Richmond residents rally against hateful speech


Virtually all of the speakers voiced support of LGBT teens and the RYSE center. The meeting was calm until they heard from the man who caused a big commotion two weeks ago. It took less than a minute for police to move in and for the crowd to shout down Richmond resident Mark Wassberg after his anti-gay comments.

Wassberg: I have the right to speak.

Mayor: No. I think you're talking hate speech. I'd like to ask you to take your seat. You're out of order! You're disrupting this meeting! Please escort him out!

Wassberg: And what's going to happen is if everybody turns gay, it'll be the end of the world because nobody will be making babies. If you want to shut me off...

Supporters of the LGBT community filled the Richmond City Council chambers because of what happened here two weeks ago. The city had presented a proclamation to LGBT teens from the RYSE Center naming June as "Gay Pride Month." Wassberg laughed while talking about a young gay man who committed suicide and said, "I think it's funny."

This week, his comments were widely challenged.

"How could you curse or damn somebody when there's so much hate in your heart yourself," Denise Henry, a Richmond teenager, said.

In the end, the LGBT supporters got what they wanted. Each member of the city council signed a pledge to speak out against hate and intolerance. Now a study session is scheduled in three weeks. The city council will bring in experts to discuss LGBT issues and it will be open to the public.

Protesters gathered for a rally ahead of the city council meeting. Their issue was not on the agenda, but the goal was to make sure that what happened at the last meeting, at the expense of some high school students, doesn't happen again.

A Richmond resident laughing loudly while talking about a young gay man committing suicide was just one of several comments made minutes after a group of high school students received a proclamation designating June as "Gay Pride Month" in Richmond.

Jenabi Pareja with Richmond's RYSE Center was escorting the group of gay teens who first gave a presentation and then accepted the proclamation. "They were angry. They were angry about it. They didn't feel supported by adults that were there," he said, referring to the teens.

Wesley Ellis, a local minister and member of the NAACP, also spoke. "Whatever your choice in life, that's up to you, not me. But the lord said, the lord said, Leviticus 18 and 22, 'It is an abomination,'" he said.

Council member Jovanka Beckles co-sponsored the gay pride proclamation. "We want to share that with our young people that we love them, that we accept them for who they are," she said.

Some took issue with designating June as "Gay Pride Month" because it coincides with the African American community's celebration of Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery. "You don't have time to talk about anything when it relates to the black folks," one man told the council.

But Wassberg's comments were considered by many to be the most offensive and told ABC7 he would not take back any of his comments. "Yeah. I'll do it again. I'll keep on doing it as long as I don't say anything about harming anybody," he said.

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