GULFPORT -- Resident and LGBT activist Charlotte Ferguson will host a protest rally over the state's "religious freedom" bill from noon to 2 p.m. Wednesday at Jones Park in the Gulfport harbor off U.S. 90.
The No Hate In Our State Rally will coincide with the Mississippi Prayer Rally that Christian evangelist Franklin Graham is holding at the state Capitol in Jackson. Franklin's rally is part of his Decision America 2106 Tour.
Rallies also are being organized in other Mississippi communities to counteract Graham's message, Ferguson said.
Ferguson pointed out that Graham has called transgendered people "pedophiles, perverts and predators."
"People are making statements like that that are totally untrue," the 61-year-old said. "It's a scare tactic. I guess they think their followers don't have brains."
Ferguson moved to the Coast from the Atlanta area in 2002.
"I'm so used to the Coast," she said. "I've always thought it was an inclusive area. But I also realize if you go in the country and north of I-10, it's not as inclusive."
House Bill 1523, which Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law, says government officials and employees, businesses and religious groups can refuse service to gays, transgender residents and people who have sex out of wedlock. The bill becomes law July 1.
Because the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, some religious groups say the law is needed to protect their rights, based on the belief that homosexuality is a sin.
The protest rally, Ferguson said, will be held rain or shine.
On Tuesday afternoon, the No Hate in Our State Facebook page listed 35 people as planning to attend and more than 200 as interested.
"I'm a Christian and most of my friends are Christian people that go to church every Sunday," Ferguson said. "Our God teaches us to love, not to hate."