NOM's Hate Tour is No Match for Orlando's Love
August 13, 2010
This past Sunday, the National Organization for Marriage made a stop in Orlando, Florida as part of their 2010 Summer Marriage Tour. Now, I’ve lived here in Orlando for almost four years and have learned that, according to voting polls, Orlando is much like the state of Florida in that it swings both left and right equally. It’s no surprise to me that they came all the way down here -- but I wondered if they knew what they were in for? The tour arrived at the First Christian Church in Winter Park, where leaders of NOM preached from the pulpit about ‘saving’ traditional marriage. As I drove up to the church I could see the throngs with their signs, but who were they? As I pulled in closer, and to my delight, it was the gays. Decked out in rainbows and smiles, the Orlando GLBT community came out to rally.
There were people from Stand Up Florida, Come Out Orlando, the First Unitarian Church of Orlando and the steering committee members of the Human Rights Campaign, among many others. There was a caravan of supporters who drove from St. Petersburg, FL, about 100 miles from Orlando, who were standing there in support with the rest of the crowd. Young and old, men and women, kids, Christians, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people as well as straight allies were all there. Maybe it was my appreciation for civil action or maybe it was the Florida heat and humidity, but the way their sweat glistened off their bodies with a surrounding haze made them seem like peaceful angelic activists.
After meeting the people in the crowd and thanking them for their courage to be out and proud, I decided that I needed to head into the church and hear what all the fuss was about. I love what I do, but there is always a moment of natural nervousness or a sensation of anxiety when one feels like they’re walking into the lion’s den. I quickly remembered that no matter who people are, or what they stand for, they are still people and I like to give them the benefit of the doubt. As I walked closer to the entrance the double doors grew larger, my mouth and palms suddenly traded moisture levels and my breathing was heavy. I walked in and felt the burst of cool air and icy stares. A woman had told me that I was not going to be able to stay if I was with the ‘protesters’ outside. I told her I was not, that I just wanted to hear what NOM had to say. They slightly moaned but let me be. I walked to the front desk to do some reconnaissance and to act ‘normal’. They had the typical materials: Summer for Marriage 2010 RV Tour t-shirts, Stand for Marriage petition, Bumper stickers and buttons, giveaway tour pens and Frisbees! Finally, I could see a clear line for me to walk down into the room and sit in a pew. I sat there for a few minutes, waiting for them to begin speaking. Channel Four news was there interviewing who I would assume was one of the speakers.
There weren’t very many people inside, about fifteen or so. However my girlfriend, whom I had asked to join me at the event, was still outside. When I went back up to the front door to invite her in a woman wearing a “Concerned Women of America” t-shirt began shouting at me. She must have thought I was part of the rally outside and that I was inviting many others to come in. Before I could explain that I wasn’t with the crowd and that I was just inviting my girlfriend in, they all just shouted “No, no, no. We are deciding that you may not attend our event. This is an event intended only for our supporters. This is private property, and you’re so gay and so what,” erratically pointing at my HRC shirt and insisting that I must leave. She walked past me to the door, opened the door and pointed her finger outside. I said that I only wanted to watch and that I would verify if this is private property or not. They laughed but I walked outside, found a police officer and asked if the church was a private establishment. The police officer as well as the church security confirmed that the church was indeed private. I was feeling angry and I was feeling hurt.
I was disappointed that two groups of people with different points of view could not come together peacefully. But what else could I do in that moment but stay calm and collected, feeling hurt, while the lions roared at the top of their lungs. However, at the end of the day the love outnumbered the hate. Together the pro-equality rally said a prayer for NOM, and facing the church they sang “Amazing Grace.” United, they stood at 150 people; all in support of love and equality. Perhaps next time NOM will think twice before bringing discrimination into the strong, united, and loving Orlando.