Standing up to the Klan in Georgia

October 27, 2010

AUGUSTA, Ga.--The 25 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights organizers who gathered at a restaurant on October 22 to make protest signs had little idea that they would be joined by over 100 more the next day in their stance against bigotry.

The Ku Klux Klan was coming to town--and the protesters knew they needed to prepare to confront them. Organizers cited the rash of recent LGBT youth suicides as the reason they felt compelled to stand up against the Klan's homophobia.

The bigots were rallying in defense of a student at Augusta State University who had been dismissed from a counseling certification program on the grounds that she believed in "reparative therapy" for gays and lesbians. She advocated that homosexuality was an unnatural sin and should be "cured"--a position condemned by the American Psychological Association, among others. The Klan, however, considered this a violation of the student's First Amendment rights.

On October 23, more than 150 counterprotesters turned out to confront the 11 KKK members and neo-Nazis who turned out. One Klansman stepped forward in an enclosed "safe zone" shielded by dozens of sheriffs. He could barely finish a sentence as counterprotesters heckled and jeered him into a state of anxiety.

"They are the very definition of homophobia, they are terrified of us queers," said counterprotester Betty Couvertier.

Police attempted to keep counterprotesters calm. However, the anger within the crowd was palpable. "How am I supposed to stay calm when these people are the ones who strung my ancestors up in trees?" asked Chris Bryant.

Many of Augusta's Black residents were heartened by the multiracial crowd that gathered in opposition to the Klan's bigotry, and LGBT organizers felt the solidarity, too. "These kinds of beliefs have to be challenged if there's going to be changes," commented a woman who drove from Alpharetta, Ga., for the counterprotest.

The KKK members and neo-Nazis remained for only 30 minutes of their planned four-hour rally before turning tail and going home.

It is this kind of response by activist communities and allies that is required to keep right-wing bigoted beliefs in check.

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