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6 Arrested in Melee at Gay Festival in Santa Ana

Times Staff Writers

Six people were arrested Sunday after a fist-swinging brawl broke out among more than 50 militant gays and fundamentalist Christians at Orange County’s first Gay Pride Festival.

About 50 riot-equipped Santa Ana police were called in to Centennial Regional Park to quell the disturbance, but no serious injuries were reported as the two-day gay festival concluded Sunday evening.

The six people arrested--identified by police as militant gay activists as well as fundamental Christians--were taken to the Santa Ana police station, where they were cited for interfering with police and released. The misdemeanor violation carries a maximum $500 penalty.

The arrested were Jade Stone, 21, of San Francisco; Todd Michael Bales, 24, of Buena Park; Patrick Kieran Brown, 19, of Placentia; Ruben Mario Chaves, 28, of Norwalk; Robert Charles Miller, 32, of Corona, and William Randall Chadwick, 35, of Corona.

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Wearing riot helmets and swinging batons, police had to keep separating the two sides, who continued to taunt each other for nearly an hour. Santa Ana Police Lt. Robert Helton said police were actively involved for about 15 minutes.

Police ordered organizers of the Orange County Cultural Pride Festival to lock the gates to the festival grounds for half an hour after the brawl and considered shutting the event down early, but decided to let it continue as scheduled for the rest of the day.

Festival organizers estimated 10,000 gays attended the festival grounds Sunday and were watching and applauding a gay pride parade when the violence broke out along the parade route, near the park entrance on Edinger Avenue at Mohawk Drive. The parade took place around the park’s driving circle but outside the gated festival grounds, where visitors had to pay a $10 admission fee.

About 75 gay participants of the parade, some of them members of the militant homosexual groups Act Up of Los Angeles and the Orange County Visibility League, encircled about 20 to 25 fundamentalists on a grassy knoll near the corner of Mohawk and Edinger about 1:30 p.m.

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The gays began chanting “kiss, kiss, kiss,” and several pairs began kissing each other. Several of the fundamentalists, clearly outnumbered, tried to retreat as they yelled “Repent! Repent!”

A moment after the kissing started, the two sides started shoving and hitting each other. Police moved in and wrestled two of the gays to the ground, pinning them to the asphalt with their batons.

Helton said officers finally intervened in the confrontation after “sporadic flare-ups” between the pro-gay and anti-gay factions.

But after the initial fights were quelled, other gays standing nearby in a growing crowd of about 200 people began pushing the fundamentalists out of the park. The two sides again called each other names and swung with fists, prompting police to rush back in again.

The fundamentalists, at that point, left the park on their own, regrouping across Edinger Avenue in a residential neighborhood, witnesses said.

The police--now numbering about 50 and wearing riot helmets and rubber gloves--formed a line along the Edinger Avenue side of the park and began moving in with clubs, forcing a crowd that had grown to about 500 people back toward the gay festival entrance in the middle of the park, witnesses said. Police made four more arrests.

Many of the bystanders ran back inside the festival, some crying. With emotions running high on the festival grounds and some gays shouting at police “You’re taking away our civil rights,” Janet Avery, president of Orange County Cultural Pride, took the stage and pleaded for calm.

“We came here to celebrate,” Avery said, quieting the crowd. “If you have a friend who is not here to celebrate, please get them in the mood. This is our day in the sun.”

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Robert F. Gentry, mayor of Laguna Beach and one of Orange County’s most visible gay politicians, said the clash resulted when “emotions boiled over” on the part of gays tired of what he called constant verbal harassment. The festival, Gentry said, marked the “first celebration in Orange County that validates” the existence of the gay community.

Members of gay and fundamentalist groups alike expressed concern that Santa Ana police did not intervene quickly enough to prevent the clash and that police overreacted.

“We took action as soon as it was appropriate for us to take action,” Helton said.

“I think we responded to a potentially very violent situation. We were not overly aggressive. We were quite the contrary. We acted swiftly.”

Times staff writer Jim Carlton and Times photographer Gail Fisher contributed to this report.


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