In what Gay Liberation Network's ( GLN's ) Andy Thayer called Arlington Heights' largest LGBT demonstration ever, more than 120 protesters filled the sidewalk in front of the Christian Liberty Academy Aug. 5 to condemn a program that they say, teaches youth to hate gay people.
Americans for Truth About Homosexuality ( AFTAH ) , an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has officially labeled a hate group, launched its "Truth Academy" Aug. 5. According to the AFTAH website, the program is intended to "teach pro-family advocates how to answer homosexual misinformation."
Some of those advocates are as young as 14 years old, Thayer said.
"We're not going to give an inch to this kind of hate," Thayer said. "We're not going to take the ignore it and it will go away approach, which has proven so disastrous in history."
Thayer has previously faced off against AFTAH's founder, Peter LaBarbera. ( LaBarbera once led the conservative group the Illinois Family Institute. ) He likened LaBarbera's anti-gay campaign to that of Anita Bryant, the former beauty queen who famously took on Harvey Milk.
Protesters ranged from young people with makeshift drums to PFLAG grandparents, and hailed from Chicago and several suburbs. Some high school students attended with their parents. Protesters marched in circles in front of the academy under rainbow flags provided by GLN. Above them, an academy sign read: "Truth is not hate, except for those who hate the truth."
Speakers accused LaBarbera of brainwashing children to hate gay people.
LaBarbera and other AFTAH representatives came out to confront protesters, shaking hands with demonstrators, smiling and laughing.
"I think you can disagree without hating people," LaBarbera told Windy City Times. "We're teaching our values."
But Cindy Grossman, whose son is gay, called teaching kids that gay people are sinners "child abuse," and one protester likened LaBarbera to Hitler.
But both AFTAH and the protesters publicly defended each other's right to disagree.
"This academy thinks it's teaching the truth, and I'm standing here in my lived truth," Barbara Marian, a PFLAG mom.
Despite taunts from protesters, AFTAH representatives appeared calm, debating with activists for nearly an hour. Several AFTAH supporters filmed the protest and took pictures of demonstrators, agitating the crowd. The Arlington Heights Police Department reported 10 officers on duty for the event, and AFTAH also had its own in-house security team present. The protest ended without incident.