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Monday, March 04, 2024

Dove World Outreach Center protests festival

12:30 p.m.: Across from Fran Ingram lies a pile of white signs that read, "Homo leads to Hell" and "God loves you, but…"

Ingram, along with about 25 other members of the Dove World Outreach Center, prepared the signs to hoist while marching alongside Gainesville's LGBT community at Saturday's Pride Parade.

Ingram said her favorite sign is one that she has used often at past demonstrations: "Repent."

"Walk into any bookstore and see how much they dump shit on Jesus," she said. "I feel so sad that these people have chosen a lifestyle that brings societal and eternal death."

For Ingram, Saturday was more than getting recognition; it was about getting people saved. For the members of DWOC, it's about paying the price for redemption.

Ten-year-old Faith Sapp, whose father, Wayne, is a pastor at the church, is familiar with paying for her views. On her second day of fifth grade, Sapp noticed that nobody would play with her, she said. When she confronted her classmates, they told her that their parents forbade them from talking to "that girl from the church."

"It didn't feel right," she said. "I've known these people for years, and it was like they just disappeared. [Friendship] doesn't just grow legs and walk away."

But Sapp remains convinced what they are preaching is God's message.

"Bible clearly states that a man shall not lie with another man," she said. "It's Adam and Eve - not Adam and Steve."

According to Ingram, the church has no choice but to speak out.

"Keeping to ourselves is simply not an option," she said. "On judgment day, God will hold us accountable if we choose to be negligent."

1:05 p.m.: The crowd of worshipers, adorned in its trademark "Islam is of the Devil" shirts, stands in a circle waiting for their leader, the Rev. Terry Jones, to emerge from the church's doors. The fervor that ran through them minutes before turns to solemnity as Jones makes his way to address the crowd.

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"We're looking for a few people who want to find a way out of this lifestyle," said Jones, who has a movie poster of "Braveheart" hanging in his office as inspiration.

"It may get nasty; homosexuals can be very aggressive. Now is your chance to back out," he said.

But no one moved. After a quick prayer that has church members looking toward the sky and speaking in tongues, they pile into a white van and Sapp's truck and trek down U.S. Route 441, bound for the Bo Diddley Community Plaza.

1:35 p.m.: After pulling their signs from the van, the congregants begin to make the journey down East Third Street. Gainesville Police Lt. Keith Kameg, who is on detail for the Pride Festival, quietly meets with Jones and Sapp and lays out the guidelines: Marching on the sidewalk across the street from the plaza is allowed; going through the gates of the plaza is not.

Respectfully, Jones and Sapp agree and lead their flock around the plaza, holding their signs high up for all to see. Onlookers see the white shirts and take aim.

"Make way for God's chosen people!"

"You should be ashamed of yourselves."

"Go burn some more witches!"

As they make their way around the plaza, others join to march with them - but not for them.

James Davis and Wylie Lenz, UF English graduate students, tail the church in silent mock devotion, holding up signs with biblical passages that call for the ban of shellfish and the cutting off of a woman's hand should she touch a man's genitals during a fight among the men.

"They seem to have a lot of misdirected energy," said Davis, who is gay. "They're marching right by where a lot of homeless people live, and they're concerned with romantic partners. That doesn't make sense to me."

According to Lenz, the protesters' message is one of violence.

"I'm not even gay, and this is pissing me off," he said.

1:55 p.m.: What started out as a few people has morphed into a thick following, as a herd marches alongside those protesting the protesters. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders surround Jones and congregants, hoping to draw response.

"We're used to the heat, Christians; after all, we're going to hell anyway," yelled Joel Bryant, who was voted Miss University Club. "You know Jesus had two daddies."

According to Bryant, his eternal fate has already been decided.

"I'm going to hell in a handbasket that is fierce and bedazzled," he said.

Congregants continue to march.

2:45 p.m.: The resistance following has mostly tapered off. The noise coming from the plaza, which was raging with throbbing music when the Pride Festival began, has settled down. Drivers in passing cars continue to shake their heads at the church and shout from windows.

"It's funny that those who want us to be 'more tolerant' are the ones who are yelling," the elder Sapp said.

The sun is beginning to wear on the sign-holders. After a few more walks around the plaza, they decide to call it a day.

"This isn't about winning and losing," Jones told his followers. "Today is about doing what's right."

Although none of the revelers renounced their lifestyle, DWOC members aren't disheartened.

"What we're doing isn't mean," said Andy Boecken, 17, who marched alongside his family. "What would really be mean is if we didn't offer them salvation."

3:20 p.m.: Having offered all the salvation they could muster, church members trudge back to their cars, exhausted but satisfied.

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