Gay Rights Activists Sit In; 40 Arrested : Protest Staged Against Talk by U.S. Commission’s Chief

Times Staff Writer

Forty gay rights activists, angered over the appearance of the nation’s top civil rights official at a conference in Anaheim organized by ardent anti-homosexuals, blockaded the entrance Saturday and were arrested on trespass charges.

Ironically, the main target of their protests--U.S. Civil Rights Commission Chairman William B. Allen--was still a few hours away from Orange County at the time of the boisterous demonstration. His flight from Northern California had been delayed.

Once at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Anaheim, however, Allen generated no shortage of controversy himself, lauding the fundamentalist hosts of the conference as “courageous” and branding special classes of protection for homosexuals and other minorities as a “fatal” mistake.


Allen asserted that the establishment of special protections for minority classes has historically “heightened tensions and antagonism” within society, and he said it is “difficult to understand” why homosexuals would want to pursue such an agenda.

At the outset, Allen noted that the conference’s organizers are notorious for their anti-homosexual attitudes and told conference participants: “I mean to persuade you to the opposite view.” But his remarks seemed to have just the reverse effect in the end, winning Allen fans among religious fundamentalist listeners but prompting barbs from gay rights supporters.

“His position is an attack on gay rights . . . and it does not take into account institutionalized homophobia,” said Sally Gearhart, a San Francisco professor and gay rights activist who listened to the talk.

“It’s something that the gay and lesbian community is going to have to take very seriously,” Gearhart said, “because he’s speaking from a very powerful position. I think this is a very important speech.”

A professor at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Allen had faced intense criticism from gay rights groups, members of Congress and even his fellow members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission for his scheduled appearance at the conference on homosexuality. The two-day affair was organized by the Rev. Louis Sheldon, a strident foe of gay rights, and featured speakers who portrayed homosexuality as a curable sickness.

Allen’s colleagues on the Civil Rights Commission went so far Friday as to formally distance themselves from his remarks, saying he had no authority to address the issue of homosexuality and calling the title of his talk “thoughtless, disgusting and unnecessarily inflammatory.”


The talk was entitled: “Blacks? Animals? Homosexuals? What is a Minority?” Allen, saying that “my title is an innocent as a title can be,” explained that it was intended to show that treating homosexuals and blacks as distinct minorities would essentially relegate them to animal status.

Incensed over the talk, about 150 Southland gay rights activists showed up outside the Pan Pacific at the scheduled start of Allen’s appearance Saturday morning. When word spread that the rights commissioner would be delayed because of flight problems, the demonstration went on anyway.

The protesters marched in unison on the sidewalk across from Disneyland. They blew whistles and shouted “Shame! Shame!” at a few young men who challenged them. They chanted familiar slogans--”What do we want? Gay rights! When do we want it? Now!”

They brandished placards with caricatures of some of their old rivals--Sheldon and Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), a speaker at the conference. One sign, mocking a theme of the Sheldon conference, read: “Reparative Therapy--5 cents. The homophobe Is In.”

And finally, the demonstration reached a crescendo when about 40 of the protesters broke from the group and marched on the hotel itself, blockading the entrance to the area where the Sheldon conference was being held.

Prevented by police from entering the conference, the protesters sat down in the lobby area against the glass doors and broke into a litany of chants.


“Two! Four! Six! Eight! Orange County ain’t so straight!” they shouted. “Arrest Allen! Arrest Allen!”

Some hotel guests stopped by to see what all the commotion was about, while others hurried past and tried to avoid the scene. “I think they’re sick,” said one 14-year-old girl on vacation from Sacramento, who tried to use a pay phone but couldn’t hear because of all the noise.

A family involved in plans for a wedding was worried that the tumult would prevent the setting up of flower arrangements at a nearby banquet hall.

A few hotel workers, trapped in an “employees only” room with their exit blocked by the protesters, police and media people, peeked their heads out the door occasionally to spy for an opening through the crowd.

And some participants in the Sheldon conference became annoyed because they wanted to use the outside restrooms but were not allowed to leave the immediate area.

Seeking to restore order, hotel security and Anaheim police officers warned the 40 protesters around noon to clear the area or face arrest.


“Get rid of the bigotry and you’ll get rid of us!” one female protester shouted back at an officer. “Sheldon leaves, we leave!”

Eventually, police led the protesters out of the hotel, one by one. The arrests proceeded quietly and uneventfully as the protesters were brought to an awaiting police bus in the parking lot. They were cited on misdemeanor charges of trespass and released.

“It went great,” said Sgt. Mike Webb of the Anaheim Police Department. “No problems--very orderly.”

As the demonstration was drawing to a close, Dannemeyer was ushered through the crowd to address conference participants on what he called “the reaffirmation of the heterosexual ethic.” Shortly after his talk, Allen arrived and took center stage.

He praised his hosts as “courageous people” for inviting him to take part in their “intellectually and morally defensible discussion” on homosexuality, despite what he later called the “closed-mindedness” of his colleagues on the civil rights panel.

Allen asserted that civil liberties must be aimed at uniting America, rather than tearing it apart by breaking its members into distinct groups. Minority classifications are haphazard, politically motivated, and inevitably “insidious and harmful,” he said.


And in a line included in his prepared text but not read aloud, Allen suggested that the government has sometimes offered protected status and special treatment to groups that were never disadvantaged to begin with. He later gave “Asian-Indians and women” as examples of this.

The talk, scholarly and often intensely abstract in tone, left some in the audience shaking their heads in puzzlement. “I don’t understand what he’s talking about,” one woman whispered to another listener.

Others said they were more certain of the message. Declared Sheldon: “He said very eloquently what we’ve been trying to say all along--that behavior patterns like homosexuality should not be the basis for special protections under the law.”

The practical implications of Allen’s controversial attitudes toward civil liberties and minorities could be seen last year when a spree of violence against homosexuals prompted calls for national anti-hate crime legislation, according to his aide, John Eastman.

It was Allen, Eastman said, who opposed a directive by which the U.S. Justice Department would have studied and tracked incidences of crime motivated specifically by sexual orientation. “He believes in equality for everyone but does not think (sexual orientation) should be a basis for establishing public policy,” Eastman said.