You’d think that after a week in which a gay judge in San Francisco ruled that gays should marry and two GOP governor hopefuls in Georgia bathed in their anti-gay venom that a rally against gay marriage would draw a crowd of vocal supporters.
Instead, the event on Saturday in downtown Atlanta drew a crowd of nearly 300 counter-protesters who dwarfed the 30 or so there to cheer on the National Organization for Marriage.
The dueling demonstrations also attracted a gay marriage-loving gnome, a niece of Martin Luther King Jr., who compared same-sex marriage to genocide, a slew of committed LGBT couples who dared brag about their coupledom commitment, singer Vernessa Mitchell who ironically tried to use a song called “Unity” to rail against gay marriage, and a pair of radical gays who huffed and puffed to show that, well, they are radical gays who will listen to no one.
NOM brought its Summer for Marriage Tour to the steps of the same place that worked to enshrine a same-sex marriage ban in Georgia’s Constitution in 2004. (It worked.) The rally came just three days after U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker struck down Proposition 8, the voter-approved gay marriage ban in California, and had all of the makings to provide a chest-thumping scream-fest.
So LGBT activists mobilized, first for a rally at Woodruff Park and then a silent counter-demonstration under the umbrella of an afternoon called “Love + Commitment = Marriage.” The crowd started at a respectable 150 people, but by the time NOM finally got rolling, it grew to about 300 people. It reminded some activists of the May 6 demonstration in Midtown pitting a handful of anti-gay activists against hundreds of counter-protesters.
The things we disliked
Impotence: The National Organization for Marriage embarrassed itself with its piddling attendance. We had hoped for a larger crowd and maybe even some boldface names there to hate monger. The more the merrier to show just how venomous this group can be. But alas, GOP gubernatorial hopefuls Karen Handel and Nathan Deal — who have spent the primary runoff denouncing gay marriage, gay parents and gay kids – were too busy eating fish with Gov. Sonny Perdue in Perry to be bothered to throw red meat to a bunch of interlopers.
Brian Brown: The president of NOM (second photo) is one sad, bitter guy. Probably bitter because his protest flopped and the large crowd of gays across Washington Street didn’t try to shout him down or otherwise disrupt his little protest and provide video footage he can use for fundraisers. Or angry because he wore a long-sleeve shirt on a scorching summer day in the South.
“We will not be silenced, will we? We will not be intimidated. We will not be shouted down. And we will stand up against this judge in California who took it upon himself to say that seven million California voters have no civil right to vote and that you, the people of Georgia, have no civil right to vote,” Brown said.
Alveda King: This former state legislator and current embarrassment to the King family wanted to come off as a loving grandmother. That helped soften the blow of this line she delivered: “It is statistically proven that the strongest institution that guarantees procreation and continuity of the generations is marriage between one man and one woman. I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to be extinct and none of us wants to be. We don’t want genocide, we don’t want to destroy the sacred institution of marriage.”
Bumper sticker translation: Same-sex marriage equals genocide. Seriously. She’s the niece of the icon of social justice who’s right-hand man was a gay.
Todd Vierling and Adam May: These guys (fifth photo) worked with Jeff Schade to create GLBT | ATL after a 2008 protest at the State Capitol when Prop. 8 passed in California. More than 1,000 people showed up and made it the largest LGBT protest seen in these parts in some years. They held another in May 2009 when the California Supreme Court upheld Prop. 8. Schade later left the group and worked to create the Queer Justice League of Atlanta, which helped organize Saturday’s action.
Vierling and May showed up to the rally late and proceeded to shout, scream and otherwise disrupt the quiet LGBT counter-offensive that was already in full swing. Organizers of the LGBT side of things, who had gained the agreement of the crowd to protest mostly in silence, tried to talk to the pair, who were more interested in being loud and radical than listening. They also drew the attention of the Georgia Capitol Police, media outlets and anyone with a video camera, taking it away from the anti-gay rhetoric, which pretty much was speaking for itself.
The things we liked
Travelocity Gay Marriage Gnome: It’s not really called that, but since the cute creature (sixth photo) appeared on Thursday at the impromptu Prop. 8 rally in Midtown, we’ve taken to tagging it as such. Besides, you’ve got to appreciate anyone willing to wear a hat, robe and full head of wig hair on a day with a triple-digit heat index.
Cooperation: Three gay organizations – Queer Justice League, Georgia Equality and MEGA Family Project – worked together to organize the counter-demonstration. That harnessed the energy of an upstart grassroots group, the political savvy of an established organization, and the pro-gay family message of another to bring about the event. The groups worked together and drew a big crowd, which showed that an otherwise unmotivated LGBT Atlanta can be called into action en masse when it’s needed.
Patricia Powell: Named the latest LGBT liaison from the Atlanta Police Department in May, the veteran cop (fourth photo) has been boosting her profile at gay events in recent weeks. On Saturday, she was on site to coordinate with organizers and have a presence in case things went south. Turns out, there weren’t enough NOM attendees to create even a little controversy. But Powell’s attendance was a visible sign that the police department is slowly getting a grasp of how to deploy its LGBT liaison.
Clergy collars: Central Presbyterian Church provided the setting for the gay counter-demonstration and there were several LGBT pastors in the crowd, including Bradley Schmeling from St. John’s Lutheran Church, Tony Jones from Unity Fellowship Church, Chris Glaser from Virginia-Highland Church, Paul Turner from Gentle Spirit Christian Church and Joshua Lesser from Congregation Bet Haverim. That’s right, we have Bible-thumpers, too. (Seventh photo: Glaser, Schmeling, Jones, Lesser, Turner)
“Unity”: When Vernessa Mitchell sang “Unity” for the NOM supporters, it was an ironic choice for a rally conceived to fight against equality. But the crowd of LGBT demonstrators took it in stride, cheered when the lyrics mentioned love and generally turned her song into our anthem. Tip to Mitchell: Don’t let the crowds at Jungle, where she was scheduled to perform in early April, or other gay venues know you’ll take our money and sing in our clubs but don’t support our marriage rights.
Committed Couples: The large crowd of LGBT counter-protesters included several couples who proudly bragged about the longevity of their relationships. There was Jeff Graham and Peter Stinner (21 years), Sheila Merritt and Andria Towne (13 years) (bottom photo) and Kathy and Lisa Kelly (12 years), among many others. There were even a few Radical Faeries (third photo) on hand offering to gay marry for the day. They sucked on rainbow-colored popsicles as enticement. Such temptresses.