GRAND RAPIDS –
At the end of the East Hills Neighborhood Gay Day Aug. 4, women faced threats of violence, rape and an inevitable race war where men of the Black Hebrew Israelites would kill white men and ravish their women. A group of men, some wearing robes and toting Bibles, gathered outside Cherry Park where about 300 LGBT people and their allies were together in a celebration of acceptance and diversity.
They called for the subjugation of women and cited Biblical verses to justify the claim that God wanted women to be raped. One of the women being threatened recorded the incident on her phone and posted it to You Tube. In the video the man can be seen reading Isaiah 13, "Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished."
"Keep your pussy clean, I'm looking forward to it," said another.
When the police were called, no arrests were made. The Gay Day event and the protestors dissipated due to rain.
Their presence, and the drama that ensued as a result, brought national attention to the inaugural event, which was already remarkable in that it was the first of its kind in West Michigan. This wasn't another Pride put on by LGBT-serving nonprofits. This was an independent celebration hosted by a typical neighborhood association to celebrate the diversity of its residents.
"I don't want Gay Day to be marred by this," said Sara Lewis, a straight ally who attended the event and heard the threats. "Gay Day is awesome… When these people came they weren't there protesting. They didn't mention LGBT, and their threats were to women in general. They have a very skewed view of things, and they accosted all people that day."
Lewis was dismayed by the police response and by the misinformation by the media. "The police showed up and we told the officer what happened. They just tried to keep us away from them, and said that they aren't threats until they are written down or texted," she said. "What moved people was how the media handled it, making it look like black people vs. gay people. In my mind the issue is, when does hate speech become a crime? Women should never be told they are going to get raped." Lewis works with an organization that provides counseling and rape kits to women after they have been assaulted, and could not believe that the police refused to help.
Sgt. James Potter of the Grand Rapids Police Department said that while the investigation was initially closed, the emergence of the You Tube video has prompted the department to seek more information. "We're still talking to people that were there, and it's up to the prosecutor if there will be charges," Potter said. "This is a group of people that shows up at parks all the time around town, and we don't think they targeted this. They just happened to be there." He said that free speech is an issue and it's up to the prosecutor if the men crossed the line or not.
Individuals have come forward with their stories, including Lewis who said one of the men "tried to put his Bible on" her, and recited the license plates of another woman's boyfriend who showed up at the event, while also saying he would track her down, murder him and rape her.
Claire Fisher, an organizer for the event and one of the musical performers for it, wants people to remember the good that Gay Day has brought. "We're the first neighborhood association to have a gay pride event. The whole goal of Gay Day is to show the rich history in our neighborhood over the last 30 years. We have a very creative, LGBT friend, Bohemian neighborhood with strong activists and a creative culture. This is our way of tipping our hat to our gay neighbors, and up until the last hour it was a very quiet, family-friendly event and people seemed to enjoy themselves."
Until Love is Equal, NOW, and The Red Project were among the nonprofits that set up booths in the Cherry Park tennis courts. Local bands like Pet the Warrior and Pistol Brides came out to perform. A food truck sold mango smoothies and a craft area gave the children something to do. Over 300 people peacefully attended.
"I don't want people to remember Gay Day by this [the threats]. It is a safe, family-friendly event and I hope people will still come next year," Fisher said.
The National Organization for Women Grand Rapids and other progressive groups have come forward with statements urging police to take allegations of threats seriously. "NOW GR is a huge proponent of free speech and the right to public discourse. Indeed, we rely on the ability to gather peacefully in public in order to accomplish the mission of our organization. What happened at the Gay Day event was not, however, free speech. The threats of violence and intimidation on the part of the 'protestors' crossed the line of free speech, becoming hate speech and verbal assault," the statement said.
TEAM, the Tolerance, Equality and Awareness Movement, also weighed in with a statement. "It is our position that these actions should not be tolerated in this community, and that the perpetrators of such actions be brought to justice. Hate speech is constitutionally protected. However, hate speech that incites violence, rape, and other criminal actions is not constitutionally protected."
GRAND RAPIDS –