by Gaven Pae
Photo provided by delfin bautista for the Athens News
I saw it on my way to Walter last Wednesday—I usually go through the Baker Center to get there. In front of the building, I saw a big yellow sign with contrasting red letters that read, “Jesus Hates Sinners.” The man holding the sign spoke about repent, and that adulterers, drunkards and homosexuals are doomed to damnation without it. But he received a congregation of a different kind to hear his gospel.
Many students and the Director of the LGBT Center in Baker came to sit in protest next to the preacher; a spectacle I had never seen, and was glad that it was there before my plant biology class. One thing that caught my eye was senior Adam Norby running to the scene with a sign that read, “Praise Thanos.”
Norby has seen the preacher every year at Ohio University, and believes that religion can have a positive impact on some, but doesn’t give people the right to persecute others because of their beliefs. “There’s no negative connotation in the word, ‘difference,’” he says. “It’s about being a decent human being.”
The protest brought many who identify as gay, lesbian, trans, non-binary and others together, building a sense of security among them. Jayda Martin, a sophomore, says that “The gay community is a broad spectrum. It has to be explored bit by bit.”
delfin bautista, the director of the LGBT Center, said the preacher usually comes twice a year, once each semester. “We offer an alternative message,” delfin says. “Anti-Religion isn’t our message. They [the preacher] belong here. So do we.”
“We challenge them to a different perspective, but they shut down,” delfin says. The preacher seemed only interested in spreading his message, avoiding conversation and acting solely on opinion. I asked if delfin knew the preacher’s name at least, they said they had no clue. But that’s beside the point for delfin. “Our message isn’t to engage them with hate, but to have a conversation,” they said. “It will get messy, but it’s important.”
I asked about the jokes and light-hearted attitude in the protest, especially from heterosexuals.
“Laughter is important. We can’t engage the preacher with anger; it’ll only make their message seem truthful,” bautista says. “They [straight protesters] just need to be mindful. Take cues from inside the community on what is and isn’t acceptable to joke about.”
“Being gay is a hardship… it’s easier to joke about being gay within the community,” Martin says.
delfin also told me about the different programs offered at the LGBT Center in Baker, such as film-screenings and crafting. “We see it as a form of self-care”, they said. The Center even offers programs for those who identify as gay and have a religious affiliation. “Overall, it’s a safe space,” delfin said.
I was surprised to see that the sit-in continued after my plant biology class. The passion of the students and staff members to have their voices heard was enlightening. Ohio University has become more inclusive to me, and hopefully for others, and that’s something we all can appreciate.
“College has its cliques, but it’s natural for that to happen,” says Tiffany Anderson, a senior, who has been protesting the preacher every year. As a freshman, it’s encouraging to feel a sense of community among other students, staff, but most of all, people.
The hours of operation for the LGBT Center are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. everyday in room 354 in the Baker Center.