received a posthumous award.

Judge Kirkland was the first out LGBT judge elected in Texas (previous out judges had all been appointed). He was self-deprecating in accepting his award. “I’d like to tell you that my ego is not so large that I believe that the over 650,000 people who voted for me went down the ballot and selected my name out and said, ‘I’m voting for Steve Kirland because he’s the best guy there,’” said Kirkland. “I got elected in 2008 because people in Harris County were voting for Democrats and they were doing that for a lot of reasons. One would be President Obama … the other would be president Bush.”

Lovell, who leaves the council this year due to term limits, warned the crowd about the need to remain supportive of out LGBT elected officials, and the dangers of in-fighting. “We must remember that the victories that we want to achieve do not come at the expense of our community,” said Lovell. “That energy, that intelligence, that organization must be taken and focused outward, to the people who are really against us.”

A small contingent from Westboro Baptist Church camped out in front of the Hyatt Regency Hotel where the Trailblazers Luncheon took place. Lou Weaver, president of the Transgender Foundation of America, commented on the irony of WBC’s protest during his introduction of Frye.

“Thirty-four years ago, in 1977, Anita Bryant was in this very hotel speaking to the State Bar Association,” said Weaver. “Phyllis was outside of this hotel that day, protesting. My how times have changed! Today Phyllis is on the inside, and the forces of bigotry are on the outside.”

Frye, whom the program described as “an Eagle Scout, a former member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, a US Army veteran, a licensed attorney, a father, and a married, lesbian wife for 38 years,” pointed out that she didn’t protest Anita Bryant on her own. Her wife Trish was by her side.

“It was so scary because we didn’t know what would happen,” said Trish Frye. “We didn’t know if they would start throwing things or arresting people, because sometimes that happened.”

Linda Morales, who in 1990 filed a lawsuit that paved the way for the eventual Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision striking down Texas’ sodomy law, spoke of the need for coalition building between the Hispanic and LGBT communities.

Mistress of Ceremonies Fiona Dawson eulogized the late Barnich in her presentation of his posthumous award. Dawson shared that when Judge Barnich was appointed to the Houston municipal bench he was asked during his confirmation hearing how a gay judge’s courtroom would differ from a straight one’s. Barnich, recalled Dawson, coyly replied that he would “upgrade the courtroom’s sound system in order to play showtunes.”

The final award of the evening was presented to “LGBT families for being everyday Trailblazers.” Luncheon co-chair Shipman said that “30 years ago the fight for equality was on the streets of [Houston’s historically gay neighborhood] Montrose. Today the fight is in the suburbs and it’s these families with two moms or two dads who are fighting it.”

Dawson closed the luncheon with a rousing plea for greater community involvement. “When our country is not permitting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness we have a responsibility to speak up,” she said. “If all people cared about LGBT issues, they simply would not be issues.”

— Daniel Williams

 

Interfaith prayer service

Saturday, less than 4 miles from Reliant Stadium and Gov. Rick Perry’s day of prayer and fasting, “The Response,” a prayer service of a very different nature took place. First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston hosted an “Inclusive Interfaith Prayer Service” that featured an Imam, a Rabbi, a Buddhist Monk and even a Baptist Minister. A moment of silence was set aside to recognize those in attendance who didn’t believe in a higher power, and respect their beliefs.

The Rev. Dr. Daniel O’Connell, senior pastor of First UUC, opened the service by contrasting it with “The Response,” but said that the inclusive interfaith service was not about being critical of people of other faiths: “We come today not to tear down, but to lift up.”

“I come from a particular religious tradition that I cherish, but other hearts are here with hopes and dreams as true and pure as mine,” O’Connell continued, referencing the hymn “A Song of Peace.”

The service continued with a performance by the Bayou City Performing Arts Quartet (made up of members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston and Bayou City Women’s Chorus) and an opening prayer by the Rev. Dr. Jeremy Rutledge, a Baptist minister.

