Protests are nothing new. They’re so common, in fact, that each year police erect a designated homophobe corral at the corner of Boulevards to contain the protesters.
12 hours after a mass shooting at an LGBT club in Orlando claimed 49 lives. It was the worst mass shooting in United States history. As such, I hoped that the protesters would find it in their hearts to stay away from this year’s Pride parade. Unfortunately, as I headed toward the corner where the protesters gather, I was met with homophobic chants and placards just like in years past.
Shortly after I arrived a Pride-marcher named Michael threw a bottle of water at a protester holding a “HOMO SEX IS SIN” sign. After the bottle missed, he broke down in tears, grabbing onto the metal barricade for support. An LA County Sheriff’s deputy stepped in to comfort him.
Michael told me that his reaction to the protesters was the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of shitty stuff happening to the gay community. “I’m fifty-six years old, I’ve been gay since I was twenty, and I’ve been through a lot,” he told me. “I was very depressed for many years, but then I came out of it, started a new life, met somebody who I’ve been with for eighteen years. I’m extremely happy, successful. But there’s a scar. It’s healed over, but it’s a scab, and every time those people roll into town it’s like somebody has ripped the scab off and it all floods back.”
Michael told me about photos he has of vacations with his gay friends in the 80s. Thanks to AIDS, he said, almost all of the men in those snapshots are gone. “In many of those pictures there’s maybe myself and one other person still alive,” he said. “We’re talking about twenty-five people, and they’re all gone.”
“Simultaneously, I was thinking of my dead friends from AIDS, I was thinking of the people in Orlando, their families, those bodies that are still lying on the floor in that night club,” he added. “Some of those people [were laying shot] for three hours, wondering if anybody was going to come in. And they died, and this man is taunting me, taking the whole Orlando thing and implying everyone deserved it. It’s just the last straw.”
While the anti-gay protesters were undeniably loud, there were fewer of them than the last time I attended the LA Pride parade, in 2013. That year there were at least twelve of them, whereas this year the corral was sparsely populated with just seven. According to Dean Saxton, an anti-gay preacher with the protesters working as a videographer, the smaller number was not because of any sense of propriety, but rather because that weekend was a busy one for homophobes. “There are a lot of homo parades this weekend,” he told me.
When I asked how he felt about what had happened in Orlando, Saxton told me that he felt the victims were merely getting what they deserved. “Yeah, I think that that kind of hatred that they serve toward God, toward themselves, toward each other—it’s kind of what you reap, you know?”
The sight of the protesters proved to be too much for many throughout the day. One pride marcher, Todd Johnson, lost his temper and leaned over the barricade to scream at the protesters until he was moved back by Sheriff’s deputies.
“Last night, fifty people were killed because of the beliefs that they hold,” Johnson told me. “It’s disgraceful that they would even be here today and be so flippant about it.”
As he spoke to me, a protester continued to shout into the crowd: “Die a sodomite, die a faggot, die a dyke, die corrupted, wicked, filthy, an abomination.”
They’re so hateful against the gay community,” another Pride marcher, Steven Michael, told me about the protesters. “They use their religion as a blanket and a weapon, as a crutch to behave this way.”
At one point, someone yelled to the homophobes, “We lost fifty people last night!”
“And God laughs at that,” the protester responded. “God laughs at the death of those homosexuals, he laughs at the calamity, because you deserve it. You deserve death.”
Some Pride marchers threw dodgeballs, sodas, and other Pride promotional items at the protesters. One group sat and silently prayed.
“Just wait, just wait until someone kills you,” one protester said to the crowd. “Just wait until ISIS comes over here and kills you because Allah calls you an abomination. You just wait until ISIS gets here and they start killing you whores, killing you homosexuals, you sodomites, you fudge packers, you scissor sisters.”
The protesters hung around for about three hours. At one point, the crowd swelled to the point that Sheriff’s deputies stepped in to form a human barricade between the protesters and the Pride marchers.
“This barricade here, this is an AIDS barricade,” yelled one of the picketers. “This is to keep us safe from all your venereal disease, all your wickedness.”
It’s difficult to say whether the reaction to the protesters was stronger than in previous years, or if it was just more noticeable because of what had happened earlier that day in Orlando. Though there were emotional outbursts, the majority of people did what LGBT people have traditionally done at past Pride marches: ignored them, or made a joke out of it (one man hung around the protesters with a sign that read “I’m gonna fuck the fat bearish one after the parade”).
Part of being queer is learning to tune out the hate. When it’s coming from your family members, entertainment, the media, strangers on the street, the government, and perpetrators of mass shootings, to take it all on would be overwhelming. Personally, I felt nothing when looking at the protesters. I suppose the closest thing I felt to an emotion was a little sadness. But it was for them, not me.
Once the parade was over, everyone went their own ways. The Pride marchers carried on to the Pride party, to come together with other members of their community. The protesters packed up and drove back to wherever the fuck they came from, to be lonely and hateful, clinging on to an increasingly outdated viewpoint.