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Fred Phelps visits Portland, Emi counter-counter-protests the counter-protest

Date: November 25, 2008

Today, I spent a cold November morning counter-protesting folks from Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church, known for picketing funerals of anti-gay hate crime victims, U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, and others to promote its homophobic interpretation of the Bible and current events (they argue that the 9/11 attack and hurricane Katrina both happened because of the nation’s acceptance of homosexuality, which I’m sure would surprise Osama bin Ladin). They came all the way to Portland to protest the establishment of Queer Resource Center at Portland State University, and gender-neutral bathrooms.

There were about five people from WBC, holding signs that say stuff like “God Hates You,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and my favourite: one that shows Barack Obama’s face with devilish horns attached, with the word “antichrist” over it. In contrast, there were about 200 students and community members there stretched across two blocks and an empty lot, who also held signs protesting WBC (I love the sign that says “Jesus had two daddies”). You can see the photos from the scene in my Flickr set.

After taking photos and chatting with my friends, I got courageous and walked up to the man I believed to be Fred Phelps Jr. (the senior Fred wasn’t there), and started a conversation.

“So, I think I understand why you don’t approve homosexuality, but what do you have against gender-neutral bathrooms anyway?”

“Well, it promotes something that’s against God.”

“Do you have two separate bathroom for men and women in your house?”

“No, but it locks, so women are safe in there.”

“So gender-neutral bathrooms are okay as long as there’s a lock?”

“You don’t have to call it gender-neutral bathrooms.”

“So the problem is how we call it?”

“It’s about what it promotes. Read Romans 1.”

“Don’t you think it’s easier to have homosexual sex in the bathroom when it’s single-sex?”

“Romans 1.”–and began citing the Bible, abruptly terminating a two-way conversation.

So then, I left “God Hates You” side, crossed the street to re-join “God Loves Everybody” side, who weren’t feeling so loving at that very moment as they chanted,

Hey hey, ho ho, Fred Phelps has got to go!
Hey hey, ho ho, Fred Phelps has got to go!

…which seemed strange, as Phelps actually wasn’t there at all. But soon the mostly white crowd began chanting a new phrase:

Fred Phelps, Ku Klax Klan, We can stop them, yes we can.

Argh. Phelps is pretty horrible indeed, but if he were the Klan we wouldn’t be so certain that we are physically safe enough to openly oppose him. I was irritated and wished that people would stop chanting it after a couple of times, but they didn’t. And it wasn’t one of those times I could pull them aside to have a deep conversation about (in)appropriateness of comparing certain aspects of racist violence with homophobic preachers, since there were dozens of people chanting loudly.

So I shouted “shut the fuck up white people, you don’t know what Klans are like” and walked out of the area. Chanting continued for a couple of more times before it subsided, and a reporter from a local TV station rushed toward me to interview me, thinking that I was a supporter of WBC or something. I ignored them and walked along.

So what if Blacks caused Prop. 8 to pass?

Date: November 19, 2008

This evening, I attended a meeting titled United & Moving Forward, which was convened by Portland Latino Gay Pride, Basic Rights Oregon, and other local LGBT/queer organisations. The discussion was on the outcome of Proposition 8 in California, which amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages, and how communities of colour are unfairly blamed for its passage. I’ve been following similar discussions online for a while, but I was glad to hear from a panel of activists who were actually involved in the campaign against Proposition 8.

On the night of the election, CNN reported on the basis of a small exit poll sample that almost 70% of African-American voters endorsed Proposition 8, leading many in the media to conclude that Black voters, who turned out in record numbers to push Barack Obama into the White House, was responsible for the ban on same-sex marriage, which in turn prompted many angry, often racist statements among (white) gay and lesbian communities that are too depressing to reproduce here (but you know what I am talking about).

At the meeting, a woman from National Gay and Lesbian Task Force explained to the crowd that CNN’s numbers are likely wrong, as it was based on such a small sample of exit polls, and they are working to produce the actual breakdown of Black votes, which appears to be much closer. Many people echoed the sentiment that the media were wrong to portray Black voters as the culprit for denying marriage equality, and we need to challenge those members of our LGBT/queer communities who are lashing out at the wrong people because of the misinformation.

But it concerns me that we are putting so much emphasis on disproving CNN’s numbers. What if they were real? What if 70% of Blacks actually did vote against marriage equality? Does that justify white gays and lesbians lashing out against the entire Black population, even shouting the N-word at them? And doesn’t it say something about the underlying racist bias on the part of white gays and lesbians that white they were so quick to believe the CNN figure in the first place and run with it?

And why is our national leadership so eager to pacify them with “accurate information,” as if the only problem with their racist display of outrage is that they were misinformed? How is it relevant if 50% of Blacks oppose same-sex marriage or 70%–would it become any more acceptable for white gays and lesbians to respond in racist fashion if Black people were in fact disproportionately homophobic?

CNN’s numbers should be challenged, because it is slanderous and harmful to the honour and reputation of Black communities across California. But it is not enough to simply challenge the notion Blacks caused Proposition 8 to pass; the LGBT movement needs to confront ugly bursts of racism within our communities as such, rather than providing excuse for it by pretending that people who lash out are merely misinformed.

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