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One of the evangelical preachers holds a sign during a protest on College Green in Athens, Ohio, Oct. 5, 2023.

Evangelical preachers prompt counter-protest

LGBTQIA+ flags were spotted across Ohio University’s College Green Wednesday when students came to rally against a small group of evangelical preachers expressing homophobic and transphobic beliefs.  

Students congregated in front of the protesters holding pride flags and signs for the university’s LGBT Center and were counter-protesting in creative ways such as setting up a DJ booth.

“Our student body has a long history of responding with activism when these campus disruptions happen,” Micah McCarey, director of OU’s LGBT Center, said.

McCarey said students are encouraged to pick up pride flags at the LGBT Center when protests like this happen to spread a message of love. 

He said it is kind of a right of passage for students and they usually respond in three different ways. They either combatively counter-protest, stay away from the areas where messages like this are spread or are peaceful and drown out the hate by doing fun things like singing Lady Gaga.

When things like this happen it is a reminder that there is a lot of equity and social justice work to be done, McCarey said. 

“We're out here preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, that sinners need to be saved,” Nathaniel Pennington, an evangelical protestor, said. "When Jesus Christ came into the world 2,000 years ago, he came to call sinners to repent and said they might be saved. We know that on campus there are a lot of young people we can reach before they get too involved in their sins.”

The protesters stood their ground for over five hours. Pennington said the preacher group arrived around 11 a.m. and stayed well into the afternoon. They used speakers to amplify their arguments and had signs that said "Sinners of God" and "Obey Jesus" among other sayings. 

The Ohio University Police Department, or OUPD, arrested a person who stole a sign, OUPD Staff Lieutenant Tim Ryan said.

“We’re out here observing to make sure that everyone is safe and that everyone is free to express their constitutional rights,” said Ryan.

Students responded negatively to the protesters, shouting back and making gestures.

”It’s obviously not all la-de-da and rainbows,” Mia Walsh, a fourth-year student studying journalism and student staffer at the LGBT center, said. “I’m gay and I don’t like to hear the stuff he has to say, but I’m old enough now that I can be that person who helps other people.”

Toward the end of the protest, a student set up a DJ booth across the protesters to counter their loudspeakers. Students were happy to show their pride and dance along in front of the protesters.

“I’m gay and I’m proud,” Aurora Rothgerber, a first-year student studying exercise physiology, said. “I’m not going to back down.” 

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