After anti-gay protesters announced their intentions to show up at Friday”s Kiss-In rally on the Diag, the largest crowd in the event”s history turned out to show their unity as well as their pride.
The Kiss-In, sponsored by the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Affairs, capped Queer Visibility Week, which began Feb. 7. The rally was chosen as the week”s finale to support and showcase queer affection.
“LGBT people are often unsafe displaying public affection. The Kiss-In provides visibility for that affection and provides a safe place,” said Katherine Severs, one of the organizers of the event.
State Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor), the first openly gay member of the Michigan Legislature, started the rally by encouraging the crowd to come out of the closet.
Kolb also announced plans to work on extending anti-hate crime laws to include gay rights.
“We are not going to be quiet and we are not going to go back into the closet,” Kolb said. “Things are changing and things are getting better.”
Jim Toy, the founder of the first LGBT group in the country, praised Kolb and told him to move his fight to Congress.
“The closet is an upright coffin,” Toy said. “Michigan must come out of the closet of anti-queer bigotry.”
Frederic MacDonald-Dennis, director of the campus LGBT office, also spoke, praising the record-breaking crowd of hundreds for contributing to the “most successful week in the last 30 years.”
The Diag erupted in applause as he added, “no oppressed group has ever achieved freedom through silence … Stand tall. Stand proud. And most of all, be visible.”
Susan McGarry, pastor of St. Aiden”s Episcopal Church, spoke for area churches, welcoming the LGBT community. “God loves you. God loves us … God gave us from the get-go, from the start, an immeasurable amount of worth.”
LSA senior Naomi Baum came out and invited the crowd to join “the quest for equal rights … the final battle of the United States civil rights war.”
The energy of the crowd escalated throughout the hour, as more speakers made their way to the microphone and welcomed the University”s LGBT community.
A queer history lesson, given by Music and LSA junior Jim Leija, one of the organizers of the rally, was also a part of the hour. “Today, you are history,” Leija yelled out to the crowd. The lesson named such famous people as Virginia Woolf, Melissa Etheridge and Oscar Wilde as being members of the LGBT community.
“Today is dedicated to everyone who has ever caused change, and to everyone here today who is making change,” Leija said. “Come out, come out where ever you are, if you”re a queer, then you”re a star.”
Derek Anderson, a gay man infected with HIV, created the most sober moment of the hour by speaking about his experiences and the stigmas placed on HIV and the queer community. He asked that the community join him and demand equality in order to “eradicate the stigma.”
“Today we celebrate our queer identities openly and unapologetically,” Anderson said.
Following Anderson”s address, Tic-Tac breath mints were handed out to the crowd and public displays of affection ensued.
“The event was very supportive. It shows that a lot of people do care about the cause and the significance of it,” said Eastern Michigan University senior Cara Miller.
“It was amazingly successful, the best attendance I have ever seen at any such rally. It was largely due to the presence of the feeling of the present attack. The enemy was very clearly defined. It created the need for people to stand out in the cold,” Severs said.