Gay camp vandalized

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 15 2003 12:00 AM ET

Vandals tore down a gate at the entrance to a camp for gay men and lesbians north of Pollock, La., and made off with a large wooden sign, acts the camp's operator says were motivated by hate. "As far as I'm concerned, it was a hate crime," said Skip Ward, who operates the rustic Manitou Woods camp. Ward said that in the approximately 10 years he's run the camp, he's never had problems with vandalism before. But the camp's existence only recently came to light, prompting some area residents and ministers to condemn it.

Ward, 82, and his partner of 13 years, Joseph Gary, 40, discovered the damage when they visited the camp Thursday afternoon, he said. The front gate had been torn down, two large telephone poles that supported the front sign were snapped in half, and the 20- by 3-foot hand-painted "Manitou Woods" sign was missing. The pair said they also found fresh tire tracks and beer cans. "You can see where someone tied a chain around the pole and tore it down," Gary said.

The 12-acre retreat along Fish Creek has been the subject of controversy for the past two weeks after local ministers and some residents came out against the camp. "If those people just came out here and saw what really goes on here, they wouldn't hate us so much," Gary said.

After assessing the damage to the front gate, Ward and Gary inspected the three habitable cottages on the premises as well as the camp dining hall and found nothing amiss. Ward said the damage to the camp property comes to well over $500.

From March to November, Gary said, he spends every day on the camp property acting as caretaker. He said he had not planned to return until mid March, when the camp reopens for the year. "I'm guessing I'm going to have to come out here and stay out here," Gary said. "I feel threatened now." The couple said the gate and sign were both intact when they last visited the camp the previous weekend.