The openly gay mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., said Thursday that he regrets using the word "proud" in a letter he wrote welcoming an "ex-gay" group to his city, the Desert Sun reports. Focus on the Family, a notoriously antigay group from Colorado Springs, Colo., is hosting its Love Won Out conference at Southwest Community Church in Indian Wells, south of the city, on September 23. The conference centers on a message that gays can change their sexual orientation.
"I probably would have changed the phrase," Mayor Ron Oden said during a news conference on Thursday. Oden also said he would accept Focus on the Family's invitation to attend the conference, hoping it would provide an opportunity to share his perspective.
Oden has received criticism from some local gays and lesbians over the letter, the Sun reports. The ex-gay Christian group Exodus International, which has held conferences like this across the country for eight years, is the event's other sponsor. Indian Wells is one of six conferences planned for 2006. The next city is Atlanta, on November 4.
Organizers say the conference will feature speakers who will offer strategies to help gays change their sexual orientation. They will also offer friends and family members ways to "cope" with a loved one's homosexuality.
Don Bruhnke, a Palm Springs resident and gay man who attended Thursday's news conference at Palm Springs City Hall, told the Sun he couldn't believe the mayor would welcome "a group with a professed hatred of my lifestyle and who I am. I'm just outraged the city would be proud to welcome [them]."
Oden said that as the mayor of Palm Springs he receives requests from events on a "regular basis" asking for personal appearances and letters of welcome. While the city doesn't have a policy to respond, "most people who send a request get a letter," he said. (The Advocate)