“The Language of Peace,” an instrumental trio that includes cello, keyboard and an Indian instrument known as a “tanpura,” then performed an improvisational piece accompanied by chanting in Hindi.

Chanting was a common element in many of the rituals and prayers performed by the diverse collection of religious leaders. From Rabbi Samantha Kahn’s recitation of a Shabbat morning prayer, to Imam Kemal Civelek’s chanting of the names of God, the service centered on quiet moments of contemplation and meditation. During the “Bathing of the Baby Buddha” ritual performed by the Rev. Seido of the St. Nichiren Buddhist Temple, his rhythmic, breathy chanting filled the air as those assembled ladled water over a statue of a standing infant Buddha.

The Rev. Ellen Cooper Davis of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church spoke about her previous life as a circus performer and her current life as a minister. “Actually, the circus was good preparation for working for a church,” said Davis.

“There’s a circus in town right now, but it’s not the kind i want. … It’s the kind that they use to lure the poor people in with bread, the kind the Roman satirists wrote about ages ago,” Cooper Davis said. “They said it’s just there to distract the people so that they would be content with their bread and their circus and would not realize that the Roman empire was oppressing them. So that they would be content with just a few hours of entertainment and not realize that they were living in an empire. The kind of empire that took people who asked hard questions about how we ought to live and nailed them up onto a cross.”

The Rev. Adam Robinson, who organized the service, closed by saying: “This service is about a place at the table for everyone, those [people at “The Response”] are my people. You’re looking an an Evangelical boy here who, after many years, was ordained — then outed — and my place at the table was taken away.

“We’ve got the people out there who are united with hate groups and we don’t want to be united with them,” Robinson said. “We have to watch that — we have to watch our desire to separate ourselves from people we disagree with. It’s a fine line, but if we don’t watch that line carefully pretty soon it’s not OK to be a Unitarian, and then it’s not OK to be a Muslim or a Jew, then it’s not OK to be a progressive Christian, and then there’s only one kind of Christian people are allowed to be.”

— Daniel Williams

 

Dallas’ response

Protesters gather outside Dallas City Hall on Saturday during Rick Perry’s day of prayer in Houston.

About 25 people gathered at Dallas City Hall on Saturday to protest Gov. Rick Perry’s “The Response,” the day of prayer and fasting that was under way in Houston at the same time.

Transgender activists Pamela Curry and Kelli Ann Busey were among the protesters in Dallas, while others were from church groups or were individuals who said they believe in separation of church and state.

Among those at Dallas City Hall was Transforming Words, a Bible study group from Garland that represented several churches. “We’re here to love on ‘em and give ‘em some water,” a representative from Transforming Words said. The representative said the group didn’t necessarily support the protest but, “the AFA said some really horrible things.” He said the group particularly disliked some of the statements from AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer.

A few of the protest signs referred to anti-gay hate messages of the AFA, such as “The AFA=Anti-Gay” using the Human Rights Campaign equal sign logo, and “The AFA is anti gay. Fed up. Fight to save America from hate groups. No H8 in TX. Represent all Texans.”

Most of the signs, however, referred to separation of church and state or were specifically anti-Perry: “Blatant exclusion has no place in political office,” “Political office is not your pulpit” “Rick Perry for ex-governor” were among the messages.

Using the Bible to fight religious bigotry, one sign read, “Jesus opposes prayer rallies Matthew 6:5-14 NIV,” referring to the passage that translates as, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.”

— David Taffet

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Uplifted by ‘The Response,’ Gov. Perry may announce presidential bid this week

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. More than 30,000 people are said to have attended “The Response,” Gov. Rick Perry’s day of prayer and fasting at Reliant Stadium in Houston on Saturday. Check out our coverage of the LGBT (and non-LGBT) responses to The Response here, here, here and here. For those who actually care what went on inside the stadium, we’ve posted some video below. The first segment is Perry’s speech in its entirety, which turned out to be rather political despite his assurances that it wouldn’t be. The second is a report from the Texas Tribune which indicates that not all attendees — including Perry — actually fasted on Saturday. And the third is a compilation from Right Wing Watch featuring some of the speakers at the event.

