September 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm EST | by Phil Reese
Conservative Va. church takes aim at Pride event

Rob Johnson is the vice president of an LGBT group in the Shenandoah Valley that has suddenly been receiving a lot of attention.

“It’s just been a whirlwind over the past 24, 48 hours,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s group, the Shenandoah Valley Gay and Lesbian Association, and LGBT employee groups at Merck Pharmaceuticals and MillerCoors near Elkton, Va., have become the target of the Bible Holiness Church and its pastor, Matt Homer. Homer argues that the Pride event the Merck group plans for Oct. 9 does not reflect Elkton’s values.

Though the SVGLA, nor MillerCoors is directly connected to the Festival, both groups have come under fire for expressing their support.

“I don’t know how we would come to an agreement on it,” Homer told the Blade, “We’re not against gay and lesbian people, but also they say it’s a civil rights issue, and that would lead to a marriage issue.”

Johnson said the festival is an opportunity to raise awareness about LGBT issues, not marriage.

“We’ve never said anything about gay marriage in this entire thing,” Johnson said. “No one has mentioned it but him. I think he’s using that as an inflammatory statement to get the community fired up.”

“Basically we’re just looking to get a story out there, trying to garner up some support for the people of this area,” Johnson told the Blade.

Johnson says that the area was once a more difficult place to be out, but that progress is being made.

“A lot of the people here in this area are still closeted to some degree, it’s a lot more open than it was 10 years ago, but a lot of people are afraid to speak out. There are a few that are very vocal — like myself — but a lot of them really aren’t.”

To Johnson, Pride is about not being ashamed of who you are.

“People of the LGBT community as well as their straight friends and family come together in a show of support,” Johnson said. “Just a feeling of togetherness.”

Johnson says that he has had to scale back his involvement in the Shenandoah Valley group because of the controversy.

Though Homer insists the church does not wish to discriminate against gay and lesbian people, his faith forces him to take exception with this group’s planned gathering.

“We believe that the Bible teaches against homosexuality,” Homer told the Blade. “If they were having an event to promote adultery, we would be protesting that as well.”

Last week, Homer urged members of his church to mobilize and use online tools to raise awareness about the group’s position. Homer enlisted the assistance of a parish member, Josh Shifflett, to set up a page on “” and a “Stop Elkton Pride Day” Facebook Page, which has attracted 277 fans.

“We’ve collaborated on what we could do to raise awareness of the issue,” Homer said. “I didn’t have a Facebook page in my name so we collaborated to raise awareness about the event.”

“As a board member of Shenandoah Valley Gay and Lesbian Association five years in a row, we did a Pride right here in Harrisonburg, right here in the center of the valley, and have never had any problems,” Johnson said.

He says the trouble only started when a group of employees at Merck decided to have a smaller scale Pride event in their own local community after visiting the Pride in Harrisonburg.

“The Facebook phenomenon has really helped, though,” Johnson said, referring to the social networking site that both sides have taken to in order to raise awareness for their cause.

“A lot of people have really jumped on board with their comments and everything,” Johnson said. “They try to comment on the “Stop Elkton Pride” page that the church put up, they’re trying to be cordial and diplomatic about it, not being hateful, as I instructed a lot of them to do. Their comments are remaining on that page for two or three minutes before being deleted off and those people being blocked.”

Pastor Homer claims the only comments deleted have been graphic in nature, contain profanity or are defamatory.

“People haven’t been deleted from the site just for conducting civil conversation,” Homer said.

“The church is censoring everything,” Johnson said of the Facebook fracas. “I put up a page in opposition to the ‘Stop Elkton Pride Page.’ In the description I state, except in the case of profanity, all comments will be left in plain view because I feel that that encourages a dialogue.”

“[Pharmaceutical] company Merck and Miller, probably the two largest local manufacturers in our area, are collaborating with the local Shenandoah Valley Gay and Lesbian Association,” Homer said. “They’re putting on the first annual Elkton Pride day. Well actually the event isn’t in Elkton, it’s on private property outside of Elkton.”

In fact, the alcohol-free event does have an Elkton address, according to the Facebook page, and Johnson confirmed that — while the event is outside of the town limits — the mailing address is still considered Elkton, but the pastor still insists the event does not reflect Elkton values.

“They’re inviting local businesses and inviting children and stuff like that so we felt we have the right to post our objection to it based on our values system,” Homer said. “We’re exercising our rights giving reasons why we disagree with it.”

According to the event’s Facebook page, “There will be free food, children’s activities, music, information booths and more!”

“There’s going to be children at this event,” Johnson said. “These children are children of LGBT people in the community.”

“It’s a nice family get-together,” Johnson continued. “They just don’t want anything being mentioned that pertains to the LGBT community in a positive light whatsoever.”

When asked whether the church has tried reaching out to the organizers to see if there can be any common ground found, Homer said they have.

“We have reached out,” Homer said, but he says the only response they received was a generic statement from Merck.

Johnson said he was unaware of the pastor reaching out to anyone involved in planning the celebration.

“They’ve been demanding that it be canceled,” Johnson said. “Just flat out.”


  • Kirk C

    Mr. Reese, I have a half dozen emails exchanged with “pastor matt” on the topic that I will be happy to share with you. pretty much exactly what you would expect from someone leading such an antigay campaign, but he was very chatty.

