By: Tynan Power/TRT Reporter–
The coffee shop on State St. in Springfield, near Commerce High School, is no ordinary coffee shop.
Holy Grounds is a coffee shop with a mission-literally. It is a church, led by missionary anti-gay Pastor Scott Lively.
Lively’s name may not ring a bell, but it made headlines when he addressed Ugandan parliament members in 2009 to talk about the evils of the homosexual agenda. Shortly thereafter, a bill was introduced in Uganda that would have made homosexuality punishable by death-an outcome Lively has denied he encouraged. His Abiding Truth Ministries, based in Springfield, was named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Lively also authored a pseudo-history book titled The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party, which theorizes that gays were behind Nazism.
On May 11th, members of Stop the Hate and Homophobia in Springfield spread out over a few blocks near Holy Grounds to alert people to Lively’s background and his connection with the coffee house.
When Stop the Hate members began handing out flyers, several people came out of Holy Grounds and began to argue with them.
“Lively has done a lot of outreach to youth and the economically desperate,” Michaelann Bewsee of Arise for Social Justice. “It’s painful to see young people Arise has worked with being affected by him.”
One man from the coffee shop refused to give his name but argued with Stop the Hate members for nearly an hour. He said that Lively had helped him when Arise could not. He told a story of being homeless, living “in the river,” and trying to find work without an address. Lively’s help made it possible for him to get back on his feet, he insisted.
“You’re targeting this man for one thing and ignoring the hundreds of good things he does,” he said. “I’ve never heard Pastor Scott say anything bad about gays.”
He also invited the Stop the Hate protestors to come in to the coffee shop.
“You all should come in there. There’s no sign that say “gays aren’t allowed.” Everyone is welcome.”
At first glance, the coffee house seems like a pretty cool place to be, running on donations alone and with its “everyone’s welcome” mantra.
It’s so cool and welcoming, in fact, that The Republican (Springfield newspaper) reported in January that there have been issues with students skipping school to hang out there. A subsequent investigation led to the arrest of the café manager, a convicted sex offender who had failed to register with local authorities.
It’s what lies beneath the cool, welcoming surface that concerns Stop the Hate members.
“Stop the Hate wanted to begin to call out the somewhat hidden aspects of Lively’s work-his homophobia and hate,” said Bewsee.
Just a month before the coffee shop drew attention for attracting truants, a local community member contacted a number of people to let them know about Lively’s presence in town, only a few doors away from Arise for Social Justice.
“Members of Arise for Social Justice began talking about this immediately after being alerted of Lively’s presence 4 doors down from our office location,” said Holly Richardson, a member of Stop the Hate. “From there we reached out to others in the community, after which the coalition was formed, and is still growing.”
Today, that coalition consists of three community-based organizations, four professors from two local colleges, participants of Springfield College GSA’s, members of the faith community, and individual concerned community members.
One of the groups that is involved with Stop the Hate is the LGBT Coalition of Western Mass.
“The LGBT Coalition is committed to speaking out against injustice, specifically in how it effects the LGBT community,” explained Suzanne Seymour, executive director of the LGBT Coalition. “Scott Lively has a history of writing and articulating anti-gay rhetoric and it needs to be brought into the light. At a meeting, we were discussing the Coalition’s possible role in addressing this issue with a few members from Springfield. We agreed it was important to look for non-violent ways to confront this type of homophobia and discrimination.”
“’Stop the Hate and Homophobia in Springfield’” was organized to do just that-stop hate,” says Richardson. “We plan to do this through a comprehensive public education campaign.”
“The event on May 11th, was just one of many community education events in the works to inform and educate our community about the context of Scott Lively and his extensive work/history of what I would refer to as not only anti-gay, but oppressive to many peoples from many different lands,” Richardson said.
Bewsee, for one, hopes to flyer the area near the coffee shop again-but she’s says there’s a lot more to be done, too.
“We’ll continue to try drawing in the religious community to speak out against the distortion of Christianity,” she said.
“I had the opportunity to speak to some of the folks who go to Bible study at Lively’s coffee house,” Seymour said. “Being able to dialogue and find common ground was an important way to begin to change how we see one another.”
“We want to do a lot more education with the straight community at large,” Bewsee said. “It’s not enough to work to undo one’s personal prejudices; if we’re to be responsible members of our community, we have to challenge institutional hate.”
For more information, or to become involved with Stop the Hate and Homophobia in Springfield, email firstname.lastname@example.org.