Rights Panel Condemns Chief’s O.C. Speech Title

Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission Friday blasted its own embattled chairman for a speech on homosexuality that he is to give today in Anaheim at a conference organized by a group stridently opposed to gay rights.

By a vote of 6-1, the commission adopted a statement condemning the title of chairman William B. Allen’s talk--”Blacks? Animals? Homosexuals? What is a Minority?”--as “thoughtless, disgusting, and unnecessarily inflammatory.” Commissioners said he has no authority to address such an issue.

Undeterred, Allen said the flap over his appearance at the West Coast Symposium on Homosexuality and Public Policy Implications, organized by the controversial Rev. Louis Sheldon, has only made him more determined to deliver the talk this morning in the face of planned protests from gay rights’ groups.


Allen was the only commission member to oppose the panel’s critical statement Friday, which was adopted during a nationwide telephone conference call Friday morning. One of the eight members did not take part in the vote.

A government professor at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Allen has been increasingly estranged from fellow commissioners since he became entangled earlier this year in an Apache tribal custody dispute in Arizona.

Held briefly on charges of kidnapping the 14-year-old girl who was at the center of that dispute, Allen was forced to apologize to fellow commissioners after they accused him of abusing his authority by stepping into the custody issue.

In the last imbroglio over the Anaheim talk, Allen has already faced criticism from some U.S. congressmen. Further, Southland gay activists are pledging to turn out in full force to disrupt and try to prevent his scheduled 11 a.m. appearance at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Anaheim.

Due to speak immediately after Allen is Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), a conservative who has led recent fights against gay rights causes in Orange County and in Washington.

Civil Rights Commission members said Allen’s involvement in the Anaheim conference may only intensify calls for his quick departure as head of the panel charged with investigating civil rights issues.


“This is another sad episode in the saga of the unguided missile who is chairman of the civil rights panel,” Commissioner Mary Frances Berry of Philadelphia said in an interview. “It makes it very difficult for us to get anything done when he keeps tossing these bombshells into the proceedings.”

Title Angers Commissioners

Most commissioners interviewed Friday said they had not seen the contents of Allen’s prepared talk. But they said they were angered not only by the title of Allen’s remarks but also because he has offered himself, without their knowledge, as a commission representative on an issue that the panel has never addressed.

Members said they are precluded by commission charter from delving into issues of sexual orientation.

Adding to the controversy over the talk is its forum--a conference on homosexuality organized by Sheldon and his Anaheim-based California Coalition for Traditional Values.

A religious fundamentalist, Sheldon and his supporters have adamantly and vocally opposed the Orange County gay community repeatedly in recent months in battles ranging from the Santa Ana gay pride festival to the Irvine gay rights initiative. Speakers on the conference’s first day Friday, most adopting the view that homosexuality is a sickness and a perversion, discussed “reparative therapy” and other ways of “changing” homosexuals.

Allen, countering the reprimand from his colleagues, accused them of resorting to “a kind of reactive bigotry, failing to benefit from the opportunity to learn.”


He added in an interview: “Any hesitation about speaking at this conference that I once had over scheduling difficulties has been erased by the principle of the thing--that I will not let intimidation overshadow civil discourse.”

Allen said that he does “not purport to be a spokesman on homosexuality” but that he believes gay rights are an important issue that should be opened up for public dialogue.

But he declined to discuss in detail his positions on gay issues, and a prepared text of his remarks distributed Friday was embargoed for publication until today.

Also at issue is whether Allen will be compensated for any expenses connected to the conference appearance.

Issue Called a ‘Red Herring’

Calling the issue “a red herring,” Allen said in an interview that “I don’t anticipate any expenses,” making the question “irrelevant.”

Commission members, however, said Allen had told them earlier Friday that he plans to seek reimbursement. The compensation issue was a chief concern because they did not want Allen acting in an official capacity during the conference appearance, they said.


“He’s entitled to his own opinion, which we respect, but that point of view does not and should not represent the commission,” said Commissioner Sherwin T. S. Chan of Los Angeles.

Commissioners said they were most upset by the title of Allen’s talk, with Vice Chairman Murray Friedman calling it “incendiary” and fellow Commissioner Esther Gonzales-Arroyo Buckley saying it was “outrageously insensitive.”

While a firestorm of protest is expected for today’s appearances by Allen and Dannemeyer, Friday passed quietly at the two-day conference.

About 50 paid participants heard speakers discuss what they believe to be the roots and implications of homosexuality. Keynote speaker Roger Magnuson, Minnesota author of the book “Are Gay Rights Right?” sought a conciliatory tone for the conference when he said at the outset: “We have great compassion and love for the homosexuals, and we truly want to see reparative therapy take place.”

Still, tensions were clear as conference organizers waited anxiously for the possible arrival of gay rights protesters. But the protests never materialized, partly because some local gay activists attended a Westwood demonstration.

Sheldon and conference organizers blamed gay activists for a putrid smell that filled the hotel lobby, saying that demonstrators had planted a “stink bomb” overnight. But Michael Thayer, hotel security director, said employees had not found the source of the smell, and he suspected that someone may simply have become sick.


Rita Courteau of San Diego may have been typical of conference participants Friday.

She heard about the conference at her church and said she decided to come because “if we don’t do something about homosexuals and stand up and say, ‘We don’t want this,’ it’s going to overrun us. . . . I don’t want them forcing their way into our schools and our churches.”

But others at the conference, asserting that they have no stand on homosexuality, said they came to seek information. That’s what Michael D’Elia of San Diego came for, but for different reasons. A gay man, D’Elia said: “I wanted to see myself what these people are saying so we know what we’re up against. . . . It’s amazing stuff.”

80 ARRESTED: Nearly 400 activists protested U.S. AIDS policy in Westwood. Part II, Page 8.