At about 11:45am on September 23rd, I was walking out of the Student Center only to be greeted by a booming voice shouting, “Homosexuals must repent!” I then noticed a man fashioning a “Jesus Saves From Hell” shirt and army fatigue pants. He was toting a large sign reading “WARNING: GOD HATERS, FORNICATORS, DRUNKS, MOCKERS, ADULTERERS, GREEDY, THIEVES, LIARS, HOMOSEXUALS, JUDGEMENT” in one hand and a Bible in the other. He was accompanied by a stocky man who greatly resembled Michael Moore.
Shocked, I immediately stumbled through my cell phone contact list to call every TCNJ activist I could think of and tell them what was going on. Before I knew it, a small hoard of students gathered at the scene, proudly standing in front of the Student Center with pro-gay rights signs.
As the group began to grow, we were approached by Sgt. Joseph Skrajewski. He informed us that the two men had not obtained permission to be there and that they would be moved. The sergeant also said that in order to continue our counter-demonstration, we would have to speak with Tim Asher, Director of Student Activities, to get his approval, a process that ordinarily takes about a month. This would have meant a counter-protest was not permitted, period. Beyond violating unabridged free speech, this would have been outright censorship and sets an intolerable precedent for the future. Carol Bresnahan, the openly gay Executive Vice President of TCNJ, who had joined the counter-demonstration, stepped in and requested that Skrajewski let us continue to protest. From that point forward, Sgt. Skrajewski dropped the issue and only idly watched. We were lucky that Vice President Bresnahan was present and supportive, as the empowering demonstration was almost destroyed by banal bureaucratic technicalities.
As time rolled on, the “born-again” demonstrators became increasingly outnumbered as more and more students noticed what was going on and joined the counter-protesters. The protest group grew to over 100 students, professors, and faculty.
The two men preached their hatred, claiming that homosexuals are better off killing themselves than living as themselves, women belong at home cooking and cleaning, our professors were brainwashing us by teaching “evil-ution,” and that it is morally acceptable to sell one’s daughter into slavery as condoned in the Bible. One of the men also made the claim that President Obama was going to put us all in concentration camps by the end of his term. “This is good, free country, you’re saying what you want…no martial law yet…no camps yet…” one muttered. This begs the question: what kind of delusional racist hysteria would lead someone to believe Obama will have us all in Gulags?
The preachers’ voices were drowned out by the demonstrators, who chanted, “Gay, straight, black, white, same struggle, same fight!” and “Homophobic and anti-gay! Right-wing nutjobs, go away!”
A highlight of the demonstration was when several female students held a “kiss-in” while a tour passed by. The students walked up right next to one of the homophobic Bible-thumpers, paired off, and started making out. This was followed by a male couple walking by holding hands. Both displays were met with loud applause and cheering from the sea of demonstrators.
The two men were eventually surrounded by chanting students and rainbow flags. Evangelical junior biology major Paul Soon, armed with his Bible, stood in front of the men explaining the context of their Biblical references, correcting some of their alleged misinterpretations. Matt Hoke, Perspective Editor, told the story of the Stonewall riots of 1969 and their role in the LGBT movement. One student mocked the men, preaching about his fictional bout with homosexuality. Adam Engel, senior English major, brought further levity by playing “Amazing Grace” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on his trumpet. David “Border Patrol” Michelson, junior political science major and an active member of the College Republicans who wore a “Friends don’t let friends vote Democrat” shirt, gave a short speech on the importance of gay rights; he said the issue is “something we should all agree on.”
Many of the students who no longer saw anything productive coming from engaging the Bible-thumpers led a march to the alumni grove, leaving the men with little audience.
Some believe that the demonstration last Wednesday, and by extension the tactic of protesting in general, has little impact on public opinion. However, the LGBT community at TCNJ certainly felt the effect of the demonstration. Perspective contributor Dena Lagomarsino, a junior secondary ed. and English major, said, “In flyering for the [National Equality March] in the weeks leading up to the impromptu protest, I was discouraged at times when students told me they didn’t believe in same-sex marriage—but the protest really turned that around.” When discussing the number of heterosexuals at the demonstration,
Lagomarsino said, “it became clear that there were a lot more straight allies from all walks of campus life, which was really elating.”
Besides the obvious success of uniting students and getting others interested in the issues raised at the demonstration, the protest also succeeded in affirming to the LGBT community at TCNJ that their classmates stand with them.
The born-again protesters managed to act as a galvanizing force, bringing together many students of all political persuasions in solidarity.
To those who say that it is better to ignore those who spew hateful rhetoric, I can assure you that the feeling and tangible progress achieved from acting in unity far surpasses anything that can be gained from turning the other cheek. Because of the protest, over 30 students signed up on the spot to get involved in LGBT activism.
A rainbow wave crashed over TCNJ last Wednesday and washed away with it any doubt that this campus will stand up against homophobia, sexism, and right-wing extremism.