Originally posted: May 27, 2012, 7:44 a.m.
Last updated: May 27, 2012, 6:41 p.m.
Protesters and anti-LGBT counter protesters engaged in heated debate at Sunday’s event. Click here to see more photos on Facebook.
NEWTON, N.C. — Over 1,000 people gathered in this small town about an hour outside Charlotte on Sunday to protest what they called messages of hate by Maiden, N.C. Pastor Charles Worley, whose comments at Providence Road Baptist Church during a sermon on May 13 made headlines last week.
Worley said he had “figured a way out – a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers.”
“Build a great big, large fence — 50 or a 100 miles long — and put all the lesbians in there,” Worley told his congregants. “Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals — and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. Feed ‘em. And you know in a few years, they’ll die out. You know why? They can’t reproduce.”
Comments from a 1978 sermon by Worley also raised eyebrows. Posted by the church, the old sermon included comments from Worley that “Forty years ago they would’ve hung [homosexuals], bless God, from a white oak tree!”
Organizers had told media they were expecting 2,000-5,000 protesters, which prompted them to move from their original protest location at Worley’s church to the Catawba County Government and Justice Center. Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid told qnotes that he estimated attendance at anywhere from 1,400-1,600. He said every spot in the government center parking lot had at one time been filled. The lot holds 675 cars, Reid said, noting that many vehicles had come with at least two passengers.
At a morning press conference, protest organizer Laura Tipton said she hoped to send a message of love. She also addressed reports of an attempted arson at Providence Road Baptist Church, where someone attempted to set fire to the building’s power box.
“As a group, we condemn that act,” Tipton said. “We’re promoting peace, love and acceptance. We publicly condemn any violence directed toward Providence Road Baptist Church or its members.”
Mike Mannarino, president of the local Catawba Valley Pride, said he was “outraged” at Worley’s comments.
“Don’t fence me in,” he said. “I demand a public apology.”
Those gathered to protest were vocal, and the scene grew quite raucous at times as a few dozen counter-protesters mingled with the crowd. Protesters chanted slogans like “Love, not hate,” and sang in masse “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children” to drown out the intermittent preaching and jests.
Earlier in the day, one counter protester was caught off guard when a peacekeeper working with protest organizers to keep participants separated from counter protesters saw someone he recognized. The peacekeeper told qnotes that one of the counter protesters, a man in his mid-20s or early-30s, once hit on him at a local adult bookstore. The counter protester denied the accusation while holding a sign that condemned gays. The counter protester left the protest early.
Despite the size of the protest and the presence of counter protesters, law enforcement officials reported that participants on both sides of the issue remained peaceful though some had to be calmed down after a few heated arguments and debates. Catawba Sheriff Reid said there had been no arrests or other disturbances save one warning citation issued to an anti-gay street preacher for a violation of a city noise ordinance.
A total of 50 law enforcement personnel were on hand Sunday, including officers from the Catawba County Sheriff’s Department, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol and from the police departments in Newton and Lincolnton.
Reid also noted there were no health or medical emergencies. Protest organizers have been distributing free bottles of water to participants.
As the protest drew to a close, Tipton said she believed they had gotten their message across “loud and clear.”
“I hope that the LGBT community and anybody that is different and considers themselves an outsider knows that there is support and love for them,” she said. “I hope they know that in a small community, if this many people will come out to support them, they have love and acceptance everywhere.”