By Kerry Lobel
Disney tops the entertainment food chain. Ask Ellen. Ask Flip Benham and his pals from Operation Rescue. They plan to demonstrate this weekend to protest Gay Day at Disney.
I'm no stranger to Flip and his friends. I lived in Arkansas from 1985 to 1994. Bill Clinton's presidential campaign and the first year following his election resulted in a swarm of visitors to "Arkansas: The Natural State." (Arkansas used to be called the "Land of Opportunity," but that is the subject for another column.)
Most memorable were the visitors who helped us understand the linkages between issues. First, Little Rock was targeted by Rev. Otwell from Texas. He and 40 of his followers picketed first Governor and then President-elect Clinton's home church. They targeted lesbians and gay men, people of color, doctors who provided family planning services, and people living with HIV and AIDS with their wrath. For three months, Sunday after Sunday, we gathered 100 counter-protesters across from the church. We were subjected to taunts and physical threats. Worst of all, week after week, we watched the children of Otwell followers hoisted on top of coffins and encouraged to shout AIDSphobic chants.
By the time Flip Benham, Operation Rescue, and other demonstrators came to picket and block entrance to family planning clinics, we were ready. We had molded ourselves into the Arkansas Liberty Alliance, a coalition representing social, political and religious organizations. We had hands-on training from the Fund for the Feminist Majority. Some of the most ardent foes of women's right to choose were on the scene. Randall Terry, Joseph Scheidler and others attempted to divide our town. Importantly, few people took the bait.
Most heartbreaking were the scenes of children yelling threats and taunts as we escorted women to clinics for family planning services.
Moving fast forward to today, Operation Rescue has announced that intends to hand out religious pamphlets and "minister" to gay visitors at the Magic Kingdom, protest two Barnes and Noble Bookstores, and picket two family planning clinics in Orlando. Orange County, CA deputy sheriffs are expected to stand by in riot gear.
Flip Benham says that it hurts him to think of people "shaking their fists at God." What really hurts Flip is the notion that Americans in growing numbers support civil rights for gays and lesbians, support women's access to reproductive health services, and that bookstores offer children and adults the tools they need to think critically about issues facing our society.
It hurts me to think of children entering Disneyland and Walt Disney World subjected to the Flip Benhams and those of his ilk. But it hurts me even more to think of the children of the demonstrators -- children that are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or questioning -- learning to hate themselves and learning that to love they'll have to leave their families.
As a recent report issued by NGLTF's Policy Institute indicates, the rate of disapproval of homosexual relationships has dropped precipitously over the last ten years. By shining a light on our families, Flip and friends provide us with a tremendous opportunity to do what our communities have done best -- educate those around us through living lives based on love, respect, and accountability to our community.
Eye on Equality is a monthly column that discusses or gives commentary on national and state-level political events or provides a behind-the-scenes look a social movements and trends. The column is written by Kerry Lobel, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.