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Posted by on Jun 29, 2008 in Religion | 1 comment

Silent Witnesses provide a “human spiritual firewall” at Central PA LGBT Pride events

As lgbt pride marches step off in big cities across the country, it’s important to note what takes place at some of the smaller ones.Central Pennsylvania was a focal point in the Democratic primary for its white working class voters. Those same voters are made uncomfortable by gays on the march.While this year marks the 38th pride march in San Francisco and New York, it will be only the third time that gays march in Pennsylvania’s state capital, Harrisburg.

When marchers there were greeted that first year by a strong chorus of opposition, a husband and wife team spontaneously set up a program rooted in their church’s teachings. [See clarification below.]

The Silent Witnesses:

Silent Witness PA (SWPA) is an organization of gay and straight allies dedicated to providing a non-confrontational buffer between those who condemn others based on their sexual orientation or identity and those they condemn. We provide visual protection from “street preachers” and protesters at events such as Pridefests…using our bodies and rainbow umbrellas as shields. In times of need, we intervene to prevent confrontations between protesters and event participants, often acting as escorts for those who would like to attend such events. Where there are those who publicly promote hate, we will be there to help provide a loving, supportive front opposing them. We are not counter-protesters. Instead, we provide a visual representation of support for those in our society who may feel marginalized… Our purpose is to act as a “human spiritual firewall” between GLBT folks and those individuals who believe GLBT’s are an abomination on the face of the earth.

They travel to pride events throughout PA. Their event schedule is here. Their training schedule is here.

RELATED: Those Pennsylvania protesters hit the big cities too. They lost a court battle in Philadelphia in January 2007. Said the judge, “There is no constitutional right to drown out the speech of another person.”

UPDATE: Alanna Berger emails a clarification:

We did not spontaneously set up a program rooted in our church’s teachings.  Originally, Silent Witnesses, organized by MCC of the Spirit in Harrisburg, held up signs welcoming the GLBT community to the PrideFest.  In 2005, this tactic no longer proved adequate in preventing angry and violent responses to the protesters, so Blaise and I worked with one of the original Silent Witnesses and brainstormed new tactics.  We came up with ideas in the spring of 2006, purchased safety vests that we modified to be easily identified as Silent Witnesses, found a donor of 24 rainbow umbrellas and trained more than 70 additional people from four Unitarian Universalist churches as well as members of the Greater Harrisburg Area in responding to spiritual violence with non-violence.  The teachings are similar to Gandhi’s and Dr. Martin Luther King’s and not exclusive to Unitarian Universalism.  We were asked by the Harrisburg Parade organizer to lead the parade, so this was not spontaneous – we knew months in advance.

The original founder is Yvonne Wilson from MCC of the Spirit in Harrisburg, and we refer to that group she started as the Original Silent Witnesses.  Blaise and I – along with Rosemary Mirocco from MCC – came up with the ideas to use the safety vests and umbrellas.  We consider this the second generation of silent witnesses, which we refer to as Silent Witness PA.

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