17 Arrested in Gay Rights Protest in Garden Grove

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In one of the largest gay rallies in Orange County history, 17 people were arrested after an estimated 1,000 demonstrators marched down Garden Grove Boulevard, chanting and cheering to protest Gov. Pete Wilson's recent veto of a homosexual rights bill.

Drowned in shouts of "Gay rights now!" 16 demonstrators were led away one by one to be arrested by police after they linked themselves arm-in-arm and refused to leave the center of a major intersection.

While no violence occurred, the event grew increasingly confrontational as the protesters marched past residential areas on Garden Grove Boulevard, and police struggled to push back crowds of counterdemonstrators who lined the neighborhoods.

In addition, at the march's end organizers burned a California state flag and effigies of Gov. Pete Wilson and U.S. Sen. John Seymour.

"Rights are not given! Right must be taken!" Joseph Amster of Laguna Beach, a member of the gay rights group Queer Nation, shouted from atop a flatbed truck that led the procession.

Several small groups of residents opposed to homosexual rights squared off against the protesters in angry shouts. "Wilson! Wilson!" a group of Garden Grove High School students shouted in support of the governor's veto.

One counterdemonstrator was arrested. Thomas E. Rosales Jr., 41, of Indiana reportedly threatened the gay protesters with a baseball bat, police said. The suspect, who police said appeared to be drunk, struggled with police and was finally dragged away by several officers as the crowd of gay protesters cheered.

The arrests of gay rights demonstrators occurred at the end of the march, after they marched past a section of Garden Grove Boulevard that police closed off for the protest, and entered Euclid Street.

Capt. David Abrecht said the marchers were cited for misdemeanor unlawful assembly and failure to disperse.

The demonstration was one of several staged in Southern California on Saturday. Earlier in the day, about 1,000 gay rights activists brought business to a standstill in the posh shops of Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood, and jammed traffic on streets across the Westside.

The current slew of protests was triggered last Sunday when Gov. Wilson--after showing some indications of support--surprised and incensed gay activists throughout the state by vetoing AB 101, a bill that would have banned job discrimination based on sexual orientation.

While decrying "bigotry," Wilson said he believed existing laws provide sufficient civil rights protections for the gay community.

Since the veto, there have been protests nearly every day by gay rights activists in Hollywood, Los Angeles, Northern California, Orange County and elsewhere around the state. Some of the protests have turned violent and have included confrontations between activists and police, broken windows, and even oranges thrown at Wilson during an address in Los Angeles.

The Garden Grove demonstration caused some disruptions in the community. A 1-mile stretch of Garden Grove Boulevard closed because of the rally.

But a Carl's Jr. restaurant, picked as the site of the protests in part because of what gay activists perceived as the anti-homosexual attitude of founder Carl Karcher, plans to stay open as scheduled through midnight.

A manager at the restaurant said employees had been ordered not to talk about the rally, but she added, "We'll be all right."

Rick Miller, 46, who lives about a block from the rally site, brought his 9-year-old son, Nicholas, in front of the restaurant "just to have a laugh."

"This makes the city look bad," Miller said.

Scores of residents lined the demonstration route to catch a glimpse of the parade.

"We're out here to see what it's all about," said Tom Butler, who was standing at the intersection of Safford Street and Garden Grove Boulevard with a group of neighbors. "They don't bother me. They have a good enough cause."

Tensions, however, were visible elsewhere at the rally.

Police said one of their main objectives was to avoid confrontation between the protesters and about a dozen counter-protesters who held signs with messages such as, "Repent, Sinners."

"Thank God Peter Wilson did one thing right," one of the counter-protesters shouted at the group.

"Homosexuals want rights? What's next? Rights for rapists? Rights for child molesters?" said Reuben Israel of Los Angeles, who blared anti-homosexual epithets through a bullhorn.

But gay activists were undeterred by the counterdemonstrators and hailed the event as a huge success.

"This is our biggest event ever," surpassing a rally at the Santa Ana City Hall during the gay pride festival that drew 600, said Jeff LeTourneau, a longtime leader in the Orange County gay community.

Garden Grove police began closing down Garden Grove Boulevard between Harbor Boulevard and Euclid Street about 7:30 p.m. but warned protesters that anyone disrupting traffic outside that area would be arrested.

Abrecht said after the demonstration that he was "impressed by how well (the gay) group policed itself."

