Focus on the Family is polluting the country with toxic lies about homosexuality, gay Christian activists charged Sunday as they rallied outside the ministry’s Colorado Springs headquarters.
An estimated 700 people attended the protest, designed to challenge Focus founder James Dobson’s teachings as hurtful to people struggling to reconcile their sexuality with their faith.
A protester hold a rainbow flag, Sunday, May 1, 2005, in front of the Focus on the Family campus in Colorado Springs, Colo. About 700 people braved cold temperatures and light snow Sunday to protest a conservative Christian group's campaign against gay rights and same-sex marriage. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
“He began as a wonderful family counselor,” said the Rev. Mel White, founder of Soulforce, a national gay rights group that organized the protesters. “He’s become a danger to himself and the nation.”
Focus officials said they welcomed the debate but haven’t changed their minds about opposing gay rights and samesex marriage.
“Focus will never change its position, because the Bible hasn’t changed its position,” said Focus spokeswoman Melissa Fryrear.
Also present Sunday was a group of nine protesters from the Topeka, Kan.-based West- boro Baptist Church, who protested Soulforce and Focus, the latter for not sufficiently condemning gays.
Their neon-colored “God Hates Fags” signs dueled for attention, but Colorado Springs police kept the Westboro protesters at a distance from the Soulforce group, which had a permit to close Explorer Drive in front of Focus.
About 140 officers were on hand Sunday but reported no arrests or problems.
Soulforce supporters said they are tired of some Christians claiming a moral high ground on gay issues.
“I’m here with my mother and father who love me and accept me as I am,” said Jacob Reitan, 23, of Eden Prairie, Minn.
But others don’t experience that support, thanks to Focus’s teachings that turn parents against their children, he said.
That, in turn, leads to a sense of isolation and depression that causes some to take their lives, White said. He described a suicide note by a man who wrote: “I don’t know how else to fix this.”
The suicide rate among gay teens is three times greater among gay teens than among straight teens, according to Soulforce.
The causes of suicide are often complex, Fryrear said. She said Focus urges parents to love their gay and lesbian children without condoning their sexual orientation.
Homosexuality is a mental disorder and can be cured, said Tom Minnery, vice president for public policy at Focus.
“It’s a psychological issue, rooted mostly in early childhood,” he said. “But thousands have come out of it.”
Minnery said Focus has more of a disagreement with the representatives of Westboro than they do with Soulforce.
“Oh yeah, they’re nasty people,” he said.
In addition to protesting near Focus, nine members of the Westboro Baptist Church also held protests at Colorado Springs churches Saturday and Sunday, telling parishioners to “go to hell” and drawing responses that ranged from aggression to mockery.
The protesters mainly focused on their belief that homosexuality is sinful. They accused members of other churches of supporting gays and called their churches “whorehouses.” At St. Mary’s Cathedral, they celebrated the death of Pope John Paul II.
The Westboro group plans to picket today at Palmer High School, City Hall and several other places.
Sunday’s ideological debate outside Focus on the Family didn’t thwart Colorado Springs’ consumer bent Sunday. Shoppers flowed easily into the nearby Shops at Briargate.
Police said they set up protester parking on the closed section of Explorer Drive to ensure that spots at the mall could be saved for customers. The Shops at Briargate and surrounding businesses did beef up security for the event, but no problems were reported.
In nearby neighborhoods, most people seemed more concerned with staying warm than the protests. Some said they didn’t know about the demonstration, and those who did shrugged it off as an issue that doesn’t affect them.
“Frankly, it’s none of my business,” said Charlie Freeman, who lives in Pine Creek Village. “I have some strong traditional values, but my take is, we all need to get along.”
The Soulforce demonstration had the support of the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Community Center, whose volunteers helped staff the rally. Executive director Linda Devocelle said the center’s employees will not participate in today’s planned civil disobedience.
Soulforce plans to return to Focus this morning to deliver about 1,000 letters written by gays describing how Dobson’s teachings have adversely affected them. Focus employees will be at work, but the ministry will not be open for public tours.
Soulforce members have pledged nonviolent civil disobedience if they’re not allowed inside.
Staff writers Pam Zubeck, Jane Reuter and Tom Roeder contributed to this report.
Copyright 2005, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information