Nation: Voting Against Gay Rights

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A backlash against growing tolerance

Our community could become a hanven for practicing homosexuals, lesbians, prostitutes and pimps," said one pamphlet distributed by the Concerned Citizens for Community Standards of Wichita, Kans. Another warned: "There is a real danger that homosexual teachers, social workers or counselors, simply by public acknowledgment of their lifestyles, can encourage sexual deviation in children." These and other fearful concerns—widely circulated in a $50,000 publicity campaign—helped produce a dramatic result last week in Wichita voting booths. By a ratio of almost 5 to 1 (47,246 to 110.005), citizens repealed a seven-month-old local "gay rights ordinance" that barred discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

Coming as it did just two weeks after voters in St. Paul had overturned a similar law there, the Wichita vote seemed further evidence of a backlash against the gay rights laws passed by approximately three dozen U.S. communities—including Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Tucson, Ariz. In a victory telegram sent to Wichita's Concerned Citizens, Gospel Singer Anita Bryant, who led a similar repeal campaign last year in Dade County, Fla., said: "It is now obvious that the will of the American people is to return this country to profamily, Bible morality."

After the Wichita vote, teen-agers in pickup trucks shouted obscenities outside the Bus Station, a local gay club. But conservative Baptist leaders of Concerned Citizens carefully pointed out that they sought no persecution of homosexuals.

"We like them," said the Rev. Ron Adrian, "but we just don't approve of their sin." Said the Rev. Ron Ballard, of Emporia, Kans.: "They were under no penalty prior to this law, nor are we advocating any new laws to persecute them. If their sexual preference is kept to themselves, that's within the range of what we can accept."

Wichita homosexuals expected to lose last week's vote, though by a substantially smaller margin. "It's sad that so many people turned out to vote against us," said Bob Lewis, 29, who heads the Homophile Alliance of Sedgwick County, "but gay people here are just getting started." In Minnesota, homosexual State Senator Allan Spear pointed to the bright side of the movement's defeat there: some 40% of the St. Paul voters had supported the gay rights ordinance. Five years ago, claimed Spear, less than 20% of the voters would have supported it. His view: "This is a new and frightening issue for most people."

Last week's Wichita vote caused tremors among gays from San Francisco to New York. When the Wichita results became known in San Francisco, more than 1,000 demonstrators staged a march to Union Square chanting, "Wichita means fight back." In Chicago, Alderman Clifford Kelley decided to delay pressing for a local gay rights ordinance after the St. Paul and Wichita votes. Said he: "I'd rather not call up the bill if it would make a real poor showing." In New York, a Post poll showed city residents narrowly opposed to enactment of a homosexual rights bill, 51.6% to 48.4%.

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