Two clusters of people stood on opposite sides of the block ‘M’ on the Diag at about noon yesterday. On one side, students from the Office of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Affairs were handing out buttons publicizing National Coming Out Week, which is this week.
On the other, Michael Venyah and Chris Lemieux of Soulwinners Ministries International were preaching that anyone who masturbates, lies, engages in same-sex relations or is Jewish, among many other things, will go to hell.
Venyah explained to the crowd of roughly 50 students that one of the girls in the crowd was going to hell for wearing a low-cut shirt.
“If she was a Christian she would be covered up – her chest would be covered up like my wife’s,” Venyah said.
Venyah and Lemieux aren’t strangers to controversy on campus. A year ago, they preached the same message. Yesterday, they received nearly the same agitated response from students as they did last fall.
Venyah turned to LSA junior Piotr Picz, asking him if he was Jewish. When Picz said yes, Venyah told him he was going to hell.
“He’s misinformed,” Picz said. “He misinterprets the Jewish bible to propagate his own agenda. He takes the old scripture and doesn’t read it correctly and tries to come up with something really hateful and he probably also forgets that Jesus himself was a Jew.”
When people in the crowd reminded Venyah that Jesus was Jewish, he responded: “Jesus was a Jew, but unlike you,” he said, pointing aimlessly into the crowd, “he didn’t sin.”
To show their displeasure, students in the crowd began to chant “asshole” at Venyah and Lemieux.
As the circle of spectators surrounding Venyah swelled, a more subdued group congregated on the steps of the Hatcher Graduate Library to watch a coming-out rally.
The commission kicked off the rally by prominently displaying a rainbow flag on the steps of the library and singing “Hail to the Victors.” The group also chanted, “Hey hey ho ho, preacher guy has got to go.”
At about 1 p.m., after the crowd began to disperse, students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender walked through a closet door set up on the steps of the library. The walk through the door symbolizes the student revealing his sexuality to the world.
Some students said Venyah and Lemieux brought much-needed attention to the kickoff of National Coming Out Week.
“We’re kind of excited because it brings out a crowd,” said Ashley Schwedt, co-chair of the University’s LGBT Commission. “It makes people realize how ignorant some people can be. We just want to stress the importance of visibility because silence never gets anything done.”
LSA senior Kolby Roberts, a programming intern at the Office of LGBT Affairs, said he was glad he attended the rally, even with the controversial preachers.
“It showed why we do what we do,” he said.
– Cole Merkel contributed to this report.