The fundamentalists gathered to offer a cure for homosexuality, and the protesters insisted no cure is needed.
Tri-County Assembly of God, in Fairfield, hosted Focus on the Family's "Love Won Out" convention, promoting a ministry that claims to convert gays and lesbians to heterosexuality. Refreshments aside, that kind of programming is none too sweet, according to Doreen Cudnik, executive director of Stonewall Cincinnati.
"We are here today to say that there is nothing loving about the message that is being delivered during the ill-named 'Love Won Out' conference," Cudnik said.
Joining Stonewall to protest the conference were Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and others.
"We are here to say to those who may feel that they are in need of a cure or not good enough because of their sexual orientation, 'You are perfect just the way you were made,' " Cudnik said. " 'Learn to love and accept yourself. That is when love will truly win out.' "
About 50 protesters lined a strip of grass along State Route 4 during the conference, waving signs that said, "God Does Not Judge," "Gay People Are God's People, Too," and "God Loves Me the Way He/She Made Me: Gay and Proud."
Many passing motorists honked or waved, while a small number shouted expletives or disparaging comments.
The timing of the conference, as well as its promotion of so-called "reparative therapy," rankled gay activists. The conference was on the same day as the Gay Pride Interfaith Spiritual Service and the day before the 2001 Pride Parade.
Participants in the day-long conference paid more than $70 each to hear former gays and lesbians talk about their conversion. John Paulk, the conference host, outlined the theme of the daylong convention.
"Contrary to popular opinion, many people struggle with unwanted homosexuality and do not know that change is possible," Paulk said. "This conference is a place for them to find the help and hope that I and thousands of other men and women have found."
One of the prominent speakers was 38-year-old Mike Haley of Colorado Springs. Active in the gay community as a teen and young adult, Haley now attributes his homosexual activities to the environment in which he was raised. Haley says his father was often abusive, referring to him as "Michelle" and calling him a "sissy."
"I didn't want to be around masculinity," Haley said.
Aversion to his father, Haley said, created an unmet need for a strong masculine role model, leading to homosexuality.
But gay relationships proved unsatisfying. Haley said he decided to convert to heterosexuality after learning that a long-term, monogamous relationship was not possible in the gay community.
"I was unhappy being there," he said.
Following his conversion and becoming an active Christian, Haley became a youth and gender analyst for Focus on the Family.
"For those that want it, change is possible," he said.
As one of Focus on the Family's primary conduits to teens, Haley tries to reach young people he believes have been misguided.
"We're talking so much of tolerance that we're not making kids aware of consequences," he said.
God gets kinky
Leaders of the "Love Won Out" conference insist their intent is not to forcefully convert unwilling gays and lesbians or to vilify the gay community, but rather to provide a viable option for those homosexuals who are unhappy and looking for a change.
"It (the conference) is kind of a spanking for the Church, who hasn't handled the homosexuality issue the way the Lord would want," said Julie Neils of Colorado, a 27-year-old media director for Focus on the Family.
But intolerance and ostracism -- rather than problems in relationships -- is the reason for the unhappiness gays and lesbians experience, according to the protesters.
"We need to deal with the root causes of that unhappiness," Cudnik said. "People are saying that you can't be gay and live a fulfilling life."
Several conference-goers wandered outside, striking up conversations with protesters, usually regarding the relationship between homosexuality and Christianity.
"It's a choice they made," said Freddie Hollon, a prison ministry director holding a Bible. "It's nothing God made them do."
But among the protesters were several clergy with differing views, including Rev. Jerry Murphy of Walnut Hills Christian Church and Rev. R.P. Young.
"Our sexuality is a divine gift and we have a responsibility to use the gift wisely," Young said. "All creation is God's creation."
Typical of the disagreement between the two sides, the argument inevitably turned to the question of nature versus nurture and the cause of homosexuality. Those inside the church insisted homosexuality is a behavior contingent upon one's environment, while the protesters argued sexual orientation is a genetic trait.
While much of the discussion inside and out revolved around religion and ideological beliefs, both sides declared a need for changes in the law, albeit for different reasons.
Dee Arianne Rockwood criticized Cincinnati's stance on gay rights, saying she was evicted from an apartment because she is a lesbian. Rockwood was referring, in part, to Issue 3, a city charter amendment precluding gays from protection against discrimination.
Linda Harvey, editor of the parents' newsletter Choice4Truth -- a publication about gay activists -- hopes to steer legislation in a different direction. Harvey supports legislation to restrict marriage to heterosexuals. Harvey also wants to outlaw the dissemination of homosexual information in schools.
"There should be legislation to prohibit overt promotion of homosexuality," Harvey said.
Despite the deep disagreement, people on both sides were even-tempered and civil.
"I'm very impressed with the people from the conference," Young said. "They were generally very respectful and kind. They listened to us, and I appreciate that."
If the 50 protesters in Fairfield were outnumbered by the hundreds attending the church conference, the next day clearly belonged to them. In Northside on June 10, thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons gathered for the annual GLBT Pride Parade.©
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