Editors' Note: Guest blogger Gregory Hinton is an acclaimed author, filmmaker, and lecturer. His novels include Cathedral City, The Way Things Ought to Be and Santa Monica Canyon. His films include It's My Party and Circuit.
Last Saturday morning around 8:00 AM, at the corner of Clinton and La Brea in Los Angeles, at a Jewish School and Synagogue, I drove past a group of protesters of the "God Hates FAGS," "Jews Killed Jesus," "Obama is the anti-Christ," "Your Rabbi is a Whore" variety.
They seemed like pros. A cop car saw them and wheeled around. They did not interfere but stayed on the scene.
They had professional signage and were alternatively chanting hate-speak and singing Christian songs, as Jewish families with kids passed across the street to go into the school.
I had no camera, or anything to make a poster with, so I went home and grabbed what I could. All I could manage for a sign was a black Sharpie and piece of board. On it I scrawled the word "Shame."
I returned to the scene and the group was still shouting, but no one had stopped to oppose them.
Positioning myself across the street from from the haters, I held up my sign, and began to shout "Shame" in their direction.
I said a prayer. Please let my voice last. I shouted for at least ten minutes. All I knew is that I did not want to be the first to leave.
A passing Jewish couple told me not to bother. I was only encouraging them. A jogger yelled at me to go home, but not the bigots across the street. More cop cars showed up.
My voice was getting hoarser. (The protesters had bottled water and a bus stop bench to rest.) Still no one stopped.
The protesters conferred by cell phone. As if on cue, they suddenly stopped, packed their signs, and strolled laughing around the corner to a nearby red Ford Sedan parked directly across the school. I was still shouting "shame" as they drove away, probably to a new location.
My lone voice had outlasted them. I am very hoarse.
I photographed them, got their plates. Who on earth could they be, filled with such hate?
I had to pass the gate to the Jewish high school on the way to my own car. Several men behind the gates eyed me.
"Why didn't you help me?" I asked. "You saw I was alone."
"Because of your sign," one said. "It says 'shame.' We thought you meant it for us."
"I'm gay," I told them. "'I was protesting them! 'Shame' is a word our community uses to protest hate-speak and gay bashers. This is all I had on short notice."
"In the end it's a free speech issue," one remarked.
For the record, I'm not this guy. I don't usually stop, but today I felt compelled to. The signs were reminiscent of those attending the funeral of Matt Shepard, or the hate displayed upon the unveiling of the AIDS quilt at UCLA. To be clear, I count as friends many loving and inclusive Christians who would never condone this behavior.
Deflated, I headed for my car, filled with the old familiar self-loathing.
A passing cop slowed as he passed me. He surprised me by assuring me I had every right to speak up as long as no violence erupted. He told me to keep it up. I then glanced over my shoulder.
A very old Rabbi had followed me. He offered up the fringe of his prayer shawl, his Tallit.
I wasn't certain what I was supposed to do so I hugged him. Afterward, I noticed I had cut myself on my wooden sign. I'm fearful I may have gotten blood on his prayer shawl because when I got home I found it on my board called 'shame.'
"Thank you," he whispered, blessing me. "Thank you."