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Around 100 individuals, most enhanced by brightly colored rainbow accessories, marched up and down Ferndale’s sunny Main Street Saturday afternoon during a quickly planned Pride demonstration, which ended up being the first such gathering in the Cream City’s history. The crowd was warmly received by honking passing motorists and Ferndale’s downtown patrons.
But while the day’s festivities ended up joyous, they were spurred by controversy. Saturday’s event was planned, in part, as a response to a sign recently assembled outside St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, still visible Saturday, which read “Hurt by LGBTQ culture? Healing here.” As the Outpost reported previously, the display caused quite negative stir in local social media circles, so much so that the decision was made that today’s march would begin at St. Mark’s. Several people in attendance Saturday told us they’d made the trip across Fernbridge after seeing St. Mark’s sign online.
What demonstrators might not have expected was that they would be met in front of St. Mark’s by Tyrel Bramwell, the church’s pastor, who showed up, Bible in hand, to greet the crowd and to offer them bottles of water, conversation and/or prayer. A camera with a fuzzy microphone attachment was set up in front of the church behind him in anticipation of the coming interaction.
“I’m just here to make sure that everything’s OK and if people want to talk, we’re here,” Bramwell told the Outpost while standing beside a tower of water bottles. “We invite people to come and hear the word of the Lord. Know that we love them and Jesus loves them. We want to talk. This is an invitation for healing.”
As sign-wielding protesters began arriving, the pastor was quickly overwhelmed by questions about his sign. One of his inquisitors was Chris Tanner, a gay artist from New York City who often visits his 95-year-old mother in Ferndale. Tanner told the Outpost that he was “kind of feeling bad because all my friends are in New York celebrating pride.” But then his mom’s caregiver sent him a photo of the St. Mark’s sign and alerted him of Saturday’s demonstration.
“I’m so happy this is happening. I’m so happy to be here,” Tanner said. While he wouldn’t characterize himself as a Christian, when Tanner visits Ferndale he accompanies his mother to Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, a LGBTQ-affirming congregation across town. “My main rule is to treat people how you would want them to treat you.”
Tanner had questions for the pastor, and he pressed for some clarification on why people would need healing from the LGBTQ culture alluded to on the St. Mark’s sign.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in the LGBTQ culture,” Bramwell told him.
“Like what?” Tanner wondered.
“There’s all the different letters, right?” Bramwell replied. “There’s lesbians. There’s gay. There’s bi. There’s trans. And then there’s the plus. The “IA.” All the stuff. And if any of that has hurt you in any way, if you’re hurt by it there’s a place to come and be healed.”
Tanner: “Why would anybody be hurt by that?”
Bramwell: “Well, it is sinful.”
Tanner: “It’s sinful?”
Bramwell: “Scripture does say that. And we stand on scripture.”
(You can watch more of Bramwell and Tanner’s exchange and the escalation of Saturday’s spectacle in the clip below.)
More people joined Tanner in confronting Bramwell. Several expressed that they’d been hurt in the past by the judgment they’d felt from religion. The discussion escalated and eventually the pastor simply opened his Bible and launched into an impromptu sermon, adding long passages of scripture about humans’ sinful nature. As his voice got louder, the crowd responded with singing and chants of “Love is love!”
Stuart Altschuler, a gay Ferndale resident who’s dealt with homophobia locally in the past, quietly took in the scene. He told the Outpost that he’d expected something like this to play out. While he’d had a negative reaction to the sign upon learning of its existence, he called Pastor Bramwell the day prior and that the two had a 45-minute “productive conversation.”
“The attitude was, ‘I’m not going to change his mind, he’s not going to change my mind,’” Altschuler said. “But at least there’s a different level of connection and understanding that went on even though I don’t agree with anything they teach. Without dialogue there’s no healing at all and every little bit helps.”
Despite the sign dustup and past experiences, Altschuler said that he loves living in Ferndale.
“98% of Ferndale is allies and friends, and I believe that totally,” Altsschular said. “The amount of people in Ferndale that take this stance is minor compared to those who don’t. I feel very safe and welcome here.”
And so it was that Ferndale ended up hosting its first Pride walk. The Outpost snapped some pictures of the historic day which are included below.