Guest Blogger

Shame and blood on a prayer shawl

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 21, 2009 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: anti-gay, anti-Semitism, Fred Phelps, prayer shawl, protesting bigots, shame, Westboro Baptist Church

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Gregory Hinton is an acclaimed author, filmmaker, and lecturer. His novels include Cathedral City, The Way Things Ought to Be and Santa Monica Canyon. His films include It's My Party and Circuit.

Last Saturday morning around 8:00 AM, at the corner of Clinton and La Brea in Los Angeles, at a Jewish School and Synagogue, I drove past a group of protesters of the "God Hates FAGS," "Jews Killed Jesus," "Obama is the anti-Christ," "Your Rabbi is a Whore" variety.

They seemed like pros. A cop car saw them and wheeled around. They did not interfere but stayed on the scene.

They had professional signage and were alternatively chanting hate-speak and singing Christian songs, as Jewish families with kids passed across the street to go into the school.

I had no camera, or anything to make a poster with, so I went home and grabbed what I could. All I could manage for a sign was a black Sharpie and piece of board. On it I scrawled the word "Shame."

I returned to the scene and the group was still shouting, but no one had stopped to oppose them.

Positioning myself across the street from from the haters, I held up my sign, and began to shout "Shame" in their direction.

I said a prayer. Please let my voice last. I shouted for at least ten minutes. All I knew is that I did not want to be the first to leave.

A passing Jewish couple told me not to bother. I was only encouraging them. A jogger yelled at me to go home, but not the bigots across the street. More cop cars showed up.
My voice was getting hoarser. (The protesters had bottled water and a bus stop bench to rest.) Still no one stopped.

The protesters conferred by cell phone. As if on cue, they suddenly stopped, packed their signs, and strolled laughing around the corner to a nearby red Ford Sedan parked directly across the school. I was still shouting "shame" as they drove away, probably to a new location.

My lone voice had outlasted them. I am very hoarse.

I photographed them, got their plates. Who on earth could they be, filled with such hate?

I had to pass the gate to the Jewish high school on the way to my own car. Several men behind the gates eyed me.

"Why didn't you help me?" I asked. "You saw I was alone."

"Because of your sign," one said. "It says 'shame.' We thought you meant it for us."

"I'm gay," I told them. "'I was protesting them! 'Shame' is a word our community uses to protest hate-speak and gay bashers. This is all I had on short notice."

"In the end it's a free speech issue," one remarked.

For the record, I'm not this guy. I don't usually stop, but today I felt compelled to. The signs were reminiscent of those attending the funeral of Matt Shepard, or the hate displayed upon the unveiling of the AIDS quilt at UCLA. To be clear, I count as friends many loving and inclusive Christians who would never condone this behavior.
Deflated, I headed for my car, filled with the old familiar self-loathing.

A passing cop slowed as he passed me. He surprised me by assuring me I had every right to speak up as long as no violence erupted. He told me to keep it up. I then glanced over my shoulder.

A very old Rabbi had followed me. He offered up the fringe of his prayer shawl, his Tallit.

I wasn't certain what I was supposed to do so I hugged him. Afterward, I noticed I had cut myself on my wooden sign. I'm fearful I may have gotten blood on his prayer shawl because when I got home I found it on my board called 'shame.'

"Thank you," he whispered, blessing me. "Thank you."

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

For those not familiar with L.A., the area that Mr. Hinton writes about is commonly known as the "Fairfax Area" and is a concentration of Hasidic Jewish population. Actually, La Brea runs north-south and is generally considered to be the eastern edge of it.

For a "Christian" group to go into this area with such a protest would be like the KKK going into the middle of Watts (except I am sure the African-American and Latino residents of Watts would not have reacted so coolly). It was totally egregious and unjustifiable for the "Christian" group to be so aggressive.

Unfortunately, the population there has seen impromptu demonstrations like this before. The bad news is that they are "used to it" --- they took an "Oh, them again!" attitude, if you found. The good news is that the community probably has a collective plan, explicit or implicit, on how to react --- and apparently they choose to ignore such events if they do not progress beyond a certain point and don't occur with frequency.

