ColumnsWhat A World

Not in my Neighborhood

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The best offense is a good defense
by Nancy Ford

A few Saturday afternoons ago, I was running errands in the Greenway Plaza neighborhood.

I love Greenway. It has been my home for 20 or more of the 30 years I’ve been a Houston resident. It simultaneously combines the inner-loop vibe of urban diversity with the serene residential charm of the suburbs, offering just the right balance of glass and steel and green space. Hence its name. The fact that burgeoning commercial development (Hello, Costco) is winnowing away much of Greenway’s greenness and serenity is another story.

Though not known as the hub of Houston’s gay community like Montrose, Greenway is a closely attached spoke of the hub, near enough that you can feel comfortable holding hands with your same-sex companion at the megaplex movie theater or its many restaurants. Of the nine or so residences in my condo complex within view of my balcony, three are occupied by gay men or lesbians. Yet it’s far-enough removed to offer some distance—just three miles—from the weekend traffic and accompanying hoopla associated with hubs of any kind.

Which is not to say that Montrose is the only location where Houston homos can feel comfortable and accepted. The Heights, The Galleria, Eastwood, and City Hall also come to mind.

But back to that Saturday afternoon. Imagine my surprise when I drove past two men dressed in pseudo-military garb, accompanied by two small children. The men were situated near the entrance ramp of Joel and Victoria Osteen’s famed Lakewood Church, holding gigantic protest signs. One sign proclaimed “Homosexuality Is A Sin.” The other listed an ecumenical litany of reasons for their God of Love to send folks to hell, ranging from “unsavory” behaviors like homosexuality to out-and-out crimes, like murder.

In my neighborhood!

There is no evidence that these men were directly affiliated with Lakewood’s congregation, but their chosen location—within spitting distance of the mega-church—was curious, especially given the Osteens’ pronouncement on Larry King Live last year that gay families do not represent “God’s best plan.”

A similar mini-demonstration took place not long ago on the corner of Westheimer and Montrose, which arguably is our city’s gay hub. That afternoon, before I could flip a U-turn in the street and whip out my camera, police officers arrived on the scene. The officers encouraged the man, whose sign bore that same “Homosexuality Is A Sin” message, to take said message elsewhere before he found himself the recipient of an unsolicited makeover, so to speak.

Making matters even more offensive, the offense in Greenway occurred a mere one week after Jared Lee Loughner killed six and wounded 13 in his psychotic shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona. Some attribute the violence, at least in part, to a marked increase in extremist chatter about a wrathful God and the End Times and our country going to hell in a handbasket.

Why are these people so jumpy? You’d think birds were falling out of the sky or dead fish were washing up on shore or something.

Do these men have the right to hold up their silly little signs to protest what they believe, albeit incorrectly, is an abomination to their God and a threat to the health of our nation? Absolutely. This is, after all, America, and as Americans, they are protected by a little thing in the U.S. Constitution called the First Amendment that ensures all Americans the right of free speech, including these hateful, hurtful messages. Unfortunately, there is no constitutional amendment regulating good taste or common decency.

I considered honking my horn in disapproval, but then feared the two men might mistake the beeping as a gesture of support. Surely, there must be another, more definitive gesture I could employ.

My plan is to carry some rolled-up poster board and a Magic Marker of my own in the trunk of my car, ready to whip out when such occasions present themselves. Most intersections have at least four corners. When those guys show up to occupy one of them, I might as well occupy one of them, too.

When they land at an intersection in your neighborhood, feel free to do the same, and tell your friends. Remember, local law allows the public display of signs, but not sticks to hold those signs. Likewise, flags are fine, but not flagpoles. In the spirit of goodwill and staying classy, keep the signage civil. No threats. No obscenities. No anger. Don’t engage or taunt—I pledge to resist placing a “Warning: Morons Ahead” sign a block ahead of the offenders. Call 911 if you feel threatened.

The simple “Honk If You Disagree” is my sign of choice. It’s going to get noisy in Greenway.

Below are a few other suggestions for signs that might also go a long way toward making the point that gays and lesbians need not ignore this kind of abuse from bigots and bullies, and certainly not in our own neighborhoods. Or anywhere else.

It’s our First Amendment, too, after all. See you on the sidewalks.

• Homosexuality Is Not A Sin, But Hate Is

• Bitter Because You Couldn’t Get Into The Real Military?

• Way To Tone Down The Rhetoric

• Jesus Must Be So Proud

• You Lie!

• Whatever Happened To ‘God Is Love’?

• Save The Children

• Travis Bickle Called. He Wants His Jacket Back

• Somebody Needs To Get Laid!

• God Loves Bullies, Too

• Did You Buy A Franchise From Fred Phelps?

• The First Step Is Admitting You Have A Problem

• Don’t Worry—They’re Probably Not Registered To Vote

• Hate Kills

• Love Is God’s Best Plan.

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