2. Now that The Response is over, Perry is likely to announce that he’s running for president as early as this week.

3. But not all Republicans are thrilled about Perry’s all-but-certain candidacy. During NBC’s Meet The Press on Sunday, GOP consultant Alex Castellanos called Perry “Sarah Palin in a skirt” and a “lighter” version of George W. Bush.

—  John Wright

WATCH: GetEQUAL stages funeral procession outside Reliant Stadium during ‘The Response’

A block from the merry-go-round of the American Atheists, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Lyndon LaRouche supporters and Westboro Baptist Church, a more somber, if no less energetic, response to “The Response” was taking place. Organized by GetEQUAL, the event sought to give voice to people killed by the violent rhetoric of transphobia and homophobia.

The training camp for the Houston Texans sits opposite Kirby Drive from Reliant Arena, its driveway intersecting with Kirby directly in front of the main entrance. Saturdays during the summer the camp plays host to a children’s football camp.  At 8 a.m. Saturday, when parents dropped their kids off at camp, a small group of a few dozen GetEQUAL activists graced the main entrance. By the time parents returned to pick their kids up in the early afternoon there were hundreds of protestors.

GetEQUAL staged several mock funerals throughout the day to represent the more than 13,000 people killed in America because of anti-LGBT bias since 1980. The funerals were complete with coffins and a New Orleans-style street band. Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL, says that the band was not originally planned to be part of the protest. “They were a local group who had come to Reliant to protest ‘The Response,’” said Cates. “When they saw what we were doing, they wanted to help.”

Between funerals the GetEQUAL protestors chanted and sang. Their rousing rendition of the civil rights era classic “We Shall Overcome” drew attendees of “The Response” out of the stadium to look down from the third floor mezzanine. Chants of “This is what democracy looks like” and “Pray away the hate” rang out all day, crescendo-ing as more and more protestors arrived.  At one point the chant spontaneously morphed into “Show me what hypocrisy looks like” and the assembled protestors turned to point at Reliant Stadium and chant, “This is what hypocrisy looks like.”

Protesters braved temperatures that approached but never quite breached the triple-digit mark.  GetEQUAL’s prime spot at the Reliant Stadium entrance also placed them in the shadow of the leviathan structure. As the afternoon wore on, many protestors who had stationed themselves at the stadium’s parking lot entrances relocated to the relative cool provided by Reliant’s shade, swelling the crowd at the entrance to what Cates called “comfortably thousands of protesters.”

Photos and video from the protest are below.

—  admin

The non-LGBT Response to ‘The Response’

A billboard truck paid for by the Freedom from Religion Foundation sits outside Reliant Stadium on Saturday during ‘The Response.’
Han Will and Katherine Godby from First Congregational Church of Fort Worth.

Houston’s Kirby Drive winds past the front entry to Reliant Stadium. At one point, just past the stadium, the road makes a slight curve. The main gate to the stadium’s parking lot is here, and the combination of Kirby Drive’s curve and the thoroughfare-like entrance gate creates a three-way intersection centered around a small concrete traffic island. On Saturday, this intersection became a carousel of non-LGBT groups protesting Gov. Rick Perry’s day of prayer and fasting, dubbed “The Response.”

Each corner was claimed by a different group that feels “The Response” violated values it holds dear. On one corner, the American Atheists — who objected to the response as state promotion of religion. On the next corner, the Freedom From Religion Foundation which, due to its strategic location, was positioned to yell at idling cars waiting for entrance to the stadium. On the last corner, a group of Lyndon LaRouche supporters, who toted a 6-foot poster of President Barack Obama portrayed as Hitler. Finally, cordoned on the concrete island by crowd-control fencing: Westboro Baptist Church. Positioned at the axis of discontent, WBC managed to draw the ire of all the other groups, and every attendee to “The Response” who drove by.