OTOH, the policeman was right --- you have a right to counter-demonstrate if you feel you must. Although I can identify with you getting "the old familiar self-loathing" afterward it is mysterious why we should react this way. You did something courageous, and the policeman and the rabbi were both obviously proud of you --- and you have every reason to be proud of yourself and the action that you took.

I think you did a tremendous thing. No one should have nasty, hurtful, false things shouted at them just for living. I hope in the future, more people will take the initiative to stand up against hateful groups. Seeing groups like this sucks, no matter how used to it people are.


Your movie It's My Party brought me to tears. Your courage is just as moving.

Regan DuCasse | October 21, 2009 10:30 PM

I LOVE you for making your feelings known. That's stomping ground for me. I shop at Cochran's Produce, and have shopped the Fairfax stores for years to get real Turkish delight, excellent honey cake and afoolah and bourekahs.
You were just a block from the NCJW, who have endorsed marriage equality.

Although it seems like no one came along to shout with you, you did a mitzvah and deserve praise.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | October 21, 2009 11:06 PM

It took courage to stand up along like that, publicly, in the face of such ugliness. I'm not a believer in any god, but still I say, "Bless you."


Outstanding work. Agreed with Its My Party--I own both Its my party and Circuit!

Your piece is powerful and deserves a lot more attention. I hope that your story resonates with others and they share it widely. You're a magnificent wordsmith!

"except I am sure the African-American and Latino residents of Watts would not have reacted so coolly"

Do pray tell, how would we have reacted?

Me being one of them Latinos...

I have lived repeatedly in racially mixed neighborhoods, and it is not my experience that blacks and/or Latinos would ignore a demonstration against them in their own neighborhood, as the Jewish people did in this story. This experience includes a drive through the middle of Watts on the afternoon of the Rodney King verdict in April 1992.

True, I am making an assumption, but it is an assumption based soundly on my own past experiences.

If you insist I am wrong, go to any barber shop in the middle of Watts on a Saturday afternoon and yell the N-word at the top of your lungs.

Then, as you take your final breaths, tell them it was just an academic exercise.

Or maybe it would be simpler if you just knocked that chip off your own shoulder.

The group you were protesting was members of the Topeka Fred Phelps Klan. On Friday they were split into 4 groups picketing in NYC,LA, San Diego and Lincoln, NB.

Being the equal bigots they are in San Diego, They picketed San Diego High School where the GSA organized a great counter demonstration, a couple of synagogues, and a megachurch. In other cities they were picketing at synagogues also.

Thanks for standing up to them. It is a shame others did not join you. The Phelps had their itinerary published on their webpage for a week or so before the event. The LA G&L Center should have helped organize some counter demonstrations.

Andrew Conte | October 22, 2009 7:52 AM

Gregory, Thank you.

Your actions were brave, indeed. But I recall after the Prop 8 defeat a quite different and equally disturbing experience. We were walking south on LaBrea on our way to El Cayote when we past a rather substantial-sized group of Jewish men and boys standing outside their synagogue. The young boys, from ages 6 to high school, were giving we, the marchers/protesters, the finger and shouting anti-gay epithets. Many around where we were walking were stunned and commented how the oppressed had becomed the oppressors. The adult Jewish men stood behind the younger ones and urged them onward. With that very strong memory etched in my mind, I abhor all of the hate mongering that we witness. I find that I have been having a difficult time moving beyond that picture and moment in my life. This story has jarred me to a new moment of reflection and hopefully renewal of purpose and recommitment.

Thank you Gregory for standing up and doing what was right for no other reason than it was the right thing to do. Here in Australia many of us wonder what, if any, limits to freedom of speech there are in the US. Out here in my home state we have some pretty clear guidelines on what constitutes acceptable free speech - namely that in public it must not offend others (and it is up to the offended person to say something) or be deemed to incite others to say or do hateful things. Yes, it's a bit vague, but it does work. Gay bashers and Jew haters of the Fred Phelps variety would not last long here in Oz. Again, thanks - I have worked for many years with wonderful Jewish colleagues, some of whom are gay as well, and we are all trying to work towards Tikkun Olam - the healing of the world.