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Protesters support same-sex marriage

Correction appended

"Hey hey! Ho ho! Homophobia's got to go!"

Waving signs at passing cars and chanting slogans, advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights gathered outside the Ocean State Baptist Church in Smithfield Saturday. They were there to protest a conference of groups opposed to same-sex marriage.

Calling for legal equality for gay and lesbian Americans, activists from Queer Action of Rhode Island joined Brown students Saturday to demonstrate against the conference, called the "New England Family, Life & Marriage Summit" and organized by the Family Research Council, a national organization that promotes socially conservative policies.

The summit, an annual gathering of regional conservative groups, included representatives from the National Organization for Marriage, the Massachusetts Family Institute and the Family Institute of Connecticut, among others.

Around 30 to 40 protesters attended the rally, according to Queer Action of Rhode Island Communications Coordinator Susan Heroux. Six Brown students protested, according to attendee John Qua '13.

The purpose of the protest was to speak up against discrimination and intolerance, Heroux said.

"This is a strategy summit to increase discrimination against gays and women," she said. "We want them to know that there is always opposition."

Standing outside the church entrance, protesters hoped to be visible to conference attendees as they exited, Heroux said.

Queer Action learned of the summit a week and a half beforehand, Heroux said. Word of the protest spread largely over the Internet, through Web sites such as Facebook and RIfuture.org, she said.

Earlier in the day, the Providence Equality Action Committee held a separate protest independent of Queer Action's event, Heroux said.

Stephanie Ewart-Conden, a florist, said she heard about the event from a friend and came to express her opposition to prejudice.

"I'm here for civil rights," she said.

Conference attendees denied accusations of bigotry, saying that they do not oppose homosexuality, just same-sex marriage.

"We don't think we should change the definition of marriage," said Christopher Plante, executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage.

Plante also said that neither he nor his organization opposed same-sex civil unions.

"It's a moot point, though, because (civil unions are) unacceptable to them," he said, referring to LGBT groups such as Queer Action.

As the afternoon wore on, the activists intermittently chanted slogans, such as "Two, four, six, eight! How do you know your kid is straight?" Protesters also waved homemade signs at passing vehicles, breaking out in cheers whenever motorists honked their horns in response.

Plante said the protesters' attitude contradicted their message of acceptance.

"I was not impressed with their tone," he said. "Their language was hateful."

Smithfield police officer Kevin Proulx, who was on duty at the church, said the protesters stayed off church property and did not disrupt the summit.

Queer Action members Gabe Schwartz '13 and Jessica Mitter '13 helped organize participation in the protest among Brown students. They created a Facebook event for the rally and tackled logistics such as planning student travel to and from the event.

A previous version of this article incorectly identified John Qua '13 as Jonathan Qua '12.




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