The most fervent shouting matches were between the Atheists and Westboro Baptist Church. Small cadres of Athiests would hurl taunts like “Your imaginary friend doesn’t scare me.”  Which would cause the protesters from WBC to launch into another round of what seemed to be their favorite song: “God Hates America,” set to the tune of “God Bless America.”

—  admin

Responding to “The Response”

From partisan to apolitical, from atheistic to interfaith — groups from around the state are speaking out against Gov. Perry’s Houston prayer meeting

Rick Perry

Daniel Williams  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

HOUSTON — Texas Gov. Rick Perry has partnered with the American Family Association to present a day of prayer and fasting they have dubbed “The Response” on Saturday, Aug. 6, at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

Organizers are calling the event “a call to prayer for a nation in crises.”

But opponents have a different take. They are calling the event everything from a political maneuver pandering to the right wing intended to kick off Perry’s 2012 presidential bid to an unconstitutional confluence of church and state.

And those opponents from around the state have been hard at work in recent weeks, planning their own response to the Perry prayer meeting.

Perry’s choice to partner with the American Family Association, which is paying for the Saturday event, quickly raised eyebrows in the LGBT community, where AFA is considered one of the country’s leading anti-gay groups. In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified AFA as an anti-gay hate group.

AFA’s contention that homosexuality is sinful according to the Bible is not enough, in and of itself, to put AFA on the SPLC hate group list.

But the AFA’s “propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling” was more than enough to earn a place on the list.

To bring attention to their concerns over “The Response,” opponents have planned a variety of events in Houston and around the state: from partisan to apolitical, from atheist to interfaith.

Each event, organizers say, strives to stand in contrast to what they see as the blurring of church/state separation and the promotion of hate against LGBT people fostered by “The Response.”

Houston GLBT Caucus

For Noel Freeman, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, “The Response” is just the latest in a long line of anti-LGBT events the caucus has encountered.

The caucus is spearheading an event highlighting the LGBT community’s response at 7 p.m, Friday, Aug. 5. State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat and longtime LGBT ally in the Texas Legislature, will deliver the keynote address for the event at Tranquility Park at 400 Rusk St., in downtown Houston.

The Friday night LGBT event is being staged just one block from the site of a 1977 rally the caucus held to oppose Anita Bryant, who at the time was one of the most visible and most vocal foes of LGBT equality.

Fresh off her successful campaign to repeal a Dade County, Fla., ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Bryant brought her “Save The Children” campaign to Houston. And the GLBT Caucus responded.

“The caucus has always stood up against the forces of hate. Look at our response in ’77,” said Freeman.

The caucus organized a massive counter-protest when Bryant came to town. And among those participating was a 22-year-old student and activist named Annise Parker.

Parker later became as the caucus’ eighth president before beginning her political career. She now serves as Houston’s mayor, becoming the first out LGBT mayor of a major American city when she was elected in 2009.

Freeman says responding to Perry’s rally is a duty for LGBT activists, a continuation of the caucus’ legacy of fighting hate and fostering young leadership.

“We have to support our community and say that hate is not acceptable in any capacity,” he said.

(left to right) The Rev. Adam Robinson, Daniel Scott Cates, Noel Freeman, Brad Pritchett and Robert Shipman
(left to right) The Rev. Adam Robinson, Daniel Scott Cates, Noel Freeman, Brad Pritchett and Robert Shipman

GetEQUAL

Dallasite Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL, is heading to Houston on Friday to participate in the caucus’ rally. But the main reason for his trip is a protest planned by GetEQUAL outside Reliant Stadium on Saturday as “The Response” takes place inside.

Cates said the national attention paid to the fact that Perry is partnering with a hate group to stage “The Response” has helped galvanize activism in Texas.

