The mentality of the day was “If at first you don’t succeed, double your efforts.” Last Sunday, over 70 protestors gathered at the Covenant Community Church of Redford for a second peaceful protest to bring down the church’s sign, which has read for nearly two weeks “God can save homosexuals from their sin.” It is believed that the sign is part of an effort to combat the Day of Silence, during which people abstain from speaking to honor LGBT people who are silenced. This year’s day fell on April 25, just two days before the second protest.
On April 20, Courtney Antuna led a protest of nearly 30 people in front of the church before their Sunday 11 a.m. service. This, plus personal efforts to speak with Reverend Cole Westwood, were not enough to bring the sign down. However, the anti-homophobia advocates were not deterred from returning again last Sunday with added troupes and a determined mentality to stop what they saw as blatant and unnecessary disrespect of the LGBT community.
Once again, the protestors consisted mostly of locals. “We live right down the street on Delaware,” said Mike Odom, a gay marketing executive. “It’s heartbreaking. You think the community is accepting, and it is really a shock, especially because it’s a church promoting hate against us. We thought the community here was supportive, and then this kind of stupidity happens.”
When the protestors arrived, they found that the sign had been defaced with graffiti, which read “Gay the Way.” One of the protestors went home and returned with cleaning solution to remove it. “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” Odom chastised.
Antuna, 31, who led the group again, said that though she has never organized a protest before, she knew it had to be done. “Someone had to do something, and I guess it had to be me,” said Antuna, who lives on Kimloch St., right around the corner from the church.
She was joined both Sundays by her mother, Carol Antuna, who came out to support her daughter. “I wouldn’t sit home. I can’t sit home,” she said adamantly. “When Courtney sent me the picture of the sign, I had tears in my eyes and then my anger went to 100 percent.”
The protesters were a mix of gay and straight people, and ranged in age from over 70 years old to a three-year-old named Miles who came along with his parents, Mike and Amy Conrad. “We live right in this neighborhood,” said Mike Conrad. “We believe that people need to live together and get along. That’s how we are raising our son, too.”
The Conrads were joined by locals Amy and Ernesto Estrada, who also came with their children Sebastian, 4, Devon, 6, and Isabella, 8.
A battalion of young supporters came from Redford Union High School. “My sister is a lesbian and half of my friends are gay,” said junior Jessica Sawyer, who came with her sister Allison, a sophomore at the high school. Openly gay senior and president of the student council Derrick Kincer was at the protest as well, wielding a sign that read “Hugs not Hatred.”
The most surprising protestors, however, were ex-members of the church, several of whom expressed their distaste for Reverend Westwood, who was described as being less open-minded and liberal than past leaders of the church. “It started a few months ago,” said Patty Givens of the change, who left the church with her husband after the anti-gay sign went up. “Around Christmas, Pastor Cole Westwood passed around a questionnaire, asking what values and issues were important. I just got the feeling then that things were changing. It’s just all fire and brimstone now, so my husband and I just had to leave.”
Though locals were prominent, protesters came from as far as Ann Arbor, Livonia and Plymouth to support taking the sign down. Elizabeth Perrell of Ann Arbor came to show support of her gay friends. “I grew up just two blocks from here, and I wasn’t raised to believe what’s on that sign.”
This week’s protest happened without much opposition, though the Redford Police Department sent six cruisers to ensure that everyone was kept safe.
There was, however, one lone anti-gay protestor, who walked amidst those who marched in support of fairness toward the LGBT community. His opposition, at times, was as high as an 80-1 ratio, but he did not go unnoticed by Antuna and her growing group of supporters. One of the students from Redford Union High School made him a sign that summed up the mentality of the day: Hatred is Lonely.