LGBT Texans Against Hate
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
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.”
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.”
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
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
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