Rev. Paul Graetz, an eight-year pastor at First Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta, was manning his church’s booth at the largest gay and lesbian Pride event in the southeast. He became fed up with signs that read, “JESUS THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGE CONDEMNS YOU TO ETERNAL HELL,” and stormed out to the park's entrance to counterprotest. “They’re lying to my parishioners,” Graetz said, holding his lone sign. “It’s just an unacceptable wave of hate as you approach the park. Georgia doesn’t tolerate hate. Hate speech is not free speech.” The religious objectors’ words blared over a bullhorn as they manned numerous entrances to Piedmont Park as well as the 10th and Piedmont intersection in Midtown. Rev. Graetz questioned their purpose. “Why are they here? They’re adamant about their homophobia, their fear. Radical groups need someone to hate, yet the bible’s message is one of love. There’s no room for hate. God said he did not give us a spirit of fear. God’s love is here for all.”
For their part, Pridegoers proceeded past the protestors peacefully, with one woman entering at 14th street calmly saying to a protestor, “Have a nice day, Sir.”
“I am having a great day,” the protestor retorted. “Y’all think about eternal life, it might be right around the corner.”
Despite their somewhat sordid welcome, thousands of visitors to Pride were undaunted and enjoyed the many vendors and other attractions at the event.
But for Rev. Graetz, the angry language is a stark reminder.
“This is really a symbol for the type of world gays and lesbians face,” he said. “We have to walk through hatred to get home, just like people have to walk through these people’s hate to get to Pride.
“So I’m welcoming people here in love,” he added. “The hate was just too overwhelming as you approached the park. Jesus would be saying, ‘Happy Pride!’” (Additional reporting by Thom Anderson)