Infuriated by Gov. Pete Wilson’s veto of a major gay rights bill, California’s gay activists launched a wave of protest Monday that branded the governor “a liar” who had betrayed a cause he had pledged to support.
Scores of Los Angeles demonstrators waged raucous, disruptive rallies at the Westwood Federal Building in the morning and the Ronald Reagan State Office Building downtown in the afternoon. Protesters splattered red liquid on the state building and broke a heavy glass door before disbanding after a standoff with police. State Police arrested two demonstrators.
Monday evening, about 2,000 whistle-blowing, chanting demonstrators gathered in West Hollywood, where they torched a California state flag and burned Wilson in effigy.
The protesters then marched from West Hollywood to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Wilshire Boulevard, where Wilson was attending the opening of a landmark exhibition of Mexican art.
When the demonstrators arrived at the museum, where Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari inaugurated the exhibit, their numbers had dwindled to about 1,300. They were joined by about 50 people protesting Salinas’ appearance.
“Civil rights or civil war!” the crowd shouted. Police closed Wilshire in front of the museum, rerouting traffic through residential areas.
Later, about 150 demonstrators gathered at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, where Wilson was a guest. A man and a woman were arrested on suspicion of assault after protesters rushed the hotel’s front entrance and struck a helmeted police officer. The officer was knocked down and suffered a back injury, police said.
Thousands protested in San Francisco, where a small group of demonstrators entered the State Building in the evening and set a small fire that was quickly extinguished, fire officials said. No arrests were reported.
Across the state, gay activists vowed to press their fight for AB 101, a bill that would give homosexuals civil rights protection against job discrimination. Their tactics, they said, will include a major demonstration at the state Capitol on Oct. 11, an initiative drive to place a gay rights proposition on the ballot, and threats to publicly disclose the supposed homosexuality of certain “closeted” state officials.
Wilson, in explaining his decision, argued that existing laws afford homosexuals ample protection against discrimination. He said he had been tempted to approve the bill because of a “tiny minority of mean-spirited, gay-bashing bigots” who vehemently opposed the legislation. But gay activists said Wilson’s decision was nothing less than a betrayal.
“We were blatantly lied to, and we are angry,” said John J. Duran, co-chair of the Lobby for Individual Freedom and Equality, which helped write AB 101. Duran said Wilson promised to support anti-discrimination legislation in meetings with gay activists during his gubernatorial campaign against former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein.
Duran was among several gay activists who angrily condemned Wilson during a news conference at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center.
“There is a time for outrage and for hitting the streets,” said Torie Osborne, executive director of the center.
“Simply, we are going to take over the Capitol. . . . Wilson, your political career is over,” said Rob Roberts, a member of the radical group Queer Nation.
Asked whether gays would follow through on threats to “out” homosexuals within Wilson’s Administration, Osborne predicted that such tactics will be employed by radicals. “This is war, and anything goes,” she said.
“A closet is a dangerous place to be,” Duran said.
Wilson’s veto raises the broader question of whether he can be relied on to support other issues, Duran said.
“Wilson absolutely caved in to the far right of his own party and to the fundamentalists on gay rights,” Duran said. “What else, then? Abortion rights? The teaching of evolution? Sex education and AIDS education in public schools? What else will the right hold him hostage to?”
Meanwhile, fundamentalists who had passionately opposed the measure had only the faintest praise for the governor. They thanked him for rebuffing the bill, but attacked his overall record on tax and family issues.
The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, whose Traditional Values Coalition opposed the bill, said he was happy Wilson vetoed the measure because it would have stifled job creation in California. But he withheld support for the governor.
“While we appreciate the veto and thank the governor, it must be said that the governor is not anti-tax and is not family friendly and has not been rehabilitated to warrant reelection,” Sheldon said at a news conference in Anaheim.
Times staff writer Catherine Gewertz contributed to this story.