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Gay Forces Confront Sheldon in Capital : Civil Rights: The Traditional Values Coalition’s chief is assailed over his “reparative therapy” theory of reversing homosexuality.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Chanting angry slogans, 1,000 vocal gay rights activists surged up Connecticut Avenue Friday night to confront Orange County evangelist Louis P. Sheldon at the hotel where he presided over a national conference on “reparative therapy” for gays.

Sheldon and about 70 members of his National Task Force to Preserve the Heterosexual Ethic stayed closeted inside meeting rooms at the Sheraton Washington Hotel as the demonstrators outside sang songs and lit candles in a sometimes-raucous, sometimes-prayerful vigil that lasted more than an hour.

No violence was reported, and police said they made no arrests.

Among the scores of placards carried by the marchers was one bearing a larger-than-life photo of Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), who had addressed Sheldon’s gathering earlier in the day. The word bigot was twice superimposed on Dannemeyer’s image.

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Dannemeyer is perhaps the most vocal opponent of gay rights in Congress.

Other signs read: “Bigotry, a Traditional Family Value,” “'50s Bigots Take Note, This is the Gay 90s,” and “I’m a healthy, happy homosexual.”

As they made their through way through the fashionable Kalorama section north of downtown Washington, the marchers drew apartment dwellers to the windows of their high-rise buildings with chants of “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Dannemeyer has got to go!”

The march capped a daylong war of words between Sheldon’s Traditional Values Coalition, which sponsored the conference, and a coalition of gay and civil rights groups that have branded both Sheldon and Dannemeyer as hatemongers and homophobes.

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“We have sent a very strong and powerful signal to the Rev. Lou Sheldons of the world that they will not be able to come to the nation’s capital to spread lies and intolerance,” said Robert Bray, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, one of the groups that organized the 1 1/2-mile march.

“We will not let them bash us here, and we will not let them bash us anywhere.”

At one point late Friday, a dozen demonstrators entered the hotel and found the room where Sheldon’s conference was in progress. Before they were escorted from the hotel by guards, they shouted through the locked doors: “Lesbians and gays under attack! What do we do? Act up, fight back!”

‘No Blood, No Guts’

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As the protesters dispersed outside the hotel, Phil Sheldon, one of Louis Sheldon’s sons, remarked, “No blood, no guts.”

The protest thrust his father into the national spotlight just as he is planning to expand the reach of his Anaheim-based coalition.

In an interview Friday, Sheldon said that he is working on a national direct-mail campaign to raise millions of dollars in the next few years to support a full-time Washington office and lobbyists in key state capitals.

Sheldon also said a producer is seeking financial backing for a TV show for which Sheldon would be host. And, he said, he is planning to spend the next few days working the crowd at the annual meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters in Washington, looking for TV stations to carry his message that homosexuality can be cured.

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“NRB’s our choir, so we have to get in tune together,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon said of the gay protest: “That’s their right, but would they deny us the right to help those who have asked for help? I believe they would take it from us. He who yells the hardest about special rights never wants to give just normal rights to others who differ. They simply do not want us to talk about this process of treatment.”

The treatment at the center of the bitter dispute is called reparative therapy. Sheldon and his adherents dispute the view that homosexuality is genetically determined. They believe that gays can be transformed into heterosexuals through psychotherapy.

At a noon press conference, Sheldon presented half a dozen psychologists and therapists who supported this view.

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“I think its time for heterosexuals to come out of the closet,” said Edward Eichel, co-author of a soon-to-be-published book, “Kinsey, Sex and Fraud.” Eichel said the book details the bias of sexual researchers toward homosexuality.

Across town at the same moment, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force mustered its own experts.

“The homophobia of today is the anti-Semitism of tomorrow and the racism of next week,” said Rabbi Lynne Landsberg of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Dr. Bryant L. Welch of the American Psychological Assn. said it is futile to attempt to persuade gays to abandon homosexuality because it is an innate behavior, not a chosen one.

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Times staff writer Shawn Pogatchnik contributed to this story.


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