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The openly gay mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., said in an opinion piece published Friday that he was only showing "Christian courtesy" in welcoming an "ex-gay" group to his city last Saturday, CBS News reports. Mayor Ron Oden has been under fire from the city's many gay and lesbian residents over a welcome letter he sent to the organizers of the Love Won Out conference, taking place 20 miles away in Indian Wells.
"It's a pleasure to welcome you," the mayor wrote to the notoriously antigay Christian group Focus on the Family, which organized the conference. "We are so proud to have you here in the Palm Springs area."
Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., teaches that gays and lesbians lead "deviant un-Christian lifestyles" and that with the group's help, they can "change" their sexual orientation. Officials with the group were pleased with the mayor's letter. "We were refreshingly encouraged that here was a city official walking out genuine tolerance," said Melissa Fryrear, director of the group's Gender Issues division. "He's public about being a gay man, which made it even more significant that he was showing us so much respect."
But the city's gay residents were "completely unified in their outrage" about the mayor's letter, Palm Springs gay rights advocate Claire Jordan Grant told CBS. She organized a Unity Rally to ferry busloads of protesters to picket Saturday's conference. Councilwoman Ginny Foat, a lesbian, called Oden's letter "unfortunate."
But Oden, an ordained minister, said he was only being a good Christian. "I do not agree with Focus on the Family," he wrote in an opinion piece published in the Palm Springs Desert Sun, dismissing the argument that gays can change their sexual orientation as a "discredited claim." "Yet, I believe that I should show them common or Christian courtesy." (The Advocate)