Gay Palm Springs Mayor To Attend Anti-Gay Conference

Ron OdenPALM SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA – Palm Springs Mayor Ron Oden said Thursday that he probably shouldn’t have used the word “proud” in a letter welcoming a conservative group that is planning a conference in the valley that tells gays they can “change” their sexual orientation.
“I probably would have changed the phrase,” said Oden during a news conference Thursday that was first reported on thedesertsun.com.
Oden, an openly gay mayor, also said he would accept Focus on the Family’s invitation, issued Thursday morning, to attend the conference, he said. It would be an opportunity to share (his) perspective, he noted.
Oden has received criticism from some local gays and lesbians over a letter he sent to Focus on the Family, the group that is hosting next month’s Love Won Out Conference at Southwest Community Church in Indian Wells on Sept. 23.
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 Nov. 4.
The conference will feature speakers who will offer ways organizers say can help gays to change their sexual orientation. They will also offer friends and family ways to “cope” with a loved ones’ homosexuality.
Don Bruhnke, a Palm Springs resident and gay man who attended Thursday’s news conference at Palm Springs City Hall, said 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),” he said.
Larry Hughes, a Palm Springs resident and past president of Primetimers of the Desert, which opened the Golden Rainbow Senior Center in Cathedral City for gays and lesbians, said Love Won Out’s intolerance of the gay community reminds him of the anti-gay mentality of years past.
In the 1970s, Hughes said he was a part of a group that blocked entertainer Anita Bryant from hosting an anti-gay rally in San Francisco.
She was forced to hold the rally at the airport instead of on city land, he said.
“I happen to be gay as part of my personality…” said Hughes, who was not at the news conference. “They (Love Won Out’s organizers) preach that homosexuality is a choice and I am convinced it’s not a choice. It’s part of nature.”
Claire Jordan Grant, who is chairing a Unity Rally on the same day of the Love Won Out conference, attended Oden’s news conference. Her rally is intended to provide education and personal stories to counterpoint Love Won Out’s views, she said.
“I am personally disappointed (Oden sent the letter),” she said. “But he seems to understand the conflict he may have created with this letter.”
Oden said 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 conference is an opportunity for Palm Springs, a city known for hosting prominent gay-themed events that attract thousands, to share “who we are,” said Oden.
He said ambassadors for the community will attend the conference and participate, as well as be out in the community meeting with Love Won Out attendees in restaurants and on the street.
He wouldn’t say who those people will be or how they will interact.
“If love has won out anywhere, it’s in the city of Palm Springs,” Oden said.
from The Desert Sun

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