He noted that several skirmishes between counterdemonstrators and gay activists "looked like it could get ugly, but it was all just a verbal exchange."

Indeed, some of the harshest words were thrown at the police as residents opposed to the demonstrators demanded access to the streets and were pushed back by officers.

"Take off the badge," several residents yelled as they challenged police to fight them.

Police said they had about 151 officers--half their staff--at the scene at an estimated cost of $20,000.

"We will not seek restitution if there is no property damage, no violence," Capt. Scott Jordan told the protest leaders.

Abrecht said: "This is the first major demonstration we've had in 15 years."

Gay activists promised to keep up the political pressure in hopes of gaining an override in the state Legislature of Wilson's veto as well as a statewide referendum on the gay discrimination issue.

Toward that end, leaders of ACT UP Orange County announced a second Orange County rally for Friday at the Anaheim home of the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition and a fervent opponent of homosexual rights.

Hit with several major legislative defeats in Orange County in the past several years, gay activists have sought to take a more visible--and sometimes militant--role in the community.

In recent years, gay activists have turned out around Orange County by the dozens for rallies and protests centered on AIDS awareness, gay housing policies, civil rights protections and a host of other forums. But local gay leaders said that Wilson's veto of AB 101 has turned out activists like few other issues.

"The news (about Saturday's rally) has been all over the county," said 21-year-old Anthony Gallegos of Orange, who works with mentally handicapped children in the public school system. "For a lot of us, this a really personal issue that hits close to home."

For instance, Gallegos said he believes that he would be fired if his employers in the school knew he were gay.

With AB 101, however, "I thought finally I wouldn't have to worry about who I am and what I'm saying. When (the bill) went down it just hurt so much."

Janet Avery, a longtime gay activist from Laguna Hills, said that Wilson's veto has stirred such strong emotions because "the gay community has been lied to big time by Wilson and we're tired of it."

She added that while she does not support the kind of violence that has taken place in gay rallies in Los Angeles, she understands the militant action by gays and lesbians.

"Some people reach the breaking point and they have to strike out," she said.

Earlier Saturday, about 1,000 gay activists disrupted business from Rodeo Drive to Westwood Village to protest the governor's veto. "They are just shutting everything down as they go by," said Los Angeles Police Officer Willie Workman, one of scores of motorcycle officers who escorted the protesters through the afternoon traffic. Police said the protest was peaceful and no injuries were reported.

"It will do no good to break windows or start fighting in these streets," Lisa Mills, a member of League America, a gay and lesbian activist group, told demonstrators as they gathered in Beverly Hills.

At the intersection of Westwood and Wilshire boulevards, marchers staged an impromptu sit-in, tying up traffic as far as the eye could see in all directions.

"Wilson says we are bad for business," said Jill, a 27-year-old financial planner from Beverly Hills who would not give her last name for fear of losing her job. "We are showing him how bad for business we really can be."

One angry motorist attempted a citizen's arrest of several protesters blocking his path out of Westwood. The motorist, however, said police offered no assistance.

"I have worked eight hours and I need to go home," said Tony Barragan, a waiter in a Westwood restaurant, who stood on the sidewalk after parking his car in disgust. "I have a right to use the road. I am being held against my wishes."

In Century City, the protesters swarmed into the Century City Shopping Center, startling shoppers and merchants with their whistles and horns but drawing cheers, smiles and applause from many shoppers.

"It is important for them to make a point," said Shelly Bobbins, who stood outside a department store waving her hands in support. "I realize it is turning off a lot of people, but there is a lot of discrimination out there."

On Rodeo Drive, the crowd marched past some of the world's most exclusive shops and boutiques, at one point engulfing a bus of Asian tourists out for a sightseeing trip.

Times staff writers Robert Elston, Davan Maharaj, Dean E. Murphy and Victor Merina contributed to this report.

A Look at AB 101

AB 101 called for amending the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by adding sexual orientation to the list of protected categories, which covers race, religion, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical handicap, medical condition, marital status, sex and age.

Proponents said it would outlaw job discrimination against homosexuals, while opponents said it would be used to harass the business community, especially small firms.

The bill passed both houses of the Legislature, but on Sept. 29 Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed it, citing the potential impact on businesses. Critics accused him of bowing to the conservative wing of the Republican Party. The veto unleashed a storm of statewide protests by gays and lesbians and other activists.

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