Lone protester fails to squelch gay youth gathering


Herald Writer

EVERETT — Young people who believe they are homosexuals got a mixed message Saturday at a support conference for gay and lesbian youth.

Inside the student union building of Everett Community College, adult volunteers told them it is all right to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or "questioning" and encouraged them to talk about their feelings.

Outside, Everett resident Barbara Porter told as many of the approximately 35 youth who would listen that they were heading for hell.

"God will not allow homosexuality into heaven because it is an abomination," she said.

Porter argued with some of the teens. To others she gave fliers instructing them to repent and stating that "Women wanting to be men is bad. Men aspiring to be women is queer!"

Her presence exasperated Eric Hatzenbuehler, a Snohomish County Health District worker and co-organizer of the "Links and Alliances 2000" conference for homosexual youth.

Publicly, he told participants to ignore Porter. "Don’t give her any energy," he said. Privately, he wished she would go away.

"Sure I respect her right to free speech, but can’t we have just one day to celebrate?" he asked.

Hatzenbuehler said he feared for Porter’s safety; however