Anti-LGBT protesters taunted Atlanta Pride again this year, yelling at parade participants with bullhorns, confronting the Trans March as it entered Piedmont Park and preaching hate to large crowds inside the park.
On Sunday, about a dozen anti-gay protesters gathered at the Pride parade, using bullhorns to call festival-goers “sickos” and “perverts” and warn that they are on a "homosexual death spiral." They also carried signs that read “G.A.Y. Got AIDS Yet?” and “BLM are racist thugs.”
The loose coalition of protesters – which call themselves the Official Street Preachers – was again led by Ruben Israel. He and his followers shouted anti-gay slurs and harassed parade attendees last year and in 2014, too.
On Sunday, they again stationed themselves at the intersection of Peachtree and 10th streets, but were kept separated from the parade route by a barricade and more than two-dozen police officers.
“We come out to stand up against sin, the abomination of homosexuality, and to share the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ,” said a protester who identified himself as Saint Quentin. He was wearing a shirt with the slogan, “L.G.B.T. Letting Go of Biblical Truth."
Israel declined to speak with Project Q Atlanta.
On Saturday, an altercation erupted when the anti-LGBT protesters attempted to block participants in the Trans March from returning to Piedmont Park through the 14th Street entrance. Throughout Saturday, a handful of anti-LGBT protesters were stationed at the entrance and at times were joined by counter-protesters from Trinity United Methodist Church with signs and encouraging messages including, "The Kingdom of God Is Inclusive" and "God's Love is Bigger Than Your Hate."
Cliff Norris, executive director of Atlanta Freedom Bands, whose group had been tapped to lead the Trans March, said the protesters, “kind of forced their way in [the park].” While the anti-gay protesters are there every year, Norris said they were “even more hateful than normal this year,” and “especially aggressive.”
“There was a lot of pushing and shoving, especially as the protesters were trying to push their way in,” Norris said.
The percussion section tried to cordon off protesters and keep them separated from the festival attendees, Norris added.
Kim Sorrells, who had a friend who was injured during the altercation, also noted that “there were a lot more [protesters] this year and they were a lot more aggressive.”
Sorrells had already entered the park when the protesters and Pride-goers clashed. Sorrells turned around to see their friend, who it turned out had been kicked in the knee by one of the protesters, limping into the park. So they called for medical assistance.
Atlanta police said they didn't have an incident report about the altercation or the injury. Sorrells said the friend's injuries seemed to be “not serious.”
The protesters did make their way into the park, where one group stayed for about 90 minutes, according to Jamie Fergerson, executive director of Atlanta Pride. Another group of protesters came into the park around 3 p.m. and stayed until it got dark. On Sunday, a few protesters entered the park and drew crowds of on-lookers – and police – in the marketplace.
Fergerson said protesters were especially aggressive this year, although Atlanta Pride worked with Atlanta police to prevent the protesters from entering the parade route Sunday. Last year, Israel and a handful of protesters broke from the larger group and marched along 10th Street with an escort of Atlanta police officers. The stunt briefly stopped the parade before protesters clashed with the crowd.
“We do work pretty closely with APD on protester issues, as well as the city attorney,” Fergerson said.
'I never expected them to leave'
The protests at Sunday’s parade had a much quieter vibe. The Official Street Preachers left about 2:15 p.m. before the parade ended, walking away under police escort as parade watchers shouted, “You don’t spread love, you spread hate.”
“I never expected them to leave, I’m shocked,” said Tom Baker, head of the Pansy Patrol.
The organization – now in it’s fourth year and recently incorporated as a non-profit – showed up again for the parade, holding giant flowers in an attempt to prevent Pride attendees from seeing the hateful signs. It's a tradition. They were joined by members of LGBT-friendly churches – including Trinity UMC and the Gathering Place – carrying signs to counter the anti-gay messages from protesters.
Atlanta police kept protesters separated from parade watchers, so the Pansy Patrol had to get a little more creative to block protester signs, as they couldn’t get directly in front of the group as they have in past years.
The large pansies from the Pansy Patrol were fanned out over their side of the barricades, however, blocking the view of the offensive signs until marchers reached the corner and turned down 10th Street.
“We looked over and the pansies were kinda hanging over this way,” Baker said, gesturing to the barricades. “So everyone who was coming down [Peachtree] really couldn’t see them [the protester’s signs].”
Both the crowd and the marchers responded to the anti-gay protesters by alternately ignoring them, blowing kisses, and giving them the finger. Several tutu-wearing marchers took turns kissing in front of the protesters, which had little impact on the constant barrage of slurs coming from the Official Street Preachers.
The point of the kisses was lost on Quentin, one of the protesters. “It’s lust. It’s not love," he said.
He was not surprised people reacted negatively to their signs. Quentin said it's routine for their protests – "because they hate Jesus, because they hate the light, because they hate the message of hope, of truth.”
When one of the protesters saw parents with young children at the parade, he shouted at them to tie rocks around their neck “and go jump in a lake.”
The protesters shared in hugs and camaraderie as they departed, swapping notes on what had been shouted at them and promising to see each other again soon.
The protesters didn't impact the parade. Organizers said it was shaping up to be the largest yet with 230 entries and more than 7,500 participants.