More than 40 people attended a rally Friday held in response to the conferral of the 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award to H. Eddie Fox (’62T), whom some members of the Emory community have recently described as “anti-gay.”
The “Rally for an Inclusive Emory” was organized by the Candler School of Theology Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) advocacy group Sacred Worth. The three-hour demonstration began at 11:30 a.m. as protestors made signs for their march around the Candler building.
The protest – which included students, faculty and alumni – coincided with the Distinguished Alumni Award luncheon, though Fox was not in attendance to receive his award.
Members of Emory’s LGBT community are calling Fox, the world director of World Methodist Evangelism and the executive director of the Emory-based World Methodist Evangelism Institute, an “anti-gay” leader in the church. As a delegate to the United Methodist Church’s 2008 General Conference, Fox helped author a report stating that the church should maintain its official position on homosexuality. Fox’s committee rejected an amendment that acknowledged the debate over homosexuality within the church.
Members of Sacred Worth and the Candler community have expressed outrage and disappointment over the conferral of the award through open letters, Facebook posts and emails to senior administrators. Members of Sacred Worth and allies also met with several Candler administrators on Sept. 13 to discuss the matter.
Jan Love, dean of the Candler School of Theology, then wrote an email to the Candler community last week, discussing the controversy as well as the reasoning behind the decision to confer the award to Fox.
Friday’s rally was specifically held in response to the award and its effect on the LGBT community. The award to Fox leaves “questions of who we can trust,” Sacred Worth President and Candler student John Boyd said.
During Friday’s event, protestors waved a variety of signs as they marched, including “Really? Rethink! Retract,” and “Mr. Fox is Not Fantastic.”
While in front of the building, protesters chanted phrases such as “Anti-Gay, Not OK,” “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors” and “Inclusion for Emory.” They also sang “This Little Light of Mine.” Sacred Worth Treasurer Anna Flowers led the crowd during the protest.
Protestors expressed their disappointment that Fox was not present at the luncheon ceremony, at one point chanting, “We came out, and he should too.”
Fox wrote in an email to the Wheel that he was unable to attend the ceremony because he was in Bulgaria commemorating the reestablishment of a Methodist Church that was closed and destroyed under Communist rule.
The morning began with Flowers and other Sacred Worth executive board members going over ground rules for the protest, such as leaving doorways unobstructed and staying off the street.
“Thanks to all of you that came out today,” Flowers told the crowd. “We are here to protest, but we will be respectful.”
Flowers and Boyd then asked the crowd for a show of hands as to which Emory academic divisions were represented at the protest. Protesters from the College, School of Law, School of Medicine, School of Public Health and Candler were all present, as were Candler alumni.
Following a brief prayer, the group gathered on the steps of the Rita Anne Rollins building, where the Distinguished Alumni Award luncheon was taking place. They started chanting and waving their signs.
The protestors then moved to the window where the awards ceremony was taking place and began singing and chanting louder as part of what Boyd called “a responsibility to raise our voices to be heard.”
While speaking at the awards luncheon, Love acknowledged the protest outside, inviting the luncheon guests to read her “Message to the Candler Community” to get a better grasp of the controversy. Love then invited all the guests at the luncheon to speak with the protestors outside following the ceremony in order to learn more about their concerns.
“We are all one community of those who love Candler and need to listen carefully to each other,” Love said in her opening remarks.
The protest ended with members giving testimonials regarding their experiences with the church and Candler, as well as pizza purchased by the Office of LGBT Life.
Sacred Worth’s Chaplain and second-year Master of Divinity student Zebulun Treloar said he has high hopes for the outcome of rally.
“I hope that the rally ensures that in the future the administration, and the alumni board will never again give another award to someone who is a vocal opponent to the full inclusion and equality of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities,” Treloar said.
Love said she was pleased with the turnout of both events, especially the protest.
“They are a legitimate and hope-filled sign of free speech on a university campus,” Love said. “We have lots of issues on which members of the community disagree, which in turn gives us remarkable opportunities for reaching across deeply held differences to create and enhance our community.”
For Boyd and Sacred Worth, the rally did not end with cheerful hugs and warm goodbyes.
“This is just the beginning,” Boyd said. “This has become a symbolic act of a campaign that has caught fire.”
– By Stephen Fowler
Photo by Thomas Han
Stephen Fowler 16C is the political reporter at Georgia Public Broadcasting, the statewide NPR affiliate in Georgia. He graduated from Emory with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and covered the central administration and Greek Life for the Wheel before serving as assistant news editor, Emory Life editor and the Executive Digital Editor from 2015-16.