The Crusaders For Equality

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Seven-year old Madison tried to teach me how to play her Nintendo 3DS this week. It’s about the size of an index card and my eyes have faded to the point I keep magnifying glasses from the dollar store in the silverware drawer because I can no longer read the directions on the back of food boxes. I never really had a chance with Nintendo. I think we both knew that going in.

Maddie: First thing is you have to choose a game.
Me: Do you have Space Invaders? I was always good at that.
Maddie: (With a quick shake of the head as if she were rejecting useless information.) Do you want Mario or Sonic?
Me: I do like the Sonic hot dogs.
Maddie: That won’t help.
Me: Do you have Kaboom where the balloons blow up?
Maddie: (With another rejectionist head shake.) We’ll play Yoshi’s Island. Now you have to choose what character you want to be. But not Princess Peach. I’m always Princess Peach.
Me: (Squinting at the line of bug sized images.) Oh look, Mario has a boyfriend. I didn’t even know he was gay.
Maddie: That’s Luigi. They’re not gay, they’re brothers. That’s why they call it Mario BROTHERS. They’re plumbers.
Me: So his name is Mario Mario?
Maddie: You’re going to die very quickly if you don’t take this seriously.

So I let her teach me how to jump and throw and collect glowing objects, and after a few minutes she announced I was ready for my first suicide mission as Luigi Mario, brother of Mario Mario.

Maddie: I think you’re ready.
Me: (Making a show of wiggling my fingers to loosen them up.) Any last words of advice?
Maddie: (Dead serious) Just remember, sometimes you go looking for the battle, but sometimes the battle comes to you.

It took me about thirty seconds to end Luigi’s life. I’m not even sure what happened, but I was afraid I’d lose Maddie’s respect if I asked. To be fair, I really think I could take little miss gamer and her dismissive head shakes at Kaboom.

It’s now ten minutes later and Princess Peachy is still taking her turn, but she has given me my opening for today’s Radar: “Sometimes you go looking for the battle, but sometimes the battle comes to you.

The young group of friends from Marion County, Illinois who are On Our Radar this week, did not go looking for battle. This battle came to them.

Shortly after marriage equality became a reality in Illinois, these three billboards appeared at the corner of Routes 13 and 148, by the Marion Airport, in the community where our friends live:

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The billboards were erected by members of Church Without Walls, whose website says its mission is “to evangelize the lost; make disciples through example and action.” Church Without Walls claims they: “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord” and warn others to: “Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, rebuke and expose them.” They must have missed the irony of their own worthless deed – erecting those hurtful billboards – which has certainly run afoul of Matthew 7: “Judge not lest ye be judged.”

It was only natural that the friends would discuss the appearance of those billboards. Most of them are gay.  Jessica Mayo and Becky Potter plan to marry this coming Halloween. Zakk and Matt Mitchell are in a civil union. Cassie and Meagan Pulliam plan to take advantage of Illinois’ new marriage equality law soon.  They’re young couples just starting their lives together. It must have seemed like the billboards were targeting their dreams.

It would have been easy for the friends to ignore the homophobic messages. Thousands of others who find them offensive do so every day. They could have vented their irritation with a choice comment shouted out the window or a show of the middle finger from the privacy of their cars. They could have commiserated with one another and moved on. Instead, the three couples and their friends, Bethany Groves and  Vickie Valentine, decided not to let the Church Without Walls’ message of hate to go unchallenged.

The group started where everyone starts now, with a Facebook Page. They discussed raising money to buy their own competing sign, but quickly decided if they had that kind of money, it would be better used to help someone in need – another line of reasoning the Church Without Walls seems to have missed.

So they planned a month of protests. They made signs. They kicked around calling themselves Crusaders for Equality. They reached out to local TV news and to news sites like ours. They got their friends involved. And then they did the hard work; every day standing on the corner in the cold and wet weather that is trying to pass as early spring, thank you global climate change. Holding up signs. Trying to build a movement inside their small bible belt community in southern Illinois to end the Church Without Walls’ messages of hate.

Here are some photos of their ongoing protest:

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Sometimes you go looking for the battle, but sometimes the battle comes to you. When the battle came to their neighborhood, the young men and woman who call themselves Crusaders for Equality took their places on the front lines. All of us hope we do as well when it is our time to stand and defend our values against those who hate.

Well done Crusaders for Equality. May your numbers grow and your message prevail. 

 

Photos via Jes Mayo

 

tncrmJean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered or friend me on Facebook.

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