Gay Rights Protest Disrupts Wilson Speech

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Gov. Pete Wilson was showered with debris and obscenity-laced taunts Tuesday by gay rights protesters angered by his veto of an anti-discrimination bill who crashed a ceremony commemorating Stanford University's centennial.

The author of the legislation, meanwhile, urged the gay community in California to refrain from violence. Democratic Assemblyman Terry Friedman of Los Angeles pledged to explore another legislative effort and said gays and lesbians should transform their anger into political power that could be used to win the battle next time around.

Wilson, who described the Stanford demonstration as a "fascist tactic," gamely completed a speech extolling family values and individual responsibility despite 15 minutes of unbroken screams, whistles and chants from about 200 protesters who massed below the stage.

Protected by a line of police in riot gear and his own security officers, Wilson made a one-handed catch of an orange hurled at him, then lobbed it back into the crowd. The invited guests rose in a standing ovation.

The confrontation was prompted by Wilson's rejection Sunday of legislation that would have prohibited employment discrimination against gays and lesbians. The bill would have added sexual orientation to the list of factors--including religious beliefs and physical handicaps--for which people cannot be denied a job.

Gay rights advocates were outraged by the veto and were angered all the more because Wilson had courted their support during the 1990 governor's race and had said earlier this year that he was "likely" to sign such a bill.

In Los Angeles earlier, a noisy demonstration by hundreds of protesters outside the Century Plaza hotel, where activists believed Wilson was spending the night, exploded into a violent clash early Tuesday between baton-wielding police and missile-throwing demonstrators. There were 12 arrests, including three people booked for felony assault on a police officer. Activists on Tuesday asked the Los Angeles Police Commission to investigate allegations of police brutality.

Demonstrators marched through West Hollywood on Tuesday evening, the third night of their protests against Wilson's veto. The crowd of about 500 were taunted at one point along the march by spectators, and a few brief scuffles broke out, authorities said. There were no arrests.

In San Francisco, police said more than 5,000 protesters rampaged Monday night, setting fires and smashing windows in a state office building. Many of the same people attended the Stanford event Tuesday, where they sat through several speeches by university dignitaries and others before the governor, wearing a black academic robe and purple sash, rose to the platform amid a chorus of boos and catcalls.

"This is not the place for fascist tactics," Wilson said in his only acknowledgement of the disruption. "They won't make converts at Stanford."

Then the first-year governor, who almost always deviates from his text in lengthy ad-libs, read his speech word for word.

"Shame! Shame! Shame!" chanted the protesters, marching through the aisles and toward the podium, where Wilson, bent over the microphone, hunched his shoulders in a protective posture. Two plainclothes State Police officers flanked Wilson, deflecting eggs--one of which glanced off the governor's shoulder--and wads of paper thrown from the crowd.

The demonstrators were stopped about 30 feet from Wilson by two dozen stone-faced Palo Alto police officers and Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies, who wore helmets and carried batons. There were no arrests.

Almost lost in the ruckus was Wilson's speech, which was a departure from his more common fare of technical, nuts-and-bolts discussions of the state's ills. Intended or not, the address seemed to be a comment on the scene that was unfolding before him.

In the speech, Wilson called for a future with values more popular in 1950s America, when the family--"a sacred union born from romantic love"--was more cherished and the country believed itself to be a place where "hard work was rewarded."

"It does seem that as we acquired state-of-the-art comfort, we may have gone a little soft, have lost some discipline and direction," Wilson mused. "And yes, I do worry that in recent years, we have stressed the rights of the individual while ignoring his or her duties."

But Wilson, in words that only part of his audience could hear, said he does not accept "all this declinism" put forth by social pessimists.

"If the young people, who are soon to be our next generation of leaders, are held fast by the mooring of ethical values, the winds of change needn't blow them in a headlong rush into mindless hedonism," he said.

He called on Stanford to avoid becoming "an elegant informational cafeteria for the curious" that would fail to feed "moral stamina and discipline" to those "ravenous" for judgments and values.

"It is time for the great American university to return to the abandoned role of moral teacher--not by handing down prefabricated precepts, but by challenging and stretching minds, by compelling analysis to reach a judgment."

After he finished the speech, Wilson returned to his seat on the stage and the demonstrators filed out, still chanting. After the open-air quad quieted, Wilson returned to the microphone for a final comment to the audience, which had remained seated: "I regret that my fan club accompanied me. I think they should be pitied, not censored."

After the speech, a protest leader said he thought the group had accomplished its goals.

"It is time for us to take a stand," said the man, who identified himself as Wayne P., a member of the group Queer Nation. "We have accomplished a verbal and physical presence to engage in a political stand against a decision that was homophobic."

But several Stanford alumni interviewed as the protest broke up, including some who said they support gay rights, were not impressed.

"I sure as hell don't think that this is the way to get any support," said one. "They lose support. Maybe they don't care."

Friedman voiced a similar fear, saying continued violence could alienate the majority of Californians who support passage of civil rights legislation protecting gays in the workplace. He cited a Field Poll released Monday showing that Californians favored his bill, AB 101, 62% to 29%. Among Republicans, the bill was supported 53% to 36%.

"The veto has clearly touched a raw nerve," Friedman said in a press conference at Los Angeles City Hall. "But now is not the time for smashing windows, blocking doors or spilling blood."

Friedman said the outrage of gays was understandable. But he expressed hope that activists would work through political channels because of the "potential for violence."

"Innocent people could be hurt," he added.

Friedman also spoke out against threats issued by gay militants to "out" closeted homosexuals in the Wilson Administration. "That is a repugnant invasion of privacy and I abhor it," he said.

Friedman said he is exploring legislation that would enable gays denied employment to seek redress in the courts. It would be unrealistic to seek the two-thirds vote of the state Legislature to override of the governor's veto of AB 101, he said.

The assemblyman also appeared at the demonstration at the Century Plaza late Monday in an unsuccessful attempt to pacify the protest there.

A standoff lasted more than two hours. Then violence snowballed after an altercation between by a protester and police clad in riot gear. Los Angeles Police Officer Ruth Baker was knocked into a stone pillar, severely injuring her back, Police Capt. Willie Pannell said. Two other officers also were hurt, he said.

Tension mounted as those gathered witnessed police beating the demonstrator, protester Shawn Griffin said. Other witnesses, including City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, described protesters ripping trees from concrete planters and hurling them and rocks at police.

Large concrete ashtrays on the plaza were hurled against windows but did not break the glass. "We were afraid those glass windows were going to shatter on all of us," Pannell said. Officers were then ordered to disperse the crowd, he said.

David M. Smith, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, said organizers were trying to calm the protesters when dozens of police officers rushed the crowd, indiscriminately striking protesters. "It was a typical storm-trooper rush," he said.

Weintraub reported from Stanford, Harris from Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
57°