Lynchburg, Virginia, the home of conservative televangelist Jerry Falwell, is the hub of anti-gay misinformation and misguided teachings about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and families.
On October 11, National Coming Out Day, Lynchburg was transformed into the home of the second annual Soulforce Out and About Pride event, and the home of the first Soulforce sponsored “Equal Civil Marriage Rights” Forum.
On Sunday, October 12, across the street from Thomas Road Baptist Church, Soulforce volunteers stood vigil while Rev. Jimmy Creech blessed couples and families who came to let the world see that “it is love that makes a family.”
Jerry Falwell has said that he is dedicating his “talents, time, and energies over the next few years” to the passage of an anti-gay “marriage” amendment to the U.S. Constitution that will “protect the traditional family.” To that end, he started the “one man one woman” campaign. This is a prime example of how spiritual violence spreads directly from the churches to our government.
In reality, these anti-gay efforts are not really about “preserving marriage,” but about denying equal protections to families that are not headed by one man and one woman. It is not about protecting families, but about discriminating against our families.
Therefore, Soulforce will be dedicating part of our talents, time, and energies over the next few years to help train and educate people about the rights of civil marriage and the spiritual violence and misinformation surrounding the religious right’s efforts to discriminate against our families.
The Marriage Forum: Saturday, October 11, National Coming Out Day at First Christian Church in Lynchburg.
The marriage forum started National Coming Out Day with a wealth of information and a new perspective on civil rights advocacy and insuring that our families are protected and treated equally.
Speakers on the panel were John Aravosis (Dontamend.com),Chris Purdom (Interfaith Working Group), Peter Montgomery (PFAW), and Chalee Shorton (GLAAD). Also speaking were Imam Daayiee Abdulla (Al-Fathia) and Rev. Jimmy Creech.
As a result of the panel, Soulforce is making packets of information, with a Power point presentation and marriage brochure (thanks to Chris Purdom) for our local group leaders to organize forums and disseminate information in their area. Additionally, leaders at First Church are creating a Sunday School curriculum for mainstream denominations on supporting equal civil marriage rights, and defeating the anti-gay “marriage” amendment.
Soulforce will be devoting some time and energy to this issue – as we assume many of the denominations are going to try to pass resolutions supporting the anti-gay marriage amendment.
Additionally, we realize that it is our allies that need to be educated about faith based support for the rights of civil marriage for GLBT people, and we need them to be advocates as well, and provide them with the information and resources they need.
Resources and talking points will be available in the near future.
The Pride Fest: “Coming Out and About in Lynchburg”
The pride fest was a smashing success, with hundreds of people from Lynchburg and across Virginia and the entire United States attending and supporting the event. A dozen or so detractors try to dampen the day, but with the sun shining unexpectedly nothing could have diminished the spirit of love and camaraderie that radiated through the crowds and the clouds.
There were 30 sponsoring organizations who signed on in support of our efforts to make Lynchburg gay friendly, and locals expressed appreciation for our second pride event.
Thank you to the local group committee, the set up crew, and Bill Carpenter for taking charge of it.
Special thanks to our sponsors and to Lambda Rising Bookstore for providing us with Pride paraphernalia and merchandise!
Special thanks to our entertainers, and especially Marcus Young for allowing us to use his sound system!
The Sunday Vigils and Blessings
The spirit of love and truth shined brightly on Sunday morning on Thomas Road, as more than 100 supporters carried 18×24 inch photos of couples and families who are discriminated against because of who they are and the structure of their families.
As some supporters carried family pictures of those who were unable to join us, others received blessings for their relationships and families, under an arch on a public sidewalk. The blessings were conducted by Jimmy Creech, co-chair of the Board of Soulforce, and Rev. Pam Defusco, local group leader for Soulforce Northern Kentucky.
Our banner read: “Focus on our Families too ≠ Because LOVE makes a family.”
Three trainings took place over the course of the weekend.
Thursday, October 9 ≠ Friday, October 10 two workshops were offered on grassroots organizing and negotiation/dialogue skills. Attendees at both trainings raved about how valuable the information was!
Friday night, Soulforce supporters were treated to music by the Soulforce Ad-hoc choir, a non-violence training by Rev. Mel White, and plenty of camaraderie.
The Bottom Line
Soulforce used this weekend as an opportunity to educate our community about civil marriage equality. We trained Soulforce supporters in grassroots organizing to expand the local group network, and in dialogue and negotiation to help change hearts and minds.
We celebrated gay pride in the park to help empower GLBT people in Lynchburg, and provide a safe space for an afternoon for people to be “out” and comfortable with who they are, further encouraging them to come out and be out.
We provided a visible presence in front of Thomas Road Baptist Church representing the thousands of GLBT families to whom Jerry Falwell wants to deny equal protections.
We blessed one another with our presence and our gifts.
Stories from the weekend include heartwarming tales of a young man from Thomas Road Baptist Churchwho tearfully embraced one of our vigil participants, and high school students who were thrilled to be able to buy pride merchandise in Lynchburg.
This event took place because of the hard work of dozens of people. It would be impossible to name them all, for fear of forgetting someone in the process.
Thank you to everyone who made this weekend a success!
Your financial support is greatly needed so we can continue our work to end spiritual violence committed against GLBT people!
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.