WESTERLY — A sign promoting marriage as a union between men and women that was put up in front of Immaculate Conception Church during a rosary rally is drawing intense scrutiny on social media. Taking offense to the sign, two residents have planned their own event in support of people who identify as lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender and those who are unsure of their sexuality or questioning.
The sign was up in front of the church on High Street for about one hour on Oct. 13. The Rev. Giacomo Capoverdi, the church’s pastor, was out of town this week and did not return multiple calls and other messages seeking comment for this article. Church representatives said Capoverdi is the only person authorized to speak on behalf of the church.
“I was really disheartened by the sign,” said Megan Toscano. “When I saw it on Facebook it put a pit in my stomach but from what I see it doesn’t reflect what this town believes.”
Toscano and her friend, Kristal Francese, have organized an event they are calling “Love is Love Westerly Citizens for LGBTQ Rights.” The event, scheduled for Sunday at 11 a.m., will begin with a gathering outside the Westerly Library and will then move across the street to the stairs of Town Hall. As of Friday, more than 130 people indicated on Facebook that they planned to attend.
The event is not a protest but instead one that will focus on support, Francese said. She said people who have responded to an invitation to the event represent a broad spectrum of society.
“There’s a diversity of groups and political views and religions, which is really cool, coming together to show support,” Francese said.
Toscano said she hopes the event will generate discussion and a sense of community. “We want to be inclusive and meet each other and talk with love in our hearts rather than hate. We’re going to rise above that — this is a love event,” Toscano said.
The sign’s message said, “God’s Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman.” The exact same type of sign with the same message has been used at rallies across the country as part of America Needs Fatima, an effort to promote the Virgin Mary’s call for conversion to Catholicism during the apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.
While the church has a right to promote its views, Francese said she wonders how to reconcile the sign with Pope Francis’ call for the church to embrace transsexuals and homosexuals. The pope has also said that families should be founded on marriage between men and women.
Toscano agreed the church had a right to post the sign. “But it has spurred something in us, a reaction. Rather than being negative we’re trying to do something positive,” Toscano said.
Priests and ministers from different churches in the area have contacted Toscano after learning about the event scheduled for Sunday. “I’m hoping this might start a communitywide discussion about these issues,” she said.
As a mother of young children, Toscano said she felt compelled to act. “I don’t want my children to think they live in a community filled with hate and exclusion,” Toscano said.
The Malted Barley will serve special “love pretzels” made in the shape of hearts and sprinkled with rainbow salt after the event. Colin Bennett, co-owner of the High Street restaurant and bar, said he was happy to make the second second floor of his establishment available as a place for those who attend to meet up again after the event. “We make our place available to all kinds of people and groups looking for a place to eat and meet up. This is no different,” Bennett said.
Bennett declined to comment on the social or potential political aspects of the event except to say, “It’s kind of what we’re all missing. We’re all so extreme. Why can’t we respect each other’s views and be humans together?”
A discussion of the sign on the Westerly Concerned Citizens Facebook page drew dozens of comments. Most of the commenters took a position in opposition to the sign and its message, although some defended the church’s teachings and right to display the sign.
In conjunction with the Sunday event, Toscano and Francese have organized a GoFundMe fundraiser to benefit The Trevor Project, an organization that maintains a 24-hour suicide-prevention hotline for LGBTQ youth. As of Friday $1,095 had been raised. For more information vist https://www.gofundme.com/westerly-citizens-foe-lgbtq-rights.