tampabay.com

New mix for pride, protest

By STEPHANIE GARRY
Published June 21, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Last year, participants in the St. Pete Pride parade and street festival clashed with protesters wielding megaphones and signs. This year, the city enacted new rules for conduct at such events. Protesters will be limited to a "free speech area, " and police can fine or arrest people who carry signs or use sound amplification in the parade route. The Times spoke with Brian Longstreth, the coordinator for St. Pete Pride, and Larry Keffer, the Tampa preacher who led last year's protest, about homosexuality and the new restrictions. 

On the new restrictions

Brian Longstreth: "The other option was not to do anything. If we were going to have a repeat, it probably wouldn't have been as peaceful as it was last year. We were very fortunate that it didn't escalate into anything worse than it did. ... I think this is in some ways appropriate for the improper actions of those protesters.... They're essentially going to have a booth at the festival. The protest zone is immediately adjacent to the street. Their booth will be bigger than anybody else's, and they didn't have to pay for it."

Larry Keffer: "I think it's very sad, because what's going to happen now is their legal department is going to have to scrutinize every permit. Because now it's not the ordinance that needs to be looked at but the permit that is pulled, because if you violate any condition of a permit then you're in violation of a local ordinance, hence you're breaking the law, hence you can be arrested. The silence of this community is deafening. I can't believe people are willing to sit back and let their rights be taken."

Were the protests themselves offensive?

Longstreth: "When you start using the language they were using, when you start attacking children, when you start attempting to provoke a response, you've crossed that line of free speech. It's unfortunate that it was allowed to go on last year."

Keffer: "When society or people in society think God's word is offensive or hateful, then that society is in deep trouble. ... What I'm doing is going out there and preaching the gospel. I'm quoting scripture right out of the Bible. ... We just go out and share the truth and love."

Does the Bible condemn homosexuality?

Longstreth: "I believe (protesters) are following an interpretation of the Bible that not everybody agrees with. ... There's a lot of other verses in Leviticus that if people followed it would be a real strange community that we live in. I think to have a strict interpretation of picking and choosing which ones that they want to use is a dangerous thing."

Keffer: "Leviticus 18:22: 'Thou shalt not lay with mankind like with womankind, it is an abomination.' Abominable means detestable. Do you know what the next sentence says? The next sentences talks about having sex with animals. That's the grouping."

St. Pete Pride parade and street festival

When: Parade begins at 10 a.m., street festival 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 30. The festival will include more than 275 vendors, a food court and live entertainment.

Where: Central Avenue between 22nd and 28th streets.

Info: www.stpetepride.com or (727) 365-0544.