(Laguna Beach, CA) — People from all over the United States joined together in New Orleans June 11 – 13, at the Southern Baptist Convention to protest the anti-gay teachings of Southern Baptists and spread a message of hope that hearts and minds can change to embrace gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. Soulforce, an interfaith network of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) individuals and their families, friends and allies, is committed to applying the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities.
During the two days of meetings, Soulforce supporters received training in non-violence, took turns standing vigil in front of the Superdome where the Southern Baptist Convention was taking place, and participated in a Jazz Funeral to mourn the suffering of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Southern Baptists.
Members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka stood nearby protesting Soulforce, and carrying signs reading, “God Hates Fags,” and other anti-gay messages. Prior to going to New Orleans, Soulforce asked for pledges to help raise money based on the number of hours Westboro Baptists were present. Soulforce raised over $10,000.
The culmination of two days of vigils in New Orleans was a historic jazz funeral, followed by a press conference and civil disobedience and arrests. Hundreds of people lined the streets as over 100 Soulforce supporters followed a jazz band through the streets of New Orleans around the Superdome, mourning for the suffering and deaths of gay Southern Baptists. A coffin filled with letters from and about those who have been hurt by Southern Baptist teaching was also part of the procession.
“Southern Baptist teachings are a primary source of misinformation about sexual and gender minorities,” declared Bill Carpenter, Soulforce co-chair of the event. “Their teachings lead to discrimination, suffering, and even death. We will continue to bring to light the suffering these teaching cause and pray for the day when all people will be embraced for who God created them to be.”
After the press conference, supporters tried to take the coffin and the letters into the Superdome, but were stopped by police and ordered to leave. 34 individuals were arrested and taken to police headquarters to be booked on charges of trespassing. However, the New Orleans City Attorney dropped all charges against the Soulforce supporters who were arrested.
Activist and ally Laura Montgomery (Rutt) Williams has served as executive director of Equal Partners in Faith, communications and media coordinator for Soulforce, and media, publicity and logistics coordinator for the United Methodist Church trial of Rev. Jimmy Creech, who was defrocked in 1999 for marrying same-sex couples. She is also co-founder of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable for LGBT Equality.