By Mikkel Hyldebrandt

After watching street preachers antagonize people year after year at Atlanta Pride, artist Matthew Terrell created what also proved to be his most ambitious work yet – “the Hate Shield” – that debuted on October 12 at Pride. 

Your project, “the Hate Shield,” debuted at the recently concluded Atlanta Pride. Tell us a little bit about what they are? 

I came up with this idea about three years ago, when I watched as street preacher, Ruben Israel kept on creating near-violent situations at the entrance of Piedmont Park for Pride. He would antagonize people walking by with his bullhorn, and then get up into his face. The police officers were constantly keeping people from throwing fists—which is what Ruben and his gang want: a proof that gays are violent and a lawsuit he can file against someone. In front of Ruben were some people from Pansy Patrol who had bravely left their post of the Westboro people, who only carry signs but not bullhorns. These intrepid folks were trying to yell “LOVE” over a 120-decibel bullhorn, which just makes them lose their voice. It was such chaos, and I wanted to find a way to diffuse the situation. After watching Ruben’s group for years, I designed “The Hate Shield” with grants from Fulton County Arts and Culture and the Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. The shield is mobile sound dampening wall units that are 4×8 feet each and weigh under 20 pounds. They can be lifted very high into the air because Ruben’s crew sometimes lifts their megaphones to point at people. On the backside of each panel is a mirror, so the hate preachers have to look at themselves the entire time they are out there. I wanted to have a conceptual aspect to the piece. These hate preachers need to be convicted in their own conscience by seeing their hate reflected back at them.

What do you think is the most powerful feature of “the Hate Shield”?

I think the physical barrier aspect is the one that most people don’t realize is incredibly powerful. We made sure that the hate preachers could literally not see anybody, and so they were not able to target people, make eye contact, and pick fights. In previous years I saw the police constantly stopping fights from breaking out. That didn’t happen once. In fact, we had so much of a barrier that many people walking by had no clue what was going on behind the walls. My number one goal for this project was for the average Pride-goer to not even notice these hate preachers, and to have a lovely uninterrupted day at the festival.

How do you think your shields work differently from other groups trying to shield a gay parade or event from anti-LGBTQ protesters?

What I realized early on is that sound is a weapon. These hate preachers were using their ability to project sound as an offensive tactic. Pansy Patrol and Angel Action do an incredible job of blocking site of the protestors and their signs, as well as adding a general bit of levity and LOVE to a tense situation. But, as arms races go, some of the hate preachers use their megaphones to blast through the Pansies and Angels. That’s where The Hate Shield comes in. When you have broadcast sound, the first line of defense needs to neutralize it. When we combined The Hate Shield with the Pansies and Angels—it was an incredible scene. The Pansies were singing “All You Need is Love,” and with the help of The Hate Shield, you couldn’t hear the preachers at all.

You have received quite a bit of positive response (CNN, WABE, OUT.com, Advocate, and more) – what does that tell you?

I never realized the scale of the problem. I have people reaching out to me from all over the country with similar problems. Lots of women’s health clinics, small-town Prides, events like Mardi Gras, New Year’s Eve events, college campuses. These hate preachers are all over the place. There are so many people in this country looking for a nonviolent solution for the hate being broadcast at their event. I hope to help solve this issue with my work.

What are your plans – and hopes – for the future of “the Hate Shield?”

Look for Hate Shield V2.0: PHALANX next year. I have a vision for a highly portable model that can be maneuvered by a single person. When combining multiple PHALANX units, you will have the ultimate sound shield at your event. I am looking for engineers, business people, and anyone who wants to invest in creating nonviolent solutions for countering hate and condemnation.

How do you get “the Hate Shield” to come to your event?

Go to thehateshield.com, and email info@thehateshield.com.