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Group’s ‘Gathering’ Seeks to Unify Gay Community

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A countywide conference Saturday on gay issues in Ventura County that was criticized by the leader of the county’s oldest gay facility drew more than 85 people and was unscathed by protest.

The conference in Camarillo, called “The Gathering,” was sponsored by a new group called the Lesbian and Gay Alliance. The conference had been attacked earlier in the week by Claire Connelly, the director of the Resource Center of Camarillo, as an effort to undermine her position.

But Terryl Miller, one of the conference organizers, said the group is seeking to unify gays in the county.

“What we are about today is ending the isolation,” Miller said. “We want to open the closet doors and invite people to come out. Today is a beginning.”

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Former Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Gentry, who gave the conference’s keynote address, called for people to take advantage of politicians who are sensitive to gay concerns.

“Never in our lives have we been more poised for greatness,” Gentry told the audience that gathered at the Bill Esty Community Center. Gentry said gays need to take advantage of the Clinton Administration’s support for gay concerns.

“We can’t sit back,” Gentry said. “This is probably the most teachable moment. We need to be involved in the dialogue (on lesbians and gays) and not let others speak for us.”

Dawn Hildebrand, 30, of Ventura said she came to the conference to find out about lesbian and gay groups in the county. She said she was also aware of the power struggle between the two groups.

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“We all have to get educated,” Hildebrand said. “We need some leaders.”

Hildebrand said the struggle has hurt efforts to organize gays in Ventura County.

Workshops ranged from “Transforming Partnership, Transforming Ourselves” to “Men, Gender and Justice” and “Or Own Place at Every Table: Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Power in the ‘90s.”

The conference concluded with an open forum where participants discussed the possible formation of a new gay center in Ventura.

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