“For a while we’ve been pretty quiet. I think that with events like this and events like the [June 2009] Rainbow Lounge [raid in Fort Worth], people are waking up,” Cates said.

“What’s interesting about the reaction to ‘The Response’ is that it’s been statewide,” he continued. “You’re seeing all these cities — Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas — all these different cities coming together.”

GetEqual’s protest will be at the corner of Kirby Drive and McNee Road, starting at 8 a.m. Saturday.

Michael Divesti with GetEQUAL said that the protesters will remain at Reliant Stadium throughout the day. He urged participants to bring water and drink it often to fight the heat.

“We don’t want anyone getting heat stroke out there,” Divesti said.

GetEQUAL is partnering with the American Atheists for the protest, but GetEQUAL leaders stressed that the event is not anti-prayer.

“We’re not at all anti-prayer or anti-religion,” said Cates. “We’re anti-the-state-getting-involved-in-religion.

“I pray; my faith is very important to me,” he added.

CNN reported last month that Perry may not even speak at the rally, although it was his idea to stage the event. The possibility doesn’t surprise Divesti, who believes “The Response” has always been more about political pandering than sincere prayer.

“Perry was a Democrat until he figured out he would be more popular as a Republican. He was Methodist until he figured out he would be more popular as an evangelical,” Divesti said. “He believed in state’s rights until he figured out he would be more popular as a DOMA supporter. So now that his support of the AFA is proving unpopular on the national stage, is anyone surprised he’s scrambling to distance himself?”

FW First Congregational Church

Also planning to protest outside of Reliant Stadium on Saturday is a group from Fort Worth’s First Congregational Church.

Marvin Van, who is organizing the group, said he expects 15 to 20 people to make the trek to Houston on Friday night to participate in an interfaith service at Mount Ararat Baptist Church before spending Saturday at Reliant Stadium.

Van said that as representatives of a mainstream Christian church, his group is in a unique position to respond to “The Response.”

“We are very specifically protesting the misuse of the gospel to promote hate speech,” Van said.

“We know we’re not going to convince the governor or the AFA. That’s not why we’re going. We’re going for that gay or lesbian teenager or that Muslim teenager who thinks Christianity is only about hate,” he said.

FIGHTING HATE  |  In 1977, Anita Bryant brought her “Save the Children” campaign to Houston and the LGBT community responded.
FIGHTING HATE | In 1977, Anita Bryant brought her “Save the Children” campaign to Houston and the LGBT community responded.

Harris County Democratic Party

While Cates, Divesti and the people of First Congregational Church are protesting at Reliant Stadium Saturday, the Harris County Democratic Party will hold its fourth “Trailblazers Luncheon” downtown at the Hyatt Regency Hotel — ironically, the same hotel that was the venue for Anita Bryant’s 1977 event.

The traditional luncheon is the Harris County party’s way of highlighting contributions by members of historically oppressed communities. Previous luncheons have honored women, African-Americans and Latinos. According to the event’s co-chairs, Brad Pritchett and Robert Shipman, the party had already planned to honor members of the LGBT community at this year’s luncheon before learning of “The Response.”

“We hadn’t decided on a date for the event yet. But when Perry’s event was announced, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to counter-program,” Pritchett said.

Shipman added, “I think the tag line of the luncheon says it best: ‘A Celebration of Diversity.’ We’re focusing on the positive.”

Pritchett said while he sees parallels between Saturday’s “Response” and Anita Bryant’s 1977 “Save the Children” event in Houston, he believes Perry’s rally is worse.

“We should feel even more attacked because it’s our own governor bringing a hate group here,” he said. “He was elected to represent all Texans, but instead decided to align himself with the most extreme fringe.”

Pritchett also said he isn’t surprised Perry has refused so far to confirm whether he will speak at “The Response” event on Saturday, because the governor has “seen a negative push-back from his association with the AFA. He doesn’t know how that’s going to affect him when he’s trying to court moderate voters in a presidential election.”

