Organizers of Monday afternoon’s Queer Pride Week kick-off rally said a boisterous anti-queer protester had an unintended effect — he helped spread the importance of the event’s pro-tolerance message.
In the midst of the Queer Student Union (QSU) event in Storke Plaza, a man carrying a six-foot tall sign with biblical quotes interrupted speakers and marched around audience members, preaching against what he said were the evils of homosexuality and material culture.
The crowd of about 60 people from the rally grew to almost double that size after the man – 62 year-old Paul Johnson of Los Angeles – began shouting his beliefs. Besides chastising queers, he said students should drop out of college to study the Bible and turn away from sin. Tanya Paperny, QSU co-chair and second-year women’s studies and history major, said Johnson inadvertently helped spread the message of the rally and Queer Pride Week.
“I really appreciated his presence,” Paperny said. “Because of him, I handed out more fliers. He brought all our allies out of the woodworks.”
Johnson repeatedly yelled “boring” and “Mickey Mouse” at the rally’s keynote speakers as he walked around and behind them, Paperny said. In response to his yelling, audience members sang the lyrics to “I Will Survive” in unison. Two rally attendees circled Johnson with a rainbow banner. Paperny said Ryka Aoki de la Cruz – a self-proclaimed “transgendered goth dyke poet” — and other speakers addressed Johnson in their speeches, referring to his “hate” of the queer community.
“The [goal] of this week is to make the queer community on campus more visible,” Paperny said. “We’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”
At the conclusion of the rally, Johnson continued speaking for roughly two hours at the top of the steps to Storke Plaza, outside the UCen Bookstore. Johnson, who said he was a retired firefighter, said after his speech that he did not come to UCSB because of the rally, but happened to be there when it began.
Johnson said he became a born-again Christian after “25 years’ worth of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” He said he belongs to a nationwide group called Bible Believers, whose members spread biblical messages at college campuses and other public spaces. In his many years of working with the group, he said he has visited several college campuses because of his concern for students and because the Bible tells him to do so.
“I’m spreading the fear of God,” Johnson said.
The sign Johnson carried said such things as “Repent and Believe in Christ Today” and had a list of sinners including “religious phonies,” “sex perverts,” “atheists and drunks,” “garbage mouths” and “miscellaneous heathens.”
Roughly 100 people gathered in front of the UCen after the rally to listen to Johnson talk. Johnson alleged many people, including Mahatma Gandhi, were in hell because they did not follow the Bible.
Several members of the crowd outside the UCen exchanged insults with Johnson, calling him, among other things, a hypocrite.
Crowd members also asked Johnson questions about his religious convictions and reasoning behind his beliefs. Several people challenged Johnson’s fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible and said it was not applicable to modern day society.
Joel Rodriguez-Flores, a second-year global studies major, walked up and stood beside Johnson with a sign that read “Religious Extremism is Unwelcome at UCSB,” eliciting cheers and applause from the crowd.
While Johnson was talking, two UC Police Dept. officers warned a student who had walked up to Johnson and put his arm around him for a picture without Johnson’s permission. Officers also spoke to a student who stood in front of Johnson and refused to move out of his way, regardless of the direction he moved. Police officers did not attempt to interfere with Johnson, saying he was acting within his free speech rights.
Near the end of Johnson’s two-hour public discussion, a member of the audience who identified himself as a Christian apologized to audience members, saying that Johnson’s views did not reflect those of true Christians.
Members of the Campus Crusade for Christ, Gaucho Christian Fellowship (GCF) and several other students approached Johnson after his speech to challenge his interpretation of the Bible. Marissa Newman, a second-year philosophy major and member of the GCF, said Johnson’s interpretation of the Bible and attitude toward others was offensive.
“Jesus was about loving people and showing concern and mercy,” Newman said. “The Bible says he came to the world to save, not condemn, and I think [Johnson’s] is a very condemning way. I think it caused people to have a bad view of God instead of a positive view.”
Paperny said members of religious groups should hold their leaders and preachers accountable for discriminatory language like the kind Johnson was using. She said discrimination against queers should not be a tenet of belief in any religion.
The QSU-sponsored Queer Pride Week features various workshops and public discussions about queer identity and issues. According to the QSU website, the week will culminate with the Queer Wedding at Storke Plaza on Friday, at which Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young will officiate symbolic weddings between queers or allies. A calendar of the week’s events can be found at http://orgs.sa.ucsb.edu/qsu/events.html.