  • Rob J

    One detail I thought that I has stressed that keeps getting turned around, THE SVGLA & MILLER-COORS ARE NOT ORGANIZERS OF THIS EVENT!!! This an event ORGANIZED BY THE LGBT EMPLOYEE GROUP AT MERCK.

  • Ken C

    Why are these so-called christians so filled with hate? They are a disgrace to the name of Jesus Chrsit as he preached love and inclusiveness, not hate and rejection.

    • laurelboy2

      Because their interpretation of the Bible, to which they are entitled just like you and me, is that homosexuality is a sin. They have a right to free speech just like you and me. It’s up to the organizers of the event to prevail in the public debate of whether to have the pride fesitivities.

  • Putt

    Why Church-goers cannot come to their senses and realize that the world is not theirs to dictate? Like Straights, gays are humans too and as long as their pursuits of happiness do not harm others, they should be allow to progress! Who cares if others hold different views? There will always be different views, but I think it is crazy for one group to use their church doctrine to rule the lives of those who don’t attend their church!

    • laurelboy2

      They’re not dictating anything. If the organizers of the pride festivities prevail in the public domain of free speech and peaceful exchange of ideas, then the event will proceed. Everybody in America has the right to voice and exercise his/her right to free speech.

  • Pam

    I’m curious about something. Rob Johnson, if you are such a strong supporter of this event, why did you post on the Elkton Pride page that “effective immediately, I resign my position at VP of the SVGLBT board of directors.” You went on to state that you have had no role in organizing, nor were you contacted about organizing, the Elkton Pride Day celebration. So why resign over something you are so passionate about protecting? I’m confused!

    • Rob J

      When all of this first broke there was a lot of confusion as to what was going on, who was saying what, who was doing what, etc etc. At one point I simply washed my hands of the whole mess and said the heck with it. After things settled a little and everyone started realizing exactly what was happening and what was being said, I decided that the word needed to get out on the truth as to who was actually organizing this event and why. My resignation was rejected by the board of SVGLA and I still hold my position of Vice President in the organization. The reason for the public notice on the Elkton Pride page was because since the story broke, myself as well as another board member had been literally bombarded with requests for interviews and comments as the organizers of the events. That comment was to let everyone know that I had nothing to do with the organizing or planning so stop calling me.

  • Pam

    And the above comment is not meant to be construed as a “hate” comment in no means. I’m just confused as to what made you resign.

    • Rob J

      I did not take it as a hate comment at all. You had a justified question. It basically was a bunch of confusion from the start. After everything has settled some, I simply wanted to try to alleviate some of the confusion with this story.

      • laurelboy2

        I’m still confused. You claim to have had not much to do with the event, but this article portrays you as right in the thick of it. Do you think Phil Reese did a poor job reporting YOUR story??

  • Mountain

    A local pentecostal church wants attention. Rather than fight poverty, racism, violence against women, alcoholism, adultery or divorce in their own heterosexual relationships (cough cough), or any other real problems in their community, they choose to beat up on perhaps the most vilified group possible, homosexuals. How brave of them. While I am straight myself, I am a libertarian politically, and a former christian myself. Actions just like this are exactly the reason I have rejected their religion, why I support freedom of thought, why I support peaceful consentual relationship between adults including homosexuality, and why I oppose any effort to bully, intimidate, or incite violence against people who are our friends and neighbors in the name of religion.

    • laurelboy2

      I have been gay all my life (yep, I never played str8) and I’ve never felt vilified. I think you’re being a bit overly dramatic… but, thanks str8 guy (cough, cough) for your support even though everyone, including libertarians and the folks at the Bible Holiness Church, have a right to free speech and the unfettered exercise thereof.

      • Larry Stroupe

        I think you and I would probably get along famously :)

  • Larry Stroupe

    I am a gay man who would like to take opposition with some of Ron Johnson’s statements contained within this article. I live and grew up in neighboring Luray, I am openly gay and have been my entire 33 years living here, people aren’t afraid here that’s silly. Sure you will have to deal with the occasion fag or queer but hell I deal with more of that when I come to the city than I do here. Please Mr. Johnson the fear card is not an issue in this area in my openly gay opinion. Secondly, I have debated on the Stop Elkton Pride page with this pastor quite a bit and to say that he deletes comments as a “censorship” is total BS. I have never seen him delete anything except for what he stated to the Blade he deletes, which is his right. I have seen and read more hatred and gross miscarriages of opinion expressed by the gay community than by anyone supporting this church, and by the way I have seen Mr. Homer delete comments from his supporters as well. Mr. Johnson created a public facebook page about this event, he has that right. Mr Homer created a public facebook page in opposition to this event he has that right. Mr. Johnson should be thanking this church and pastor, it is because of them he got his name and story out there, it is because of them he will have a larger turnout at this event, it is because of them Mr. Johnson is having his 15 minutes of fame.

  • Arlene Ladusky

    The pride event doesn’t reflect Elkton’s values but apparently religious zealots do. I’m going to have to reread the Constitution to find the part that says everyone has a right to free speech provided everyone agrees with what’s being said.

  • mike rawlings

    Easy-peasy: you promise to keep 100s of LGBT people out of his church if he stays out of your LGBT event. Works like a charm…but be willing to get your friends to make the show if needed. God bless the USA and free speech

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