Members of grass roots advocacy group Ocean Grove United protested actor Kirk Cameron’s appearance Friday (July 27) at the “Love Worth Fighting For” program at the Camp Meeting Association’s Great Auditorium.
Led by a large rainbow colored banner that read “All Love is Worth Fighting For,” the group marched from Boswell Park on Cookman Avenue to stand in peaceful protest across from the Great Auditorium on Pilgrim Pathway.
“I thought my protesting days were behind me but Kirk’s words were too upsetting and divisive to let this go,” said Tony Caruso who marched with his partner of 40 years Brian Clark. “When someone says we are not entitled to the same life and rights as they are, we have to speak up. Preach love not hate.”
Earlier this year, Cameron stated on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” he believed homosexuality was “unnatural” and “detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.” He also said that he does not support same sex marriage.
Cameron’s comments and subsequent invitation to speak in Ocean Grove caused an outcry in the community not seen since 2007 when the Camp Meeting Association denied Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster permission to have their civil union ceremony conducted in a boardwalk pavilion.
“Mr. Cameron’s words denigrating homosexuality lead to intolerance as well as bullying,” said Bernstein, co-chair of Ocean Grove United. “His presence in Ocean Grove is a disservice to our entire community.”
According to organizers, approximately 200 members – gay and straight – participated in the protest directed at Cameron.
“The Camp Meeting should have thought twice about inviting Kirk,” said Janet Manni. “I love our gay community here and my friends and I made it a priority to come and speak up.”
Among the group holding posters that read “Kirk: Your Words Hurt Us” in front of the Great Auditorium was Helen Ford, a member of the Camp Meeting Association.
“I sent many letters over three months asking officials to uninvite Kirk and the response was almost a form letter,” said Ford. “Inviting Kirk is at odds with the teachings of Jesus. We are taught to respect and love everyone – love your neighbor as yourself.”
Asbury Park resident Amy Quinn felt it was important to support Ocean Grove United.
“(Cameron’s) hate is unnatural and destructive,” said Quinn. ”We felt it was important to come here and counter what he is saying.”
Prior to the Great Auditorium program, attended by a reported 500 people, ticket-holders expressed frustration with the protestors and praised Cameron for his work.
“Up until ten years ago I would have been on the other side of the street (with the protestors) – I was dating and having relations with men but did not want to be that way,” said a 34 year-old man from New York City who identified himself as Bruce. “God showed me that was not his plan and now my wife (of seven years) and I are here to learn how to be better spouses. I want to live for God and Kirk is sharing His word.”
Christopher Yax of Toms River, who came with his wife specifically to see Cameron, was more direct.
“These protestors are ridiculous,” said Yax. “They are struggling and confused and need to ask our savior for forgiveness. Kirk is doing something great by helping people strengthen their marriages.”
Cameron, who arrived with an off-duty police personnel driver, was unavailable for comment according to his spokesperson who added that the Camp Meeting Association was not allowing media to attend the program.
As Bernstein walked back to Boswell Park for a block party, she was pleased with the response from the community to Ocean Grove United’s message and hopeful for the future.
“The Camp Meeting Association has a new president and administrators who have been open about dialoguing with us,” said Bernstein. “They have met with members of our group and say they want to build bridges.”
Saturday (July 28), members of the Camp Meeting Association met for two hours with the Garden State Equality Youth Caucus where they discussed the impact of Cameron’s words on gay youth and bullying.
“Doors are opening,” said Bernstein. “We are hopeful.”