Day-long protest: High tensions between LGBTQ+ community and campus preachers

Anna Merrill, News Contributor

Students walking towards the library yesterday first heard the commotion of queer anthems being blasted over a myriad of shouting, but then saw the hectic scene of a religious protest and a counter-protest led by members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community. 

On the library quad on Monday, May 15, at around 11:30 a.m., one preacher, who refused to share his name, stood outside the Valley Library, shouting Bible verses and derogatory statements at anybody walking past.  

Cole Pearson, a second-year music performance major was at both the MU and library protests. According to Pearson and several eyewitness accounts, the preachers were shouting things like “Jesus does not accept you for who you are,” among other things. Pearson disagreed with the rhetoric that the preachers were spreading.

“God doesn’t hate anybody; why is it such a big deal to y’all to let people be who they are?” said Pearson. “Life’s too short to hate people, honestly. Just live your life and be who you wanna be.”

Some interesting characters made appearances at the protest, including a breakdancer with a rubber Hillary Clinton mask, local Corvallis legend “Dancing Mike” and the university Chess Club, who played a match on the concrete in front of the crowd in solidarity. 

A second preacher, whom multiple students identified as Keith Darrell, was briefly spotted at the Memorial Union in a similar demonstration. The unidentified preacher in the library quad didn’t draw much of a crowd on his own, but when Darrell joined him at the library, a larger and louder crowd began to form. 

Darrell’s Instagram bio links to his website and suggests that he is a part of a non-profit traveling religious group known as the Whitefield Fellowship. It is possible that the unidentified preacher in the library quad is also part of this fellowship, as the two were seen talking.

Two students and self-proclaimed queer community members in particular led the queer counter-protest at the library: Tali Ilkovitch, a fourth-year natural resources major, and Carter Trinidad, a fifth-year women, gender and sexuality studies major. 

They were made aware of the MU protest first due to their proximity and quickly joined, attempting to rally people to protest against the preachers, but were met with an apprehensive crowd.

“It was hard because folks were really engaging with these people instead of trying to disrupt and try to get them removed off campus,” said Trinidad. “We tried to get them to mobilize, but they were just uninterested.” 

Eventually, Ilkovitch and Trinidad made their way to the library around 1:30 p.m., where they stood with Pride flags around their shoulders, a speaker and a microphone in their hands. They led chants and offered condoms, stickers, pins, and information about HIV testing and other safer sex resources. 

Tensions began to rise when MU director Deb Mott, along with a few OSU public safety officers, arrived on the scene. Shanon Anderson, associate vice president of public safety and chief of police, was on the scene trying to deescalate the situation. 

“We want to make sure everybody is safe while they’re expressing their free speech, and that we’re working with both sides,” said Anderson. “Part of it is setting some parameters: letting people say what they want, but safely.” 

There were some people in attendance who were interested in conversing with both sides of the argument. 

The crowds began to dissipate around 4 p.m. after the leaders of the counter-protest left. The preachers left sometime shortly afterwards, and the library quad slowly drifted back into its usual peaceful state. 

However, for queer people like Ilkovitch and Trinidad, the battle for safe spaces remains between the university and its LGBTQ+ students. 

“The university is more worried about whether they’ll get sued by these right-wingers than if queer and trans students and queer and trans students of color are actually safe at their institution,” Trinidad said. “They need to step in and take a side; they need to side with the people who are losing rights all over the country.”

“I’m here to learn, and this is just another barrier on top of all the institutional barriers that we face every day,” said Ilkovitch. 

Ilkovitch and Trinidad both emphasized the importance of disrupting these people rather than debating the existence of queer identities.  

“Show up with your friends, bring signs and get loud,” said Ilkovitch. “Acknowledge the problem, but also don’t engage with them. Don’t give them legitimacy. Don’t allow the debate.”

At the same time on May 15, there was another traveling Evangelist in the Memorial Union Quad named Daniel Lee spreading a similar message. Read full coverage of the MU quad protest here.

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