At least 500
people braved cold temperatures and light snow Sunday in
front of the Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado
Springs, Colo., to protest the conservative Christian
group's campaign against gay rights and same-sex marriage.
The protesters held rainbow flags, multicolored
balloons, and signs reading "God Loves Justice" and
"Love Thy Neighbor." An American Indian group played
drums, and some protesters sang "We Shall Overcome."
Focus on the Family, founded and led by James
Dobson, has vigorously opposed gay rights and same-sex
marriage, urging voters during last year's election to
vote for President Bush and in favor of constitutional
bans on same-sex marriage, which passed in 11 states.
"We are here to say, Jim, we love you enough to
stop you from doing the damage you are doing to
families across the nation," said Mel White, executive
director of Soulforce, a national interfaith organization
that supports gay rights.
Thomas Minnery, director of public policy for
Focus on the Family, watched the rally from inside the
headquarters building. He denied that Focus delivers a
message of hate but reiterated the organization's belief
that homosexuality violates biblical scripture. "There are
thousands of people who have left homosexuality,
including some on our staff. To say that one is born
that way obviously flies in the face of facts," Minnery said.
Soulforce protesters planned to deliver letters
detailing personal stories about the harm of antigay
rhetoric and to talk to Focus staffers on Monday. They
had pledged nonviolent civil disobedience if they were
denied entrance. Dobson missed both events. He is traveling
on the East Coast this week and was expected to be in
Washington, D.C., for the National Day of Prayer
events on Thursday.
On Sunday, speaking to the crowd that included
gay and lesbian couples, families, and children, White
called Focus on the Family "a toxic religion zone."
Kendra Wiig and her mother, Deborah Wiig, both
of Denver, also challenged Focus's position. "Although
Focus says homosexuality is against families and
against religion, there are a lot of loving families with
gay mothers, daughters, and sons," said Kendra Wiig,
who is bisexual. In her last year at Colorado State
University, Kendra said she fears for her desired
career as a college professor if she is open about her sexuality.
Focus has a program called "Love Won Out," which
contends that homosexuality can be prevented or treated.
Focus on the Family staffer Melissa Fryrear said
she was gay for a decade before becoming Christian and
realizing her new life was incompatible with
homosexuality. "That's not a Focus on the Family stance.
That's a biblical stance," said Fryrear, who talked to
reporters inside a tent on the organization's grounds.
Meanwhile, protesters were in a festive mood
despite the weather, walking under several strands of
rainbow-colored balloons, listening to music, and
eating hot dogs. Children took turns trying to walk on stilts.
Will Pharis and Rich Weinman, who live on a
ranch near Cheyenne, Wyo., have been a couple for nine
years. Both teach in Weld County in northern Colorado.
They marched with hundreds of others around the Focus on the
Family campus, which covers at least a city block. "We feel
we wanted to have a presence here," Weinman said. "We
are known in our school district as a couple, and
we've had a lot of support from the teachers and
administrators. I'm pretty convinced that mainstream folks
are OK with diversity."
During the Soulforce protest, a small group from
the notoriously antigay Westboro Baptist Church of
Topeka, Kan., protested Focus on the Family for being
gay-friendly because it encourages gays and lesbians to
become heterosexual. The church made the news when its
pastor, Fred Phelps, led antigay demonstrations after
the 1998 slaying of openly gay University of Wyoming
student Matthew Shepard.
Two parents and their gay son were arrested
Monday when they crossed a barricade and tried to
hand-deliver a letter protesting Dobson's antigay
stance. When police warned Phil Reitan, his wife, and son
they would be arrested, Reitan said, "I'm an attorney,
I'm a Christian, I'm a father, I love my family."
Phil and Randi Reitan and their son, Jacob, led
a single-file march of about 150 people to the
headquarters of the Focus on the Family ministry on
the second day of a protest by Soulforce. A Focus on the
Family representative met the demonstrators outside
the light metal barricades and accepted stacks of
letters from Soulforce. Soulforce said the letters
objected to Dobson's teachings that homosexual behavior is a
sin and that antidiscrimination laws should not extend
to gays and lesbians. The Reitans said they wanted to
deliver their own letter to Dobson personally and were
arrested on trespassing charges when they passed through the barricades.
Dobson, a child psychologist, founded Focus on
the Family and has spread its message through his
books and radio broadcasts that reach about 220
million people worldwide. His reach stretches beyond
religious matters, his political clout growing as
evangelical Christians have become politically active.
Now he's lobbying against Democratic senators blocking
President Bush's judicial nominees. (AP)