Harrison County

'No Hate' supporters, opponents air their views in Jones Park

GULFPORT -- They came in raincoats and with umbrellas Wednesday to Jones Park in Gulfport, and although the weather was rainy, the message was clear: "No hate in our state."

About 50 people gathered at noon at U.S. 90 and U.S. 49 to peacefully protest the recent passage of HB 1523, the "religious freedom" bill that could allow some entities to deny services to members of the LGBT community.

The "peace" was broken momentarily before the rally started when members of the protesting group went back and forth with Jackson County resident William Young. The self-proclaimed Christian said he was there to protest the protesters.

After a heated exchange, both sides went to their prospective corners, with the No Hate in Our State group holding signs with their slogan and Young with a large Bible he said had belonged to his family for a long time.

Lea Campbell, one of the organizers of the protest, said the group was hoping to send a message to Gov. Phil Bryant, who signed the legislation April 5. The law takes effect July 1.

Campbell said the message was also being extended to the Rev. Franklin Graham, who was holding a prayer rally Tuesday in Jackson as part of his Decision America Tour 2016.

"We're protesting HB 1523 and we're also protesting Franklin Graham's prayer rally in Jackson," she said.

Although Graham has not endorsed HB 1523, he has vocally supported a bill in North Carolina that requires people who identify themselves as transgender to use public bathrooms according to the gender they were born with.

"Graham has used a lot of hate terms regarding transgender people and we don't think that's something someone who calls himself a man of God should be promoting -- hate -- and we want to make a statement about that," she said.

Across the corner, Young continued his protest of the protesters. He said he wanted to use his work break to share his message.

"I'm not out here to promote hate -- the Lord knows I'm the chief sinner," he said. "We have to get back to God. They want their laws passed and it's starting to crumble the country."

Young said he planned to stay on the corner as long as the No Hate in Our State group was there.

"I don't mean this as any disrespect to them," he said. "It's not about hate, but we all have our points of views and not all of us agree with same-sex marriages."

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