Tickets for the Trailblazer’s Luncheon are available at the door and on-line at HCDP.org. Check-in begins at 9:30 a.m.

First UU Church of Houston

Another — uniquely apropos — response to “The Response” is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday: an interfaith prayer service.

The Rev. Adam Robinson of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, who is organizing the event, said that it’s sometimes difficult for people of faith to oppose events like “The Response” for fear of appearing anti-prayer.

“It’s hard for faith leaders to take a stand and not make it look like they oppose praying to God to make the country better,” Robinson acknowledged. But, he said, he felt he had a responsibility to do something.
“I despise that our governor has aligned himself with a hate group. I feel called to provide people with an alternative,” Robinson said.

First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston is located at 5200 Fannin St.

The aftermath?

Dennis Coleman, executive director of the statewide LGBT advocacy organization Equality Texas, said he believes “The Response” has already backfired on Perry.

“There’s been a galvanization of the community around the state,” Coleman said. “Texans are taken aback by the people our governor has aligned himself with.”

But Coleman said he suspects Perry’s attempt to distance himself from the prayer meeting has more to do with fears of low turnout at the event rather than concerns over being associated with a hate group.

“I think he’s backpeddling because his event’s a flop, not because of the association with the AFA,” Coleman said. “The AFA is controversial, but Perry is controversial. He wants this to be a success. He doesn’t want 7,500 people in a 75,000 seat arena. But I think that’s what he’s going to get.”

Coleman is traveling to Houston to speak at the GLBT Caucus’ Friday night rally and to present the keynote address at the Trailblazer’s Luncheon on Saturday. The legacy of “The Response” remains to be determined and will depend largely on whether Perry decides to finally announce his much-hinted-at presidential bid.

But for those organizing the responses to “The Response,” the event has created a unique flash-point, a moment in time to focus and unite the people of Texas in opposition to hate.

“We’ve had so many victories lately — in local government, in the state legislatures and nationally,” Coleman said. “But it’s sometimes hard for people to find a single, concrete issue that they can wrap their hands around and participate in.

“Gov. Perry, by aligning himself with the AFA and other hate groups, has provided that moment, and LGBT Texans and their allies have responded unanimously: ‘There is no room for hate in our state.’”

……………………………..

Texans responds to ‘The Response’

• The Houston GLBT Caucus will hold a rally Friday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m., at Tranquility Park, 400 Rusk St. in downtown Houston. State Rep. Garnet Coleman will be keynote speaker.

• GetEQUAL will hold a day-long protest outside Reliant Stadium, at the corner of Kirby Drive and McNee Road, beginning at 8 p.m. and lasting as long as “The Response.” Participants are urged to bring plenty of water.

• Members of Fort Worth First Congregational Church, 4201 Trail Lake Drive, will be leaving for Houston on Friday night and will be holding a rally outside Reliant Stadium on Saturday. Call the church at 817-923-2990 for details.

• The Harris County Democratic Party will hold its fourth annual “Trailblazers Luncheon” Saturday at Houston’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. Tickets for the Trailblazer’s Luncheon are available at the door and on-line at HCDP.org. Check-in begins at 9:30 a.m. Go online for more information.

• First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, led by the Rev. Adam Robinson, will hold an interfaith prayer service Saturday at 2 p.m. to offer a faith-based alternative to “The Response.” The church is located at 5200 Fannin St. For more information call the church at  713-526-5200.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

WATCH: Atheist group files federal lawsuit seeking to stop Gov. Rick Perry’s day of prayer

Gov. Rick Perry

Speaking of violations of the separation between church and state, Houston’s Fox 26 reports that the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to put the kabosh on Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s day of prayer at Reliant Stadium in Houston on Aug. 6. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which claims to be “the nation’s largest explicitly atheist/agnostic membership group,” previously has argued that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. “The answers for America’s problems won’t be found on our knees or in heaven, but by using our brains, our reason and in compassionate action,” says the Foundation’s Dan Barker, a former evangelical minister. “Gov. Perry’s distasteful use of his civil office to plan and dictate a religious course of action to ‘all citizens’ is deeply offensive to many citizens, as well as to our secular form of government.”

