As anyone who has ever attended Pride festivals knows, such events tend to attract protesters in the form of “street preachers” who harangue folks as they come and go about their “sinful” ways. Who are these people who seem to have nothing better to do than annoy those trying to have a good time? Isn’t what they are doing illegal? Why aren’t they arrested for their aggressive behavior? Isn’t it harassment or something? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about them?
Here are the quick basics.
Who they are
They may be local zealots who work by themselves or national extremists who are well organized and financed. Many of these people earn their living doing this in two main ways: lawsuits, and contributions from supporters. For instance, this past year a street preacher won $87,000 from York, Penn., for infringement of his First Amendment right of free speech — the city had arrested him for protesting at various events. Such preachers also use arrest as a reason to inspire their supporters to send them money. Supporters’ donations enable them to pursue lawsuits as well as defend themselves from charges. For a growing number of these people, protesting is literally a full-time, paying job.
What they believe
Obviously, the number one belief that creates the problem is that any form of sexuality other than heterosexuality is a sin. Other beliefs of some of the past Charlotte-area protestors have been anti-choice/pro-life and anti-Islam.
Why they are like this
They take their own interpretations of the Bible as literal truth from God. They reject science when it is in conflict with their beliefs. Significantly, they consider themselves modern-day prophets, in the mold of Isaiah and Ezekiel or the early New Testament Apostles, who stood in the town square and admonished all to submit to God’s will. Some protesters, especially those who are following their charismatic leaders, really do believe what they say. Taking the time to know that some of them sincerely believe that what they are doing is right goes a long way to understanding, from a human perspective, why they take such public stands.
What their rights are
As for everyone in America, they have the right of free speech, even when many consider that speech hateful. They have the right to carry obnoxious signs. Fortunately, in Charlotte, they cannot use sound amplification (bullhorn, etc.) without a permit and, even with a permit, cannot amplify sound anywhere within the boundary of the Pride festival. The protestors do have the same right to be on public property as festival-goers. (Public property at Pride Charlotte is limited to the festival areas along Trade and Cedar Streets.) Like any other American, they have the right to approach people and offer to give them literature, and you have the right to refuse.
What you should do
Three things: Ignore them, Ignore them, Ignore them! The best strategy for dealing with them is to pretend they don’t exist. Ignoring them means you avoid frustration or confrontation. If there is no confrontation, you help to weaken their efforts to make money when they are arrested and when they file lawsuits. If you are approached by street preachers or when you see them on the sidewalk, simply walk past them without so much as a glance or a single word. So, do yourselves, your friends and the LGBT community a favor and just ignore them. You just might put them out of business.
Partners in Peace
Pride Charlotte’s Partners in Peace provides visual support for the LGBT community. At the festival, they seek to diminish the effects of street preachers and protesters to enable the LGBT community to have a peaceful and enjoyable event. They are not counter-protesters, but rather, first and foremost, peacekeepers. Partners in Peace provides a non-violent, non-confrontational buffer between Pride Charlotte participants, protesters and counter-protesters, while maintaining respect for the rights of all.
If Partners in Peace and their mission sound like something you’d be interested in joining, contact Hugh Hammond or Su Cummings for more information about volunteer opportunities on the day of Pride Charlotte. Hugh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Su can be reached at email@example.com.
— Blaise Liffick is the operations director of Silent Witness PA of Harrisburg, Penn., a non-violent, non-confrontational group that seeks to minimize the spiritual and verbal violence caused by anti-LGBT protest groups. Hugh Hammond contributed to this report. Photo credit: Matt Comer/InterstateQ.com