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Thursday, September 26, 2013
Surely you noticed that it rained Saturday afternoon. This was less than ideal for the Henry Street Festival, which was moved to the Roanoke Civic Center, and it also meant a vigorous soaking for folks who showed up at Pride in the Park down by River’s Edge.
But weather wasn’t the only thing that put a damper on Roanoke’s long-running annual gay pride festival — this year was the 24th. A handful of obnoxious interlopers showed up with a public address system, some hand-lettered signs, and some loud mouths.
Over three or so hours, the bullies marched through the park, haranguing festivalgoers with fire-and-brimstone epithets about sin, damnation and abomination. Gays are going straight to hell unless they repent, the four or five male protestors shouted.
Later, they set up their PA system on the sidewalk across Reserve Avenue and continued their loathsome act. Someone posted videos of them on YouTube.
“If you claim you’re a Christian, and you’re a homosexual, you’re a liar!” one of the bullies shouts on one of the videos.
Leading them was a character in a dark gray suit with thinning, slicked-back black hair. He resembled movie actor/director John Waters. Surely that was unintentional — Waters is gay.
“I heard him say the word ‘faggot’ multiple, multiple times,” said Leslie Miller, president of Roanoke Pride Inc. So animated was the leader that saliva sometimes flew into the air with his words, she added.
Barbara Maberry wrote on my blog that one of them repeatedly shouted the F-word.
Watching all this with a sinking feeling was Traci Nagy, a local nurse who moved here from Cleveland about seven years ago. She was there with her partner, Kathy Myrman. They were legally married in California.
Nagy is 52. She wrote me an email about this Sunday, and we spoke Tuesday. She’s endured no small share of taunts over the years because she’s a lesbian, and because she’s fought for gay rights. Even though she’s kind of used to all the name calling, it still hurts, she told me.
“I really felt violated, creepy and dirty,” Nagy said. “No matter how old you are, and how long you’ve been doing this, it still gets down to that little child inside of me, that says, ‘ You’re not good enough.’ ”
She wasn’t the only one.
“I took it very personal. Gay pride day in Roanoke is a family reunion for me. My biological family, most of them, has disowned me,” said Victor Clingenpeel.
The Rev. Joe Cobb, pastor of Metropolitan Community Church, said he witnessed “physical pain … in people I know well, and in people I know but not well, based on the words they were throwing around.”
Miller said she offered the protestors space in the vendors section. They declined.
Frank House told me that older attendees at Pride tended to turn their backs on the interlopers, or walk away, while some younger people challenged the bullies. Cobb said every time he heard the leader “shout ‘abomination,’ I would shout ‘beloved’ and try to offset it.”
As Cobb performed a series of “holy unions” (same-sex marriage is still illegal in Virginia) a wall of festivalgoers encircled him and the happy couples, to protect them from the bullies.
There were no arrests, said city police spokesman Scott Leamon. Nobody, including the police, has any idea who the interlopers were. The videos on YouTube suggest they’ve pulled the same stunt in Charlotte, N.C.
Sunday in church, Cobb’s sermon was about the bullies. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ,” he told his congregation. “Not rain. Not words. Not noise. Nothing.”
Listening to all these accounts left me with a few questions. One was, who are these mean-spirited judgment freaks? Was the whole purpose of their stunt to hurt people’s feelings, and stir up a fuss? If so, they succeeded.
Next year, are they going to interrupt the Henry Street festival and start screaming the N-word? That would cause a whole world of hurt also, perhaps in more ways than one.
Finally, who acted the most Christ-like? Was it the guy in the suit shouting “faggot” while he brandished a Bible, or the festival organizer who offered them some free booth space?
Who showed the most love?
I’ll leave that answer to you readers.
Weather JournalRain is here; no snow