Read the full lawsuit here. The group’s press release, along with Fox 26′s report, is after the jump.

—  John Wright

Houston GLBT Political Caucus condemns Gov. Rick Perry’s big anti-gay pray day

Earlier we mentioned that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is organizing a big pray-a-thon or whatever-the-hell-you-wanna-call-it at Reliant Stadium in Houston in August. The event itself is hardly surprising from Perry, but his decision to partner with the American Family Association — a certified anti-gay hate group — is a major slap in the face to the LGBT community. (We wonder if The Economist still thinks Perry will soften his stance on same-sex marriage?) At this point, our biggest regret is that the event isn’t being held in Dallas because the protests, which are already being organized on Facebook, should be a lot of fun. Here’s what the Houston GLBT Political Caucus had to say about Perry’s big anti-gay pray day in a statement this morning:

HOUSTON, Texas – The Houston GLBT Political Caucus, representing approximately 250,000 people throughout the Greater Houston Metropolitan Area has condemned the decision of Governor Rick Perry to “reach out” to the anti-GLBT hate group American Family Association (AFA) to serve as primary host and sponsor for his upcoming “Day of Prayer” event.

“AFA is a recognized hate group. Its primary existence is to demonize GLBT Americans and oppose equality.” said Caucus president Noel Freeman. “It is abhorrent that Governor Perry would choose to kickoff his presidential ambitions in partnership with a hate group that refers to us as Nazis, claims the Holocaust was caused by the GLBT community, and supports the eradication of people living with HIV.”

While the Caucus is a strong proponent of religious freedom, and encourages its members and others to exercise their constitutional right to exercise that religious freedom, the line must be drawn when the governor of the great State of Texas asks a hate group to serve as his primary partner in an event of this nature. Such a partnership serves as nothing more than an assault on the GLBT community.

“Governor Perry’s partnership with AFA is very telling of his opinion of the GLBT community, which is surprising, considering the number of gay and lesbian staff who have worked in his office over the years.” Freeman said. “We encourage all members of the GLBT community and those others who support equality and oppose hate to stand by our side in condemning this reprehensible act by Governor Perry and demand he exclude AFA from this event.”

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus is the oldest continually operating GLBT civil rights organization in the United States.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Gov. Rick Perry teams with anti-gay hate group for national prayer event

Gov. Rick Perry

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a possible GOP presidential candidate, is teaming with the anti-gay American Family Association for a national prayer event Aug. 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The event, called the Response, was Perry’s idea and will be funded by the AFA, designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-gay views. The AFA’s issues director, Bryan Fischer, has blamed homosexuality for the Holocaust. It’s sad to say, but this event should play well with Republican primary voters and is perhaps the clearest indication yet that Perry plans to seek the GOP nomination for president. Watch a promo for the event below.

2. A study by the Centers for Disease Control shows that gay, lesbian and bisexual teens are far more likely to engage in risky behavior, from smoking to unprotected sex,  than their straight counterparts. “This report should be a wake-up call,” Dr. Howell Wechsler, director of CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, said in a statement. “We are very concerned that these students face such dramatic disparities for so many different health risks.”

3. Gay couples can’t get divorced in Texas, but they can in Wyoming. The Wyoming Supreme Court on Monday reversed a district judge’s decision and allowed a same-sex couple married in Canada to obtain a divorce. A gay Dallas man who’s seeking a divorce has appealed his case to the Texas Supreme Court. Conflicting rulings in Texas and Wyoming could make it more likely for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue. But unlike Texas, Wyoming has only a state statute and not a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage.

—  John Wright