GSA leads student demonstration against Grace Fellowship Church member

Tony+Miano+argues+with+students.%0APicture+taken+by+Natalie+McMillan%0A

Tony Miano argues with students. Picture taken by Natalie McMillan

Natalie McMillan

Augustana students confronted a local community member Wednesday who expressed religiously-motivated sentiments perceived to be targeted at the LGBTQ+ community.
Around 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 24, Tony Miano, a member of Grace Fellowship Church in Davenport, stationed himself on the sidewalk on 7th Avenue between Carlsson Evald Hall and Old Main. Wearing a GoPro camera on his chest, Miano held a wooden cross nearly the size of his body with “Stop and Talk” painted on the crossbar.
Shouting, Miano professed that leading a sinful life could lead to hell and that pride is a sin. Miano additionally distributed business cards with the words “what comes after Pride” written across a rainbow flag design, a symbol commonly used by the LGBTQ+ community used to express pride. On the back, the card uses Bible verses to define pride and – according to some viewers’ interpretations – hints at how the LGBTQ+ community must deny pride and repent.
Miano, however, alleges that the pride flag is unrelated to the LGBTQ+ community.
“It is just an assortment of colors,” asserted Miano. Despite his continued denial of the relationship, his presence still sparked a reaction from the students.
A group of students, led by Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) president and junior Elise Campbell and sophomore Naomi Beckley, gathered near Miano. A crowd of students soon formed at the scene. Members of GSA brought flags, posters and handouts to the protest.
“We showed up because we felt that he was sort of spreading hate against us, so we came out as GSA because we wanted to let everyone on campus know that they are loved and they are accepted, and that they have a voice,” said Beckley.
Faculty and staff members also made an impactful appearance.
“Lucas Street, the Director of the Reading and Writing Center, came up and stood next to the guy with the cross. He started to say that he was a Christian, an evangelical Christian, and I think we all assumed that he was going to say something in agreement with the guy, but instead, he told that God loves all of us. The guy told him that he was wrong, and Street only repeated himself, then the guy with the cross told Street that God doesn’t love him,” said sophomore Kasia Olechno in an email.
The group of students grew as junior Jonathan Quigley joined. “I put my bag down, jacket down, took out my Bluetooth speaker, turned on some Cardi B, some Magnolia, start blasting some heavy rap and just start bustin’ a move in front of this guy,” said Quigley.
With Quigley’s display, more and more people joined the crowd, at some points participating in chants such as “love is love.” At other times, Miano and Quigley yelled back and forth. “Whenever he screamed, I screamed back, usually something that makes fun of whatever he was saying. For example, at one point he mentioned the Good Word [of the] Lord so I screamed back ‘the Good Word of Lord is that the CSL is serving chicken tendies!’” said Quigley.
In a show of opposition, students began kissing each other. Quigley and freshman Ryan J. Hurdle kissed in front of Miano. “It occurred to me in that moment that we got a homophobe on our hands, and what makes homophobes more uncomfortable than displays of affection amongst gay people. It occurred to me in that moment that I need to find a man to kiss right now, so I look around for the first person I recognize. I look at Ryan and I’m like ‘I know him. Hey Ryan, want to make out?’ Without even flinching, he walks right up to me and we start making out intensely,” said Quigley.
As time passed, some students, including Quigley, left for class while more gathered. Chief of Public Safety and Police Tom Phillis arrived to make sure the demonstration was not in the way of vehicles entering campus between Old Main and Denkmann Memorial Building. Public Safety had determined that Miano was on public property and therefore could not be removed.
Seniors Aaron Hollatz and Kirk Kreiter stood on top of a concrete pillar reciting the Communist Manifesto. Phillis told the students to get down, but they resumed reading the book on the ground. Other students, including sophomores Carmella Russel, Kari Meyer and Cyber Sherman, approached Miano for a discussion. They were later joined by other students in conversation.
Street later returned to join the conversation on the side of the students. “Before having to go, Street said to the students, ‘This is a minority Christian view, if you want to know or chat about this more, come speak with me in the Reading and Writing Center,’” said Meyer.
The conversation between students and Miano continued and grew as some came and others went. The group was later joined by a uniformed Facilities Services employee, Darlene Lee, who argued on the same side as Miano. Lee, on her lunch break, nodded and clapped as Miano spoke.
“He told us to warn because He will come back, and there will be a Judgement Day, and your blood will be on our hands if we say nothin’,” said Lee to the students. “I think you’re seeking. I think you’re seeking the truth.”
Around 12:45 p.m., Miano announced that he was leaving. “Before he left, he said, ‘thank you for the opportunity, I’ll do this again next Wednesday,’” said first-year student Mary Sales.
Miano and Lee briefly hugged and discussed their places of worship.
“You are a blessing to me, and I just wanted to thank you,” said Miano to Lee.
Students, including senior Emily Mason, put together a plan if he comes back. “It’s called the Angel Wing Approach,” Mason said, in an email. “It’s a way to make sure that a space feels safe for the targeted minority. It’s a very physical border between the aggressor and the targeted community.” The approach involves protesters creating a wall with ‘wings’ to create a barrier.
Wednesday’s visit to campus was not the first time Miano had tried something like this.
I remember the guy with the cross from last year. In that instance, he was standing on the Evald side of the street, and another man was with him. I saw his cross and guessed what he was probably there for, and so I took one of his cards that he had at the time to see just how ridiculous it would be. I don’t recall them being quite as poignantly homophobic as the ones he had today, but I do remember that they emphasized punishment for non-Christians and sinners,” said senior Jaryd Whitmore.
The Vice President of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, Monica Smith, released a statement, saying, “This person is not affiliated with the college. Public safety is aware and has determined that he is on public property. Please note that he does have a camera to record his interactions with people.”
Smith continued with, “I was proud to see a group of empowered students gathered in the area with rainbow flags affirming themselves, supporting each other, and pronouncing the college’s commitment to multiple identities.”
Later in the day, on Twitter, Miano wrote “WILD but VERY profitable morning of ministry at @Augustana_IL. Pray for the MANY who heard the gospel today. Praise the Lord!”
Speaking to the campus, Beckley said, “I’d really like to say that fact that so many people came out to support the community was a really beautiful thing to watch. It really meant a lot to me and to my girlfriend and to all of us on campus who are LGBTQ plus it was really amazing to see we have support from our community and it makes me feel much more secure on campus knowing that people care about issues like this.”

Seniors Aaron Hollatz and Kirk Kreiter read the Communist Manifesto.
Picture taken by Natalie McMillan

Seniors Aaron Hollatz and Kirk Kreiter read the Communist Manifesto.
Picture taken by Natalie McMillan

Tony Miano with his cross.
Picture taken by Natalie McMillan

Sophomore Naomi Beckley and Senior Elise Campbell protesting for GSA.
Picture taken by Natalie McMillan

Sophomore Naomi Beckley and Senior Elise Campbell protesting for GSA.
Picture taken by Natalie McMillan

Tony Miano argues with students.
Picture taken by Natalie McMillan

Facilities Services employee Darlene Lee argues with students.
Picture taken by Natalie McMillan

Facilities Services employee Darlene Lee hugs Tony Miano.
Picture taken by Robert Burke

Senior Elise Campbell protesting for GSA with pride flags draped across her back.

Freshman Mary Sales kisses at the protest

The back of the card Miano distributed

The front of the card Miano distributed

A resource sheet distributed by members of Gender and Sexuality Alliance