Sinner! God himself will judge you," a fellow snarled as I passed. Angry men and women stared me down, posturing, as I made my way through the crowd.
I was scared.
The Allegheny County Council met two weeks ago to hear testimony about whether to include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons among those against whom it would be unlawful to discriminate.
I'm straight but I support the legislation and wore a "Fairness to All" sticker, so some of the opponents made certain assumptions about me.
I've attended hearings on many topics where people angrily voiced their opinions, but the hatred evident at this gathering stunned me -- not only because of its ferocity, but also because of who was expressing it.
"They'll know we are Christians by our love" the song goes.
At this County Council meeting, you could know most of them by the hatred on their faces. The leaders of the religious opponents were the worst, displaying physical revulsion at having to stand near people they figured were gay. They looked like they'd have stoned Mary Magdalene, and her friends, too.
One minister's face contorted as he spoke, "Homosexuality is offensive because it is a sin. People choose to commit this sin. My congregants should not have to hire gays and condone a sinful lifestyle they find offensive."
One of his followers spat out, "I should not have to rent to those people. I don't want them sinning in my properties."
This made me recall a minister I had dated who had cheated on me when I thought we were practicing abstinence. Nice, clean-cut looking fellow. Dirty rat.
The point is that these preachers consider both "fornication" and "homosexual acts" to be sins, so how can they justify discriminating against only gays? Because they think they know one when they see one, I suppose, as opposed to fornicators.
Of course, Christ taught we all are sinners -- a nondiscrimination policy if ever there was one.
It hurt my heart to see such intense hatred, to see a mob of ugliness, all in the name of Jesus Christ. To think, I chose to be baptized at age 12, to be a part of this?
A person of faith, I quit wearing a cross around my neck in public some years ago to avoid being identified with a growing "Christian" culture of bigotry and intolerance. After that County Council meeting, though, I'm finding it difficult even to pray: How can God let such hateful evil use His name?
I try to remember that "snakes in the garden have their purpose." The only way around hate is with love, so I spoke with a handful of the religious opponents after the council hearing.
I might have felt sorry for some of them when they complained of being "lumped in with the haters" -- except that they, too, opposed the anti-discrimination legislation by forwarding the same arguments as their hate-filled brethren.
"If we're forced to hire such people, we as a state are promoting that behavior."
"Our country was founded on religious principles. If we abandon those principles, we will fall, just like Rome did."
A little reassurance: According to scholars, travel agents and the pope, Rome still exists. It didn't "fall." It adapted. Rome's shrinkage was less attributable to a lack of morals than to lousy leadership and hoarding habits that took most gold out of circulation.
Ignorance fuels fear, fear fuels hate. We can never spiritually love one another if we fall prey to stereotypes and fear-mongering promoted by so-called religious leaders.
Some opponents of the anti-discrimination legislation wanted me to know that they're caring people, just afraid of the effect homosexuals might have on their families.
When I was in school, I saw great damage done to a young man ostracized as a "faggot" by his holier-than-thou Christian brethren, called unmanly by his own father and left unprotected by his mother against all the abuse. The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, on the other hand, showed him care and compassion.
Are we not our brothers' keepers, bound to love and protect everyone?
How do others see you?
Catholic? Protestant? Jew? Muslim? Black? White? Brown? Do you look "un-American"? What about Republican? Democrat?
Let's hope they don't assume you are gay.
Our laws should protect everyone. This is the only way to protect our own freedoms against those who might one day turn on you, or me, or us.
Angelle N. Guyette is an actor and freelance/ghost writer who lives in Pittsburgh ( AngelleNG1@aol.com ).