Who We Are & What We Do
Silent Witness Peacekeepers Alliance is an organization of gay and straight allies dedicated to providing a non-confrontational buffer between the LGBTQ+ community and those who would protest LGBT events. We are peacekeepers, not counter-protesters, protecting everyone's right to free speech.
We provide visual protection from "street preachers" and protesters at events such as Pride fests, the showing of films such as Jim in Bold and For the Bible Tells Me So, or staging of plays such as The Laramie Project, using our bodies and rainbow umbrellas as shields.
In times of need, we intervene to prevent confrontations between protesters and event participants, often acting as escorts for those who would like to attend such events. Where there are those who publicly promote hate, we will be there to help provide a loving, supportive front opposing them. We offer a visual representation of support for those in our society who may feel marginalized while protecting everyone's rights of free speech and religion.
Silent Witnesses receive significant training in non-confrontation techniques specially designed for the type of work they do. Only those who have received this training may participate in an event as a Silent Witness. Silent Witnesses are easily recognized by their special safety vests and rainbow umbrellas.
Yvonne Wilson attended Harrisburg's PrideFest in 2000 and faced aggressive condemnation from a woman for her support of the LGBTQ+ community. In response, Yvonne silently protested alongside street preachers, holding a sign that read "I'm Christian and Gay." Donald Anklam eventually offered to hold her sign, marking the beginning of the Silent Witnesses movement.
Over the years, Yvonne recruited others, including Rosemary Mirocco, to join the Silent Witnesses. They trained dozens of individuals to stand in support of PrideFest participants, forming a line with their backs turned towards the protesters. This silent counter-protest tactic proved effective as long as the preachers remained stationary.
In 2004, when members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested a documentary showing in Harrisburg, the Silent Witnesses formed a ring of support around the venue. With about 80 witnesses, including a group led by Alanna Berger, they held signs and created a safe space for attendees. The Phelps group left after a short period, marking a successful day. The Witnesses continued their work, providing protection during protests at churches and subsequent PrideFest events, adapting their tactics to ensure the safety of festival-goers.
As the movement grew, the Witnesses implemented identifiable attire, such as safety vests and rainbow umbrellas, to distinguish themselves from the protesters. They developed comprehensive training programs, escorting participants to and from events, and achieved a significant milestone in 2008 when there were no arrests at the Harrisburg PrideFest for the first time. Silent Witness PA expanded its reach, providing peacekeepers for Pride Celebrations in Reading, Allentown, and Lancaster, while also training volunteers across different states in response to requests for local chapters.
As Silent Witness PA gained recognition and received emails from around the country, the need for similar groups became evident. The organization aims to continue supporting as many LGBTQ+ events as possible, focusing on securing funding to extend their assistance to all in need.
Meet the Team
Silent Witness PA is headed by Alanna Berger and Blaise Liffick. This husband and wife team has led the organization since the summer of 2005, when they gathered more than 130 volunteers as Silent Witnesses for the Harrisburg (PA) PrideFest. They have since trained more than 1000 Silent Witnesses around the central PA region - including Harrisburg, York, Lancaster, Reading, Allentown, Kutztown, Millersville, and Shippensburg - and as far away as Charlotte, NC and Johnson County, KS.
Alanna Berger, the Executive Director of Silent Witness PA, is a former systems analyst who left her high-stress job in 2007 to dedicate herself to LGBTQ+ advocacy. With experience leading her church's Rainbow EqUUality Advocates ministry, serving on the UUPLAN board, and contributing to the Harrisburg PrideFest, Alanna is committed to making a positive impact. She also shared her expertise as an adjunct professor at Lebanon Valley College, teaching on Gender and Sexuality Minority Issues.
Dr. Blaise Liffick
Dr. Blaise Liffick, the Director of Operations at Silent Witness PA, is a Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Millersville University. He has actively supported the LGBTQ+ community throughout his career, serving as a faculty advisor for the university's gay-straight alliance and contributing to initiatives such as Common Roads and the Pride celebration in Lancaster. Dr. Liffick's involvement includes roles on the PASSHE LGBTQIA Consortium's Executive Committee and as the founding chairperson of the Millersville University President's Commission on Gender and Sexual Diversity.