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Dornan, in Clash With Gay, Learns Brother-in-Law Is Dying of AIDS

Times Staff Writer

In the midst of a heated exchange between Rep. Robert K. Dornan and a gay activist Sunday, the conservative Garden Grove congressman learned that his brother-in-law is dying of AIDS.

The revelation came as Dornan engaged in a fiery finger-pointing debate in front of about 200 people at a Town Hall forum at Pacifica High School in Garden Grove.

Rising from her seat in the audience, the Republican lawmaker’s wife, Sallie, called gay activist Jeff LeTourneau a “fag” as her husband and LeTourneau shouted at each other.

Apology Demanded

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At the congressman’s request, a Garden Grove police officer removed LeTourneau--co-chairman of the Orange County Visibility League, a gay rights group--from the auditorium. But LeTourneau was permitted back in the meeting after promising not to further disturb the session.

When he returned, LeTourneau demanded an apology from Sallie Dornan, who obliged.

“I am very sorry I did that,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “You were all yelling at my husband, whom I love.

“I apologize, but it will not rid the anger in my heart. My brother is dying.

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“You know there’s no safe sex,” Sallie Dornan told LeTourneau. “He (her brother) tells me every day; the thinner he gets, the sores covering his body.”

“I want you to understand there’s great anger and pain inside of me.”

Illness Revealed

Sallie Dornan later told reporters that “one of my younger brothers” is dying of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, but declined to identify him by name “because of my parents.” She said she has four brothers.

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Sallie Dornan said her brother is a homosexual whose lover already has died of the fatal disease.

“He is loved,” she said of her brother. “I am not ashamed. . . . That’s why the anger is intense. They don’t have to die.”

After the meeting, Robert Dornan told reporters outside the auditorium that he had known his brother-in-law was gay, but not that he has AIDS.

“To tell you the truth,” he said, “I didn’t know until this minute.”

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When Sallie Dornan joined him, the congressman turned to her and asked: “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to hurt you,” she said.

Challenge by Critics

LeTourneau was among about 25 demonstrators protesting what they said was Dornan’s insensitivity to the gay community.

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Dornan was being challenged Sunday by critics who said he has not been tough enough on the drug problem, locally or internationally.

Nativo Lopez, of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, an immigrant rights group, complained that the congressman was not doing enough for the crime-plagued residents of Buena Clinton in Garden Grove.

Jerry Yudelson, the Democratic challenger for Dornan’s 38th District seat, leveled similar criticism.


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