By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
MOUNT PLEASANT – On April 6, in the middle of Central Michigan University’s Pride Week, Alan Chambers, president of the anti-gay organization Exodus, delivered a talk at the Missouri Synod chapel on the university’s campus.
While Mr. Chambers was delivering his talk, however, he was also raising money for next year’s CMU Pride event.
Taking a strategy from the playbook of aut Bar’s fundraiser/protest of Rev. Fred Phelps when he came to Ann Arbor in 2001, CMU’s Gay-Straight Alliance sent out emails asking LGBT community members and allies to make a monetary pledge for each minute that Chambers spoke.
The total raised so far? “Well over $1,200,” for Chambers’ ninety-four minute talk, according to the GSA’s Vice President Phil Reese.
“The response is a testament to how great the GLBT community is in this state,” he added.
Reese had “praise” for Exodus as well.
“Thanks to Exodus, we’re actually going to have a bigger Pride Week next year,” he said.
The GSA’s response to the Chambers speech was the result of weeks of meetings and planning.
“The GSA chose to try and attack it from more angles than just standing outside with a sign – they (Exodus) get protested anywhere they go, [and] they actually have found ways to use the protest to reinforce their messages,” Reese said. “The GSA wanted to combat that hate, but not do the same old thing that Exodus expected.”
Rather than organize a protest, the GSA and CMU’s Office of Gay and Lesbian Programs went ahead with the evening’s scheduled banquet, which according to Reese is usually the only fundraiser that takes place during Pride Week at CMU. After the banquet, volunteers stood outside the door of the chapel and handed out “Finally Free,” a pamphlet by the Human Rights Campaign on “ex-gay recovery.” Inside the pamphlets were flyers for the April 7 CMU Pride event, a talk by WSU professor John Corvino, and flyers from Soulforce, an organization that seeks to counter anti-gay violence and bigotry through non-violent resistance.
“We did it in a very respectful, non-confrontational manner,” said Reese. “There were conversations going on outside the door until late into the night, and they were very friendly – there was no screaming. We got a lot of people a lot of very useful, tangible information.”
And while attendance at the banquet didn’t top last year’s total, “We still had about the same attendance as at last year’s banquet,” which meant that event was a successful fundraiser as well, said Reese.
The CMU GSA wasn’t the only organization that met the Exodus message with a graceful message of truth. The Community, a fledgling mid-Michigan organization of LGBTs and allies, stood across the street from the Lutheran chapel at the Wesley Foundation in silent witness.
“The whole purpose behind it was to support anyone who was forced to go to this meeting. Sometimes parents force their children to attend,” said Chad Grandy, an organizer with The Community. The organization’s action, which Grandy emphasized was a demonstration, not a protest, began with a 6 p.m. picnic and drew “about sixty people.”
Grandy estimated that about the same number attended the Exodus event, but that number included volunteers from the LGBT community to attended as witnesses and to counter Chambers’ message during the question and answer session following his talk.
Despite the angry feelings generated by the timing of Chambers’ invitation to CMU, Grandy said that there was “no yelling or chanting” by his group during their demonstration.
Reese agreed that the timing of Chambers’ visit was unfortunate.
“We support the right of the Lutheran Student Fellowship and Exodus to their own beliefs and expression,” he said. “However, we felt it was kind of mean-spirited to bring this to Pride Week.”
The Community and the CMU GSA weren’t alone in presenting a peaceful, spiritual response to Chambers’ presence at the university. Community organizer Robert Barker secured the permission of the Wesley Foundation to hang a banner from their building as a “welcome” to Chambers. Countering Exodus’ message that homosexuality can be “cured” through Jesus Christ, Barker’s six-by-four foot banner carried the message, “People don’t choose their sexual orientation; I GIFT it to them. – God.”
Apparently,some weren’t happy with the banner’s message. According to a letter from Rev. Eric A. Stone, the Wesley Foundation’s chaplain and director, the banner was stolen from the foundation sometime after sundown on the night of April 8.
“IÕm left to conclude that the trespassers donÕt believe that God approves of homosexuality,” said Stone in the letter. “How bizarre, evidently they believe that God approves [of] stealing and destruction of private property.”
“How unfortunate that the actions of one or a few seem to reinforce a growing suspicion that fundamentalist Christianity is based on a dangerous distortion of the Gospel,” he continued.
Keep the momentum going!
Help CMU raise even more money for next year’s Pride Week in honor of Alan Chambers! Here’s how it works: make a pledge of a certain amount of money per minute of Chambers’ ninety-four minute, anti-gay spiel. Email your pledge to Phil Reese at [email protected]. Then mail your check, payable to the CMU Office of Gay and Lesbian Programs, to the Central Michigan University Gay/Straight Alliance, Box 162, Bovee UC, Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859. Receipts will be sent promptly in response to all checks received.