On Sunday, May 3, 2009, in the rain and cool Spring weather, The Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia had a table at the Equality Forum, which was an event celebrating GLBT culture in the city.
Now, the question is why an organization for freethinkers (rationalists, secular humanists, atheists, etc) would set up a table at an event such as this? Two reasons; the first is that the vast majority of its members are support equal gay rights and (the second) is that there are many potential new members at such events.
Sally Cramer came to pick me up around 9:30am on Sunday morning. That’s too early, in my opinion, to be doing anything on a Sunday. Sally is the President of FSGP and a good friend of mine. We set up the tent, organized the tables, and as other volunteers slowly made their way to our location near 3rd and Market, we got things started.
The rain probably kept many people away, including many other groups with tables. The people next to our slot on the street had no tent and so spent much of the day huddled together under an umbrella at their table. They looked so cute huddled together, but they left after a couple of hours of this. I wasn’t surprised.
Repent America was there too. They are not quite Fred Phelps and his crew, but they are close enough. For most of the day, we ignored them, and so did most of the people there. I don’t think they liked being ignored.
There were a number of churches with booths there. There are many liberal churches that accept gay members, many of which have gay pastors, ministers, or whatever they call the people that give sermons and all that jazz. We talked with a few of them and had some nice discussions. They are good people, in general, and they didn’t seem to mind our presence much at all.
But we also met quite a few atheists, “agnostics,”, and other non-religious people who were happy to see us there, and who may become members in the near future. The fact that FSGP is having a meeting and lecture at the William Way Community Center (1315 Spruce St; right in the the “gayborhood”) this Friday at 7:00 with Susana Meyer speaking will probably mean we’ll have a few more people show up to our meeting this month. We advertised it at or table, of course.
Most of the day was relatively quiet. We talked with many people, got almost no comments that were not completely welcoming, and had a calm, rainy, and cool day with some fabulous people. That is, until Repent America marched right towards our booth, both followed and also even impeded by, some gay and lesbian folks that were preaching a more inclusive gospel message.
Yes, that’s right folks, the “burn in Hell” Christians and the “God loves all equally” Christians marched right to us, set up shop behind us, and had it out with each other while we, quite amused, watched. OK, some of the volunteers made some comments and we gave a few pamphlets away that were titled “On Religion and Being Gay…What Freethought Has to Offer!”, but mostly we stood nearby and watched.
And as the “burn in Hell” Christians found a place to stand and condemn through a megaphone for a while, many of the local participants did something that I actually disagreed with; they blocked them and tried to shout over them.
We, vocal heathens that we are, had some shirts on. The one I wore said “Hi, I’m your friendly neighborhood atheist!” while some others wore the “Smile, there’s no Hell!” shirt with the smiley face on it. The people with the megaphones saw these and pretty much ignored us. We were for another day, I guess. They just wanted to make sure that everyone there knew that homosexuality is a sin and that they would all go to Hell. The rest kissed there partners, screamed gay pride slogans, and generally fed them everything they wanted to hear while they protested with more than 20 police officers nearby just in case.
In other words, there was no conversation (not that the people from Repent America were willing to talk anyway; they just ignored everything said to them). All I saw were two groups with different interpretations of a book of myths yelling alternative views at each other. All is vanity, I suppose. And while I prefer the “God loves everyone equally” people to be around, I found the whole thing quite silly, in all honesty.
Eventually they all went away, and with the yelling and the noise over, there was nothing left to do. The rain had slowed to a mere drizzle at most and so we took down the tent and went our ways (some of us went to Eulogy to get some dinner and fine Belgian ales). We’ll see how many show up on Friday for the lecture and if we see some more members sign up. All in all, I enjoyed the day.
So thanks to everyone who showed up to volunteer (Greg, Brian, Janice, Scotty, Glen and of course myself). A special thanks to Sally for setting up the event and having all of the materials ready.