Walkout on campus

 

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Students came together to discuss their opposing views at the Traditional Values event, “What Gay Activists Don’t Want You to Know,” hosted at Sinclair Community College last Wednesday.

Peter LaBarbera, 51, President of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, was invited to speak at the event. The organization is described on their website as being devoted to exposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda.

After seeing posters displayed on campus promoting LaBarbera’s talk, members of the student groups Brite Signal Alliance, Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics and the Psychology Club coordinated a silent protest in the form of a walkout.  The protest organizers planned a counter-event called the “Love Day Membership Drive” which was held in Building 8 during the same time.

The “What Gay Activists Don’t Want you to Know” event began with approximately 150 people in attendance, including students, faculty and administrators. Al Giambrone, Co-founder of the Traditional Values Club and a retired mathematic department chair, opened the event.

“I know that there are strong held feelings about the issue on all sides,” Giambrone said. “My hope is that in the Sinclair spirit of diversity and openness to different points of view, that everyone will be respectful of those that disagree with them.”

The guest speaker, LaBarbera, was late to the event due to car trouble, which prompted Bonnie Borel-Donohue, president of the Traditional Values Club, to open the floor for students to introduce themselves and say why they chose to attend the event.

One after another, attendees stepped up to the microphone to express their feelings.

“I think it is ludicrous and ironic that a school that prides itself on diversity would allow someone like him to come here and preach hate,” Kory Copeland, a Sinclair student said.

Phillip Helton, Physics major, saw the event in a different light.

“I’m also here to understand where the speaker is coming from … from his perspective. I’m also a Christian,” Helton said. “I believe that biblically gay marriage is wrong … and really only God can judge somebody, so I love gay people. I don’t judge them, but I do have to stand with the bible, and biblically it does say that gay marriage is wrong.”

Sinclair student, Duncan Richards Bailor, also spoke up.

“It’s really not, and should not be a matter of religion … These interpretations are dividing people on an issue that’s more about human rights,” he said.

Another student, Michael, had a different view.

“We have to help [homosexuals] do what’s right because we love them … you don’t love someone if you don’t care about helping them do what’s right,” he said.

The event officially started when LaBarbera arrived, after approximately 30 minutes of open-mic comments from the crowd.

“I think with a lot of people, diversity represents the respectful airing of views. It’s something we don’t see enough on this issue. I can say that about both sides,” LaBarbera said. “You have Fred Phelps on the right with his preposterous ‘God hates fags message,’ and on the left you have people who think they have the right to supersede other people’s faith.”

Shortly after LaBarbera began speaking, English professor Rebecca Morean stood up to lead the walkout. A large majority of the crowd followed Morean’s lead, making their way back to Building 8 to attend the Love Day event, where literature ranging from support resources for those facing bullying, or for those who may be questioning their sexual orientation, which was distributed by Parents Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and the American Psychological Association.

LaBarbera continued speaking while the crowd moved through the aisles of the loggia, even as some protesters continued vocalizing their disapproval.

“Well I suppose this is a walk out,” LaBarbera said. “This is what I said, people are not even willing to hear the other side. This is regretful. Those of you who remain are exhibiting true tolerance.”

Approximately 30 people stayed to hear LaBarbera speak. Members from the Traditional Values Club remained, as well as a small number of those with opposing views of the speaker.

During LaBarbera’s presentation, literature was distributed that discussed topics on how homosexual rights are destroying freedom, the risk of HIV infection and failure of condoms. A newsletter entitled, “Queer Quotes: Homosexuals and their Allies in their own Word,” was also distributed, which focused on the signs of gayness and the dangers of anal sex. A testimonial pamphlet discussing one man’s transition from homosexuality to heterosexuality was also passed around.

When asked about his thoughts on the American Psychological Association’s recent stance against gay conversion therapy, or sometimes called gay reparative therapy, LaBarbera said “well number one, I think those organizations are biased in favor of gay activists … I think it’s skewed.”

He added,  “I know probably at least 25 ex-gays, and these are people who’ve lived a long time as gay, but who have come out of it. I think it’s possible.”

LaBarbera gave his full presentation after the walkout and closed he event by opening the floor for questions. Those with opposing views used the opportunity to challenge LaBarbera in a debate-style forum.

Some of the debate topics included: the rights of business owners with religious beliefs to deny service if they choose, the rights of LGBT couples to visit in the emergency room and same-sex marriage.  Attendees exhibited mixed emotions, but when the event ended handshakes were seen between both sides.

Jackson Millard, 28, Biology major and President of AHA Club, was one of the remaining attendees.

“I think that the information was kind of misleading in a way. He made broad general statements about things that you could draw many conclusions from,” Millard said. “He wasn’t necessarily specific.”

Despite his views, Millard said he was glad he stayed through the entire event.

“I didn’t support the walkout,” he said. “I think the other side had more to gain by staying than by refusing to even listen.”

Borel-Donohue said that despite the unplanned aspects, she believed the event was still a positive experience.

“I would like people to know that our side is loving and we respect everybody…” Borel-Donohue said. “We did allow a time for the other side to express their viewpoints, which I was really glad for … I think this was wonderful. But unfortunately they didn’t stay and listen to the other side.”

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