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Gay Group Ousted From Christian Music Festival : Fair: Organizer closes a booth run by Evangelicals Concerned after quarreling with them over a sign.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An organizer of a large Christian music festival and fair, angered by a sign displayed by a Christian gay and lesbian group, tore it down and evicted the group from its booth at the fair, both sides in the dispute said Friday.

Members of the homosexual rights group said they obtained a booth at Summer Praise ’94 at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center under the name Evangelicals Concerned without fully describing their organization, conceding there was “no way” they would have been admitted if they had revealed in advance they were a gay group.

George Jerome, an organizer of Summer Praise, which drew an estimated 6,500 people on opening day Thursday, confirmed that he evicted Evangelicals Concerned from the religious fair after quarreling with members of the group over the sign on their booth describing them as “Christian Gays and Lesbians for Justice.”

When the group at first refused to comply with an order by fair officials to leave the booth, Jerome “stormed over and ripped the banner down,” said David Perona of Santa Ana.

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Perona, who said he was manning the booth along with two other members of the group, said that Jerome “said to me that he represented the Christian community and ‘we don’t want you here.’

“He said other vendors were threatening to pull out” if the gay Christian group remained, Perona said.

Jerome said that about two dozen people had complained about the sign, and he pulled it down because the men in the booth “combatively denied that anybody, including me, had authority to deal with them.” The sign conveyed an “in-your-face” attitude, Jerome said.

“Had they been cooperative and agreed that the sign was offensive, we could have worked something out--maybe by moving them, maybe by changing the sign,” Jerome said. “But they gave me no choice.”

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Perona said he objected to the eviction, arguing that Evangelicals Concerned had paid the $450 fee for the exhibit booth.

The incident began when other festival-goers, noticing the message on their sign, commented: “That’s not right. You shouldn’t be here.”

“We expected that,” Perona said. The booth displayed brochures and a book by Mel White, a former ghostwriter for Billy Graham, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who recently revealed that he was gay.

Perona said the three men left when they felt they no longer wanted to be badgered.

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Paul Hammack, production manager for the festival, said that the group obtained a booth on false premises and that many young people attending the fair would have been misled by its message if the booth were allowed to remain.

“We’re trying to put God back into this country,” Hammack said, “but some people would rather come out of the closet rather than clean it.”

Dan Stohler of Evangelicals Concerned, who filled out the group’s application for a booth, said he described his group on the telephone to one of Jerome’s assistants “as a ministry of reconciliation that helps individuals to reconcile their sexual orientation and their spirituality, and that we work primarily with gay and lesbian people.”

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Stohler added: “If we came out and said that we were gays and lesbians, there is no way we would have gotten in there. But I don’t think we were being deceptive because their literature talks about Christian unity.”

Samuel Dean Behrens, secretary of the Western region of Evangelicals Concerned, said the group is dedicated to the proposition that gays and lesbians can be evangelical Christians. There are 3,000 people on the Western region’s mailing list, he said, and the national body held its annual meeting on the Fourth of July weekend at Chapman University in Orange.

The $600,000 Summer Praise ’94, which features more than 50 contemporary Christian music groups, including well-known recording artist Carman, is a first-time promotional effort by Jerome, a Chatsworth businessman, and Carey Wong, a Glendale financier. It includes children’s rides and theater plus inspirational talks by more than a dozen evangelical speakers. It ends Sunday.


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