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|Anti-gay street preachers target North Ga. mountains|
|by Ryan Watkins|
|August 19, 2011 00:00|
The North Georgia mountain town of Helen was the target of an anti-gay demonstration on Aug. 13, featuring signs, gay slurs and even physical harassment, according to Mel Marsh, a transgender man from Covington who witnessed the event.
Marsh contacted the GA Voice about the demonstration in an email that was also sent to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the White County News.
“We witnessed a truly horrible anti-gay religious protest in the middle of the main strip of town. People shouting ‘Homo Sex is a Sin’ and calling people faggots and all around being a nuisance and not letting anyone get past them,” Marsh recalled in the email.
“They were also insulting everyone’s religion although this was primarily an anti-gay rally. They were also calling for our (gay people’s) deaths. These people were laying hands and grabbing patrons/customers and disrupting business and harassing everyone,” he said.
Helen is a recreated Alpine village that sits on the Chattahoochee River in White County, Ga. The town draws tens of thousands of tourists annually and is famous for its German-themed architecture, shops and river tubing during summer months.
Marsh said that he’s been visiting Helen for more than 25 years and had never seen anything like the demonstration.
“People are coming here with their kids,” he said in a telephone interview this week. “Why on Earth are they doing this crap in Helen?”
Helen and White County are far removed from the state’s LGBT hub in Atlanta, but local officials acknowledged that these types of demonstrations have occurred across the county in recent months.
“I was trying to not get too close,” Marsh said. “Not like you could because they were drawing a crowd.”
Marsh said he only saw one person countering the protesters. When Marsh cheered for the man, someone in the crowd attempted to spit on him, he said.
Helen Police Chief Ted Ray said in a telephone interview that he was aware of the demonstrations but did not know who organized them.
“It’s one of those things that people call and complain about the volume, about the loudness of the event, protest, whatever you want to call it,” Ray said.
Ray said he believed there were between four and six demonstrators that evening. Marsh estimated there were as many as a dozen protesters.
There were no reports of any physical confrontations, according to the Helen Police Department. No officers were stationed with the protesters.
“Like any other event, other night, we have people patrolling the area,” Ray said.
The demonstrators were not required to have a permit, according to Ray, because the event was religious in nature. Other demonstrations or protests would likely require a permit, he said.
“They’re not required to have permits for the nature of what they’re doing. It’s a religious-based type of event. If you’re marching or protesting a place or business, yes, you would have to have a permit. This doesn’t come under that criteria,” Ray said.
Ray believes that the same group has demonstrated in Helen before.
“They come here periodically,” he said.
The GA Voice could not confirm the identities of the protesters, but their tactics and signs are similar to an affiliation of Georgia street preachers who have taken anti-gay messages to events like Atlanta Pride and Augusta Pride, as well as local college campuses.
If you have more information about the identity of the protesters, please email [email protected].
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