Anti-gay protesters met by counterprotesters in Guerneville
After a three-week hiatus, Guerneville Plaza was again the site of anti-gay protesters whom some locals say are simply hatemongers.
Some self-described members of the "Pizza Box Brigade," gathered Wednesday to counter protest.
Holding handmade signs painted on pizza boxes, the counter-protesters said the demonstrators are spreading the kind of message that’s not welcome in their famously queer-friendly town.
Suzy Kuhr, owner of Smart Pizza, located on the plaza, was among those on Wednesday holding up a sign reading: “Jesus loves me and my girlfriend.”
She said the religious demonstrators, who come from various other areas outside Guerneville, have seemed to target the plaza which is surrounded by businesses and homes, yelling at pedestrians not to eat at her business due to the rainbow LGBTQ flag displayed out front.
“There has been no effect, if anything we get more business,” Kuhr said.
“There’s no room for hate here,” Kuhr said from her pizza shop, as the demonstrators continued to yell outside. “There’s no need for it.”
The idea for the Pizza Box Brigade came from one of her employees, Louis Britton, who was the first person to paint a pizza box sign about three weeks ago. Someone took a photo of him standing next to the religious demonstrators and that photo circulated the internet, including Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins’ Facebook page.
“They got pretty evil ― I just took it in stride,” Britton said.
So, Kuhr and other business owners nearby, including owners of Sonoma Nesting Company, formed the “Pizza Box Brigade,” donating pizza boxes and painting them to hand out in case the anti-gay group returned.
And they did. So the group of six, who said they were not part of any formal organization, were outnumbered by at least twice the amount of counter protesters on Wednesday.
Loi Nguyen, of San Francisco, a member of the anti-gay religious group, said they’ve held similar demonstrations across California, including at UC Berkeley, Sebastopol and San Francisco, but have been focusing on Guerneville because of the foot traffic.
The group, whose members come from Oakland, San Francisco, Mendocino County and Humboldt County, said they were there to spread “God’s message.”
But, the way they have spread that message― using bullhorns, blasting gospel music, and shouting at pedestrians ― has warranted numerous calls to law enforcement.
Sgt. Ryan Russell of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office was at the plaza Wednesday to “find some common ground” with the religious demonstrators, dissolve tensions and decrease disruption to local businesses.
He was able to get the group to stop using bullhorns. They left shortly after.
Jake Hamlin, who co-owns the Sonoma Nesting Company, an antiques store located near the plaza, said it’s been hard to ignore their “screaming and yelling.”
He said he can even hear them from inside his home which sits next to his business.
He hopes the pizza box signs will show the community that the town remains a place full of love and acceptance.
And Hamlin hopes that the community’s message to the anti-gay protesters is clear: “Please, get out of our town. You don’t live here.”
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