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Knoxville UU teens demonstrate for right to hold hands in public

After facing harassment, gay teens organize protest drawing 200.
By Jane Greer
8.4.06

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Knoxville teens demonstration

Knoxville teens organized and participated in a demonstration July 25 for the right for gay teens to hold hands in public. (Jamie Harris)

When UU teens Conrad Honicker and his friend Jake Green were harassed in a Knoxville city park earlier this spring for holding hands, they didn’t think it was a big deal. But when they brought this to Spectrum Café, a UU-funded program for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender teens at the Tennessee Valley UU Church in Knoxville, and discovered that they weren’t the only ones, they decided to do something about it.

At noon on Tuesday, July 25, the two teens, along with several others from the Spectrum Café and many supportive adults, organized a demonstration in Knoxville’s Krutch Park to support gay teens’ right to hold hands in public without being harassed. Around 50 teens—both gay and straight—took part along with about 150 adults. “We only expected 40 to 50 people,” Honicker said, “but we got 200. I was ecstatic!”

The protest featured a silent demonstration in which both teens and adults were invited to hold hands with someone of the same sex. Said Honicker in an introductory speech, “Remember every couple who has been judged, harassed, hurt for doing exactly what you will be doing. Think of them and know that by doing this you are making an unbelievably powerful statement.” After the silent demonstration, the group walked two–by–two down Knoxville’s Gay Street.

In addition to Honicker, speakers included the Rev. Christopher Buice, minister of the Tennessee Valley church, and ministers from Church of the Savior (UCC), and the Metropolitan Community Church, both in Knoxville.

And how did onlookers react to the demonstration? “It seemed to be very much live and let live,” said David Massey, adult coordinator at the café who helped the teens organize the event. “Because of this demonstration I think we’ve been able to create a safer space for our teens.”

Among those attending the demonstration were members of the Tennessee Valley congregation, Westside UU Church, also in Knoxville, and Oak Ridge UU Church.

A one–hour nonviolence training program was held the night before the rally in which participants learned how to defuse potentially threatening situations. At the urging of the church’s Board of Directors, concerned for the teens’ safety, the Knoxville police were notified and present at the demonstration, which proceeded without incident.

Spectrum Café, sponsored by the 425–member Tennessee Valley congregation, was set up as a welcoming place for bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender youth and is held on the first and third Saturdays of the month at the church. Funded by an initial grant of $4,000 from the UU Funding Program in 2000, the café has been in operation for six years. Anywhere from 6 to 30 teens might attend on any given evening, according to Massey, who has also been active with the church’s Welcoming Congregation program for more than ten years.

The demonstration generated a lot of media attention, with coverage by two TV stations and articles in the Knoxville News Sentinel, Out & About, and the Church Street Freedom Press.

“It’s been really gratifying seeing these teens evolve politically,” Massey said. “I’m glad we were smart enough to listen to them and follow their lead.”

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