Antigay protesters claim unfair treatment in Tennessee
May 27 2004 12:00 AM ET
Two people arrested for protesting the Gay Day celebration in Dayton, Tenn., on May 8 say they were not treated fairly by police. Michael Siemer and Brian O'Connell were arrested by local police for disorderly conduct and interfering with a special event at Gay Day, which was organized to celebrate the reversal of a Rhea County resolution to ban gays in the county. Their attorney says the two were not planning on protesting the event but were instead walking to a different location to present an antigay message. According to Dayton police, officers told the two they could not carry signs in the event area without an event permit. The report said the behavior of the two men was threatening.
The Gay Day event was held in Dayton--renowned as the site of the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial about the teaching of evolution--after county commissioners passed a resolution to outlaw homosexuality. After Gay Day was organized, some Christian groups decided to hold their own event a day earlier "exposing the evils of homosexuality." Some protesters, along with Siemer and O'Connell, also showed up at Gay Day. Stephen Crampton, a Tupelo, Miss., attorney with the American Family Association, said Siemer and O'Connell might sue the city once criminal charges are settled. "[Dayton police] wanted to be so sure that they treated the homosexuals properly that they went overboard and removed anyone with an opposing viewpoint from the Gay Day event," Crampton said.
Criminal hearings for Siemer and O'Connell have been set for June 22. Mayor Sam Swafford said he would not comment on the possibility of a civil lawsuit. Crampton said the two were not attending the event to protest. "They were there to present their own message," he said. "They were planning to go along the U.S. Highway 27 right-of-way. They had no intention of going into the park." Crampton said his clients are asking for a monetary judgment, an apology from the city, and assurances that the city is educated in such a way that unconstitutional actions will not be repeated in the future.