Years past marred by verbal harassment; ’06 protestors kept at bay
by David Moore . Q-Notes staff
Billy Ball after his arrest in Hendersonville, N.C.
It’s Pride time again and with all the fun and revelry comes an unpleasant reality: anti-gay protestors.
They’ve shown up at annual Pride events in Charlotte and other cities across the country throughout the history of the LGBT equality rights movement. They’re nothing new — we’ve all encountered them before.
This year, however, might be a little different. There’s a new enemy out there — and he’s headed our way. Move over Bill James. Step to the rear Flip Benham. Make room for Rev. Billy Ball.
Ball’s “ministry” is based in Primrose, Ga. That hasn’t stopped him from taking to the highways to launch protests aganist LGBT Pride celebrations in places like St. Petersburg and Jacksonville, Fla, and Atlanta, Ga.
One thing’s for sure — Ball likes to get arrested and he loves to sue. In March in Hendersonville, N.C., he and an assistant pastor from Faith Baptist Church in Primrose were cited and later arrested for violating the city’s public demonstrations ordinance when they took to local streets preaching a fundamentalist message without a permit.
According to a story in the Blue Ridge Times News, Ball remained in jail for several days because he said the city ordinance was a violation of his First Amendment rights.
On June 7, Hendersonville’s town council caved in and rescinded the ordinance. Despite his apparent victory, Ball says he plans to file a civil lawsuit against the city and his arresting officer to attempt to recoup legal expenses and get his record expunged.
“I think he just wants to bring attention to himself,” said Hendersonville Mayor Greg Newman, who is also an attorney.
Ball was also arrested last year for protesting Atlanta Gay Pride after he violated the city’s free speech zone ordinance and advanced within 300 feet of the event’s Dyke March. The charges against Ball were eventually dropped and his $2 million lawsuit against the city of Atlanta is still pending.
On June 30 he challenged organizers of gay Pride in St. Petersburg and — once again — was arrested.
A visit to Ball’s website confirms his sentiment toward the LGBT community even further.
Emblazoned across the headline of a page aimed directly at gays and lesbians: “The horrors of the sodomite lifestyle!”
In early July, Ball contacted organizers of Pride Charlotte and confirmed that he would be making an appearance at Pride ’07.
Add Ball to a list of anti-gay elements that have attempted to derail the LGBT rights movement in Charlotte: in years past evangelical minister Joseph Chambers was a regular voice against the city’s queer community. In more recent years, members of Operation Save America (OSA), an anti-gay, anti-Muslim and anti-choice organization with ties to the “Army of God” have repeatedly protested Charlotte’s Pride events. In ’03 their numbers were small and their efforts were relatively unsuccessful. In ’04 larger numbers infiltrated the celebration, then held at Marshall Park, but local police escorted them off the site.
The following year organizers of OSA managed to secure the aid of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church, which is directly across from Marshall Park. Along with the help of another evangelical organization known as the Ministry of Fire, numerous red-shirted youths invaded the park, forcing their belief system on Pride-goers. Via the use of loudspeakers and vociferous anti-gay activists, OSA’s taunts and hate messages resulted in a thoroughly unpleasant event. Although police had stood by the city’s LGBT community the year before, they now claimed OSA was within their First Amendment rights to be in Marshall Park.
The following year, the 2006 Pride Charlotte Festival was a positive turning point. New organizers set out to secure a privately-owned location that would provide a safe but public presence. Gateway Village, also located in uptown Charlotte but on the western end, was designated as the new home for Pride Charlotte.
As in past years, operatives from OSA were on the scene to protest, but this time they were escorted off the privately-owned property. Forced to set up some distance away, their impact was negligable. Their presence is expected again this year.
Organizers of the Pride events in Jacksonville and St. Petersburg were non-plussed by Ball’s presence.
“Either fortunately or unfortunately, we do not have any experience with more than just a small handful of protestors,” wrote Shane Denmark, the president and CEO of First Coast Pride in Jacksonville.
Denmark went on to explain the organization’s tactics against such groups: “I put warning labels on our website, our posters and our advertisements that read, ‘Warning: Protesters may be Kissed by Drag Queens.’ Believe it or not, we only had one protester at the festival and only one at the parade … and we advertised heavily.”
St. Petersburg’s response to Pride Charlotte co-chair Raine Cole’s inquiry indicated that they were also succesful in fending off the anti-gay effort.
“We set up a protest zone and protesters were allowed to voice their opinons while the [event] was going on. Any protesters who came into [the] area were asked to leave by the police and escorted out … and if they still did not comply they were arrested.”
Pride Charlotte is prepared for Ball’s group and any other anti-gay efforts headed our way. Opposition Strategies Committee members, known as the “Enforcers of Peace,” urge all individuals to avoid any direct confrontation with picketers. They’ll also be on hand to create a safe space between protestors and attendees to make certain that our community will be able to enjoy the day unfettered. In addition, the “Booth of Truth,” located on Cedar St., will offer truthful, gay affirming information about spirituality.