Photo by Daniel C. TsangIt had the makings of a glorious fireworks display: a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based group called the Center for Reclaiming America held a meeting at a tony Newport Beach hotel to promote its version of Christianity and family values while trashing all things gay, while gay-rights activists outside protested hatred wrapped in the mantle of religion. One careless match, and sparks would still be flying from the Sutton Place Hotel, across from John Wayne Airport.
But as the "Reclaiming America for Christ" conference was going on inside the hotel on April 28, the much smaller "Speak Out Against Hate" demonstration quickly veered into an indictment of class society. It turns out the rally was not mounted specifically by a gay-rights organization but rather by the Los Angeles chapter of a New York-based socialist group that only began organizing in Orange County a few weeks ago.
Operating under the name Stonewall Initiative for Equal Rights, the Workers World Party (www.workers.org), founded in 1959, brought to Orange County longtime party member and gay-liberation activist Bob McCubbin. His treatise on gays, first issued in 1976, was on sale at the Workers World literature table set up on the sidewalk outside the hotel. In its third edition, McCubbin's book is now called The Roots of Lesbian & Gay Oppression: A Marxist Analysis.
Karl Marx may have believed religion is the opiate of the masses, but McCubbin, who told the gathering on MacArthur Boulevard that he is a Marxist, missed the opportunity to provide an analysis of religious hatred. Instead, he started off with, "You're so beautiful, especially the youth because the youth are the future." Then he asked, "Why is it so many years after the Stonewall Rebellion, we're still fighting for our basic rights? . . . Why is it so hard to win those rights?"
Yes, some might have expected the riot that erupted in a New York City nightclub 32 years ago to produce an America more tolerant of gays and lesbians. Why hasn't it? Class society—which McCubbin blamed for homophobia.
"The prejudice against us . . . is rooted in the system, in class society," he said. McCubbin never mentioned religion or—more specifically—religious-Right wackos who are obsessed with alternative lifestyles.
Workers World member and rally organizer Joe Delaplaine did get on a megaphone and lead such chants as, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, homophobia has got to go!" and "Gay, straight, black, white, same struggle, same fight!"—unfortunately neglecting to update his spiels to include the many Asians and Latinos in the crowd.
Few of the 500 or so Reclaiming America convention-goers heard the protesters, who were forced to huddle across from the hotel in a parking lot as a couple of Newport Beach police officers watched from a patrol car.
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A handful of conventioneers did venture out to the sidewalk to chat with demonstrators. A young, blond man with an earring volunteered that all gay people are "perverted" because "they are going against God's law that says that homosexuality is wrong, is a sin." He refused to give his name but added, "I work with them. I go to school with them." He conceded that even gay people have a First Amendment right to protest, that they should not be denied teaching positions and that they should be able to form on-campus gay support groups.
What planet is he from? Certainly not the planet of Isaac Cass. The 18-year-old Reclaiming American out of suburban San Diego spent all morning snapping photos of the demonstrators on his Kodak camera. "Why are they picketing us?" he asked incredulously. "We're not violent or anything; we're just celebrating our religion, not being hateful." He added, "What we believe is homosexuality is wrong."
That view of homosexuality as malevolent was clear inside the convention hall. At the exhibit area, anti-gay titles were prominently displayed alongside religious tracts and videos. Before security guards kicked me and a friend out (failure to register), I managed to hand over $2.50 for The Homosexual Agenda: How the Gay Lobby Is Targeting America's Children. The 57-page booklet—compiled by Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, a project of Kerusso Ministries of Newport News, Virginia—links homosexuality to child molestation and claims the National Education Association follows a "radical, pro-homosexual agenda."
The Center for Reclaiming America is an "outreach" of Fort Lauderdale's Coral Ridge Ministries. This marks the first time their conference has been held outside Florida, a move designed to take the group national. The organization's leader, the Reverend D. James Kennedy, has publicly envisioned the U.S. as a Christian nation. "I'm sure that only a Christian-controlled country is going to be able to stand up to the impending threat and avert the approaching disaster that our nation is facing," Kennedy has said.