74-year-old woman's kiss of protesting preacher leads to ticket at gay rally
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — An unwanted smooch led to the only ticket issued at Salisbury’s first gay pride event Saturday.
A 74-year-old woman from Colfax, N.C., who came to support the Salisbury Pride festival, kissed a street preacher on the mouth, Police Chief Rory Collins said.
The preacher, who was protesting the event, wanted Joan Parker charged with a crime.
“Without consent, a kiss can be considered an assault,” Collins said.
Police ticketed Parker, who is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 12. She was asked to leave and complied, Collins said. During the day, two protestors also were banned by police.
Although police and volunteers interrupted several heated arguments between protestors and participants, the event was generally incident-free.
From drag queens in heels to grandparents in straw hats, a diverse crowd estimated by police at 2,000 people filled the 100 block of East Fisher Street. Police estimated 200 protestors attended, also more than expected.
Calling the festival evidence of a sea change “unimaginable” when she was growing up in Salisbury, keynote speaker Anne Stanback said Saturday was historic for Salisbury.
Speaking the day after New York’s decision to legalize gay marriage, Stanback predicted North Carolina would follow suit sooner than people think.
A lesbian activist living in Connecticut, where she is legally married to a woman, Stanback thanked Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz for proclaiming Saturday Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Day.
“Words matter,” Stanback said. “And while a mayoral proclamation can’t end discrimination or change laws, it does have the power to change attitudes, to change hearts and minds.”
Police issued one protest permit to Pastor Darrell Worley of New Hope Baptist Church in Salisbury. Worley’s permit allowed 20 to 40 people to preach and sing at the corner of south Main and Fisher streets, across from the Pride event.
While Worley’s group did exactly as he promised, Collins said, police were faced with a number of street preachers who turned up unannounced and unpermitted.
“Because of large number of opposition and folks who are protesting the cause here, I have had to make some decisions that would try to keep this event as much under control as possible,” Collins said.
Collins said he decided to allow preachers to violate a city ordinance that bans more than one person from gathering to promote a cause. If police had charged each one with a violation, officers would have left the event unprotected, Collins said.
He compromised, allowing the preachers to go as far east as Benchwarmer’s but keeping them away from the stage and largest crowds.
“I certainly wanted to uphold the constitutional rights for both sides,” Collins said.
Collins had 18 officers on duty, compared to four or five for a typical Brick Street Live concert in the same block. Pride organizers also hired four off-duty officers for security.
Shelley and Jon Palmer said they brought their sons, ages 1 and 3, to the event so they would know gay and lesbian people are normal and diversity and equality are important.
“I grew up in Salisbury and never, ever thought something like this might happen in our town,” Shelley Palmer said.
She said she was disheartened when protestors yelled that she was committing child abuse by bringing her boys to the event.
Hostility against gays and lesbians and their straight supporters has increased in the 34 years since Stanback graduated from Salisbury High School, when no one talked about sexual orientation and gender identity, she said.
“We have more overt hostility because that silence has been broken,” Stanback said.
She pointed to changes in politics and pop culture that show gays and lesbians are more accepted than ever. The hit TV show “Glee” features several gay characters, and the federal government will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act.
President Obama in December signed the repeal of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law.
Regardless of growing support for gays and lesbians, street preacher Jude Crowley of Beulaville said he considers homosexuality a sin and attended the Pride event to proclaim the Gospel.
Pastor Jeff Faggart of Harvest Baptist Church in southern Rowan County said he thought most of the people at the event were from out of town.
“This is an agenda promoted by people who are not from Rowan County,” he said. “God’s book and our state law both say this is deviant and a perversion.”
Samuel Dahsokho, who lives in Salisbury and teaches religion classes at Hood Seminary, said he attended the event because all God’s children should live free. He said he felt bittersweet about the protestors.
“Bitter, in that I find it very sad to use the Bible to try to sell a message of intolerance,” Dahsokho said. “But at the same time, well, this is America … People have the right to express themselves.”
Salisbury High student Emma Post took the stage and called for the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education to overturn a ban on gay-straight student alliances in public schools.
“That could be a key to ending LGBT bullying,” said Post, who started a diversity group at Salisbury High when she learned she couldn’t create a gay-straight alliance.
Mike Clawson, who with Brandon Major led the event steering committee, said the event surpassed his expectations.
“I think we hit a home run,” Clawson said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.