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Dis Course

Disharmony at protest still beats silence

Standing outside Gate 1 of Mellon Arena on Sept. 20, waiting to hear conservative Christian speaker James Dobson, Mary Kay Brown was confused. She didn't understand, she said, why the protesters around her were shouting that Dobson's ministry, Focus on the Family, preaches homophobia.

"I had a gay friend tell me that the other day," said Brown, who had come from Dorseyville, just north of the city, to hear Dobson and company. "I have never heard that it's something Dr. Dobson says."

So what does she believe about homosexuality? "I hold as he does -- that homosexuality is a sin. I just want them to repent and come back into the church."

Perhaps Brown hasn't read www.family.org, a Focus on the Family Web site, which calls homosexuality "sexual brokenness," equates it with addiction and porn use, and offers to help people "overcome homosexuality."

But that may not be the only reason Brown was puzzled by the protest. There were, after all, two different groups of gay-friendly protesters facing her -- but they seemed merely tolerant of one another. In fact, because of differences over tactics, they're hardly speaking to each other a week after the event.

Right next to Brown were 30 black-clad protesters organized by the fledgling Antifa (as in "anti-fascist"). Their signs ranged from "Smash Christian fascism" to "Resyst hetero-normativity, from reparative therapy to assimilation." Before the protest reached the entrance, Mellon Arena security guards met them with raised knees and hands to the throat. Two Antifa members were arrested for disorderly conduct; one of them, Brian DiPippa of Bloomfield, had his pepper spray returned by the police, but not the dildo he'd brought to wave around.

Stationed a safe distance across the arena driveway, meanwhile, about 100 members of another fledgling local coalition, Stand With All Families, sported rainbow garb and signs that read "Homophobia is gay!" and "Jesus discriminates?"

Occasionally, the groups chanted together: "One, three, five, seven, how do you know you're going to heaven?" But mostly, there was dissonance: As Stand With All Families sang "We Shall Overcome," Antifa members chanted, "Try sodomy!"

Most who arrived to hear Dobson looked at neither group; some pleaded that they really liked gays, or mouthed obscenities. Very few actually talked.

But talking wasn't the point, said Antifa organizer Mike Avallone of Bloomfield, assessing the event afterwards. "We wanted to verbally confront people as much as possible," he explained. "Some people will say, 'Why are these people screaming at me? I'm not anti-gay.' Some people were freaked out, even shaken, by people yelling at them. People were embarrassed -- and they should have been."

Talking wasn't the point, said Dana Elmendorf, who organized Stand With All Families. Rather, the rally proved "the ability to show, through real faces, the values of our families and an unprecedented ability to work with our supporters. They're already saying, 'What can I do next?'"

Talking wasn't the point, said Aaron Arnold of Oakland, president of Pitt's gay student group, Rainbow Alliance: "[E]ven though we may be fewer than them, we want them to see we still live here. It's not something they're going to make go away by buying a ticket to a rally."

Talking wasn't the point, said Alex Bradley of Bloomfield, who has helped organize protests here for years and was a recognizable voice in the Antifa crowd. "I see Dobson and the rising power of right-wing Christian fundamentalism as a real threat to my personal freedom and safety," he said after the event. "Radical queers, and just plain radicals, have a responsibility to confront the KKK, but Dobson and his ilk are far more powerful. ... [T]he most important thing we accomplished is that we made [clear] the extreme nature of the rally through confronting attendees."

Talking wasn't the point, concluded Carol Kirkpatrick of Penn Hills, who stood outside Mellon Arena to honor her gay son -- and "to support all our friends who desire equal civil rights for all people," she said.

Yet it's uncertain whether she counted the black bloc of protesters among those friends. "I think they put themselves and others at risk and they get more attention from the press," she said.

Antifa wasn't happy with the pairing either. In its internal report on the protest, Antifa accuses Stand With All Families of several faults, including "Spreading disinformation about us -- questioning how many of us were really 'gay.'"

"Maybe not today will we make a difference," Kirkpatrick concluded, "but somebody in there will have a child come out some day. There are probably gay people sitting in there tonight, afraid to come out. And that's the real sadness" -- silence.

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