Students at the University of Southern Mississippi shouted down a group of anti-gay protesters from The Church of Jackson in Brookhaven, Miss., who came to campus to proselytize to students and warn them to repent their sins.
At least four adults, accompanied by a child, held signs reading: “Homosexuals, lesbians, sodomies, adulterers…will all burn in hell.”
The group, which has been compared to the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas, routinely protests homosexuality and calls on people to recommit themselves to God. The church also promotes anti-Muslim messages, which were written on some of the signs church members carried with them on campus.
The church planned the demonstration to protest the university’s “International and Diversity Education Week” activities, which are intended to celebrate diversity and promote inclusion of marginalized groups, reports The Clarion Ledger.
“I speak for my God and my Bible,” one protester said. “[God] transforms by the renewing of the mind. The spirit of God will teach you the truth.”
“Being gay takes a lot of people’s lives,” another protester said. “Every person who has sex outside of marriage has an STD.”
The university has a free speech policy that allows protesters on campus, including non-students, to demonstrate in designated areas known as “Free Speech Zones.”
But bout 75 to 100 students decided to exercise their own free speech, surrounding the protesters, shouting them down, and peppering them with questions. Another student stood silently near the protesters, holding a sign reading: “You are all loved.”
The Spectrum Center, an LGBTQ community center and advocacy organization in Hattiesburg, Miss., issued a statement denouncing the protest and the Church of Jackson’s messages.
“The messages that the group is spreading to students, faculty and staff are negative and toxic to the diverse atmosphere the campus promotes,” the Spectrum Center said in a statement. “We acknowledge that individuals have the right to free speech and press as per the First Amendment, but harassing students on their own campus when they are not students themselves is harmful to campus life.
“We would like students, faculty and staff of USM to know that the Spectrum Center has resources and information to find a safe community and we encourage others to spread messages of love and acceptance to combat this toxicity.”