Coordinator of the Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity Sarah Holmes organized a counter panel last week after minister Guy Hammond’s speech in Gorham left many LGBTQ students uneasy.
The Christian student group Alpha Omega sponsored Hammond’s visit to campus last week in which he spoke to a largely Christian audience that stressed starting a dialogue between Christians and the gay community.
The counter panel was meant to show students positive and accepting Christian perspectives of the LGBTQ community from the greater Portland area. “This is a sort of new paradigm,” said Holmes. “We are seeing more and more LGBTQ people finding homes in faith communities.” Holmes explained that she hoped to show USM that there are many congregations in Portland that are open to LGBTQ Christians. “This is not a message that we’re taught,” she said.
An organizer of the protest at Guy Hammond’s event, senior Mea Tavares explained that perspectives like Hammond’s create a rift between the LGBTQ community and faith-based organizations unnecessarily. “I think that a thing that a lot of us don’t talk about is the sadness in having to leave faith communities because we have to honor our personal truth,” he said. “I’m constantly met with the assumption that because I’m out and a radical queer that I’m not a person of faith, which is very untrue.”
During Hammond’s speech last week, protesters listened in from a different room through a Skype live conference that they had planted in the room where Hammond spoke in Bailey Hall.
Tavares listened in with the other protesters.
“He found ways to say things, and I have to give it to him, that on a surface level even I could agree with,” he said. Tavares explained that Hammond seemed to urge Christians to speak to LGBTQ people with respect, but to him, Hammond’s message fell short in the end.“He was saying, talk to someone with love and then get them out of their wrong pattern because you can’t actually be with Jesus if you’re homosexual.”
To Tavares, Hammond’s argument is not what it appears to be on the surface. According to him, Hammond’s rhetoric is dangerous because it has the power to be misleading if listeners don’t read between the lines.
“He’s saying these things in a quiet way and in a way that is posed as loving, but the title of his website is ‘Strength in Weakness.’”
“So I’m gonna lovingly come to you and say ‘Let me help you out of this weakness and depravity that is your life,’” Tavares said. “That’s so compassionate –– to tell you that you’re weak by being who you are.”
Tavares and other protesters were concerned that Hammond’s speech presented a dual message, promoting compassion for the LGBTQ community, while at the same time, promoting the idea that homosexuality is wrong.
“That’s a much harder message to decode, and it’s also a message that the university can’t stop,” he said.
“They’re not coming in here and practicing active hate speech,” he said. “They’re saying you’re either misguided or actively choosing sin, and we’re just going to love you until you change who you fundamentally are, and that’s something that we’re powerless to stop.”
Tavares’s main concern with Hammond’s visit was that it made many people feel unsafe on campus, a place that they recognize as home. He explained that the nature of Hammond’s speech was one that made the LGBTQ community ‘Other’ and made them the topic of conversation instead of being included in the conversation.
“There was a feeling of outrage of how could this be allowed on my campus. I thought my campus was a safe place because this feels targeted.”
Tavares stated there hasn’t been any communication since the event between the LGBTQ community at USM and the sponsoring student group Alpha Omega, but Holmes stated that the she has been in communication with the group more since the event.
The student leader of Alpha Omega, Ciarra Pickens, did not respond to emails or telephone calls made by The Free Press.