By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – An Oct. 10 event that targets the American Family Association as a hate group and includes plans for a march to the conservative Christian organization’s front doors has the AFA’s leaders puzzled.
“It looks like to me the purpose of this is to stir things up,” said the Rev. Buddy Smith, executive vice president of AFA and American Family Radio.
But organizers of “Give Hate a Holiday: Take a Stand for Justice and Equality” claim their stance should come as no surprise to a group they say has inflicted pain on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
“If anybody listens to their DJs on the issue of homosexuality, there is nothing but hate; I’ll stand up and say they’re a hate group,” said Bob Spencer, lay minister of the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Tupelo and head organizer.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks and identifies what it considers hate groups, added AFA to its list in 2010.
Spencer said he wants to raise awareness about LGBT people and make the state more fair and inclusive of this community. Among the activities planned for the Columbus Day event is a parade from the Link Centre on West Main Street to the AFA’s national headquarters one mile away on Parkgate Drive. The Tupelo Police Department confirmed it issued a parade permit for that day.
The event also will offer a free public screening of “Out In The Silence,” an award-winning documentary about homosexuality in a west Pennsylvania town, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Link Centre. The film features the struggles of several homosexuals, and it examines the state AFA chapter’s role in “stoking anti-gay bigotry and racial divides in the town,” according to the film biography.
Filmmaker Joe Wilson, who is gay, has shown his documentary in small towns nationwide and said he was delighted when Spencer invited him to Tupelo. But rather than negatively portray the AFA, Wilson said his film seeks to provoke thought and discussion about rights for all people.
“By and large, it’s really a great experience,” Wilson said, “because people are hungry for these types of opportunities to overcome the ways people have been divided on these issues for far too long.”
The AFA learned about the event through an online announcement that negatively portrayed its organization, Smith said, referring to the anti-AFA language as “vitriol.”
Although he’s aware the group has its detractors elsewhere in the country, he said he was hurt to see Tupelo groups listed as co-sponsors of the event. In addition to the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation, he found the Link Centre, All Saints’ Episcopal Church and PFLAG Tupelo listed as sponsors.
PFLAG – which stands for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays – is sponsoring the event. But the Link Centre is only renting the venue, and All-Saints’ Pastor Paul Stephens said his church knows nothing about the event and isn’t a sponsor of it.
“It’s not that we hate anyone,” the AFA’s Smith said. “We’re coming from an orthodox position on it, and our response (to the event) will be a loving response. We’ll be praying about that for our community.”
Wilson said he’ll pray for Smith, too.