Community activists to counter homophobic conference at Georgetown

By Michael Grantham

(WASHINGTON) - A gathering of more than 20 community and national activists met last Wednesday in Washington D.C. to help devise a response to an upcoming conservative conference on homosexuality at Georgetown University.

Representatives from NOW, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, Lesbian Avengers and the ACLU were among those joined together with local community activists. A resolved plan to counter the conference's message includes a press conference and rally.

"I think the whole issue with this conference is how we have to do more coalition building," Mandy Carter, Field Director for the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum, said. "Our meeting is an example of what we can do when we all get in the same room."

Carter, who worked on trying to defeat Jesse Helms in the last two election cycles was one of several activists who answered the call for a community meeting by Jonathan Zucker, the co-Chair of the Bisexual, Lesbian, and Gay Association at Georgetown University Law Center.

"I think the best thing that has come out of this effort is efficiency," Zucker said. The coordination of tasks among the groups present relied on the strength of community leaders working as a team.

"We thought it would be good to gather the local activists who were already working on a response and representatives of as many national organizations to pick their brains," Zucker added.

One such person was Chris Dyer, Chair of the Youth Pride Alliance in D.C. Dyer and other community activists had previously met to plan a demonstration and direct action against the conference and university.

"I think this is our way of saying 'This is the line you don't cross. You can hedonize us, but don't couch your bigotry in philosophical discussions at the same time,'" Dyer said.

Chris Layfeild, a Georgetown student and co-facilitator of the community response meeting, said he hopes the actions of the group helps to make sure the university doesn't host an event like this again.

However, in a Washington Post article, university officials repeated that Georgetown is not sponsoring or endorsing the event. Marriot, the on-campus hotel hosting the conference, said they are simply providing space and not endorsing the group anymore than any other group they've hosted.

The hotel and university doesn't exactly have a fair record for hosting any conference with issues that counter the Catholic church. In fact, last January the on-campus hotel hosted a pro-life conference during the Presidential Inauguration.

The conference in question this time around is being organized by the American Public Philosophy Institute, a self-described "group of scholars from various disciplines who share a commitment to natural law theory."

Entitled "Homosexuality and the American Public Life," the conference describes homosexuality as a "tragic affliction" and the cause of several social ills. The registration pamphlet for the conference targets public acceptance as "a societal stamp of approval on homosexual acts and relationships."

As an alumna of Georgetown, Winnie Stachelberg, Legislative Director of the Human Rights Campaign was one of several people who wrote the President of Georgetown Father Leo O'Donovan to express her concern that the University's name was being used to help buttress a falsified image of credibility.

"Many of the presenters are associated with religious political extremist groups that make no secret of their wish to roll back the clock and push gay men and lesbians into the shadows of our society, to live in fear and self-loathing," Stachelberg said in her letter.

Paul Caccamo, a 1987 alumnus holds a similar opinion. "Georgetown can't deny they are making an uncomfortable experience for gay and lesbian students," Caccamo said. "I don't think that this is what Jesuit Spirituality is all about."

Working on the premise of compassion, conference organizers hope to address issues of "prevention and treatment" for homosexuality. Support for this agenda comes from such friends as Gary Bauer, President of the Family Research Council.

Appealing to an image of academia, Bauer said,"I'm excited that this profoundly important - and often misunderstood - topic will be examined in a very serious way by respected thinkers from many fields."

Still others disagree on just how "respected" that image is. Bob Miailovich, Regional Coordinator for Dignity/USA said the only reason the conference is at the Georgetown Marriot on the university's campus is for the prestige of the address.

"The argument that Georgetown should be open for other conferences is valid," Miailovich said. "The target here should be APPI, and we should engage in dialogue with these people to call them to task."

According to community activists this often means simply drawing attention to the conference's own devisive message. The APPI's unscientific claim that homosexuality is a disease is one such message they find ludicrous. This fallacy, activists point out, is the premise for a much broader plan of attack on homosexuals and their families.

"It is nothing more than a thinly veiled pseudo-intellectual platform for gay-bashing and a reinforcement of the worst stereotypes and myths," Zucker wrote in a letter to Georgetown President O'Donovan.

Still, in an open letter to FRC members and friends, Bauer describes the issues surrounding gay and lesbian activism as "driving our culture toward an increasingly anti-family stance."

The only way such messages can be shown for what they are, according to Zucker is by telling the truth.

"Most people will, with only a nudge is the right direction, reject the message of the APPI," Zucker said. "We have to make sure that APPI and its supporters are revealed for who and what they are.

For those community activists who met at All Souls Church in D.C., that was reason enough to come together. Their resolved actions begin June 19 at 10am on the campus of Georgetown University. For more information, contact Jonathan Zucker at 202-628-4160.

Michael Grantham is a 25 year-old intern at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a B.S. in Psychology, where he co-chaired a regional conference and lobbied to have a campus policy of equality protecting gays and lesbians. He is on the board of Directors for the Liberty Foundation.

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