Two groups respond to the call
for Boy Scouts to admit gays
by Julie Goodman
Associated Press

November 22, 1999

Providence, Rhode Island -- The mounting pressure on the Boy Scouts of America to reconsider its ban on homosexuals drew out-of-town church members preaching ''moral straightness'' and toting ''AIDS Cures Fags'' signs to the city.

Their protests, in turn, prompted a community gathering to condemn the ''hate sputtering'' and ''dark forces'' that had ''slithered'' into the area.

The two opposing groups responded Monday to a decision by the Boy Scouts Narragansett Council to ask its national body to examine the appropriateness of its membership requirements. The move came after an Eagle Scout said he was denied a job at a Hopkinton camp after admitting he was gay.

The group of about 15 congregants belonged to the Topeka, Kansas, Westboro Baptist Church whose Rev. Fred Phelps is known for his inflammatory remarks against gays.

Family members of Phelps, who did not attend, gathered outside the council, quoted the Bible and referred to homosexuals as ''abominations.''

''What they do is wrong and for that, they are going to be sent to hell,'' said Megan Phelps-Roper, 13, as she stood on top of a rainbow flag meant to signal gay acceptance.

''For (the Narragansett Council) to buckle like this is disgraceful, it's sad of course. They need to hear a little truth,'' said Abigail Phelps, 31.

Their demonstration drew varying responses from passers-by, including a woman who yelled, ''You need to grow up'' and a man who thrust his arm in the air to show support for the protesters.

The rally was followed a larger gathering at the Providence Presbyterian Church where about 60 members of the community, including one representative from the Narragansett Council, offered impassioned speeches that brought some to tears.

''Fred Phelps doesn't want to remove our voice, Fred Phelps wants to destroy our souls,'' said Kate Monteiro, of the Rhode Island Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, her voice shaking.

''They are absolutely convinced that my drawing a breath on this earth is an abomination.''

Hate comes for ''the easy targets,'' she said.

''It will come for you, unless you stop it. Fred Phelps will not destroy my soul. I hope that he won't destroy yours.''

''We are here today to say no, say no to some very dark forces from outside our community,'' said Dennis Murphy, the president of the United Way of Southeastern New England. ''It's obvious they have a very twisted, very perverse message of hate that they carry to our community.''

The United Way is urging the council to lift its ban on homosexuals, but wants the move to be preceded by a discussion to change attitudes within the organization. If the membership requirements do not change, the council could lose money from the United Way, which makes up five percent of its funding.

Rev. Jim Miller, of the State Council of Churches, joined the community leaders in condemning Phelp's movement.

''If not responded to, hate passions by a few become inflamed and enlarged to soon ignite tragic violence in our communities,'' he said.

''It only takes a few sparks of evil acts and malicious name-calling against unwanted sexual identity, unwanted people of color, unwanted faiths ... before there are bonfires of enmity blazing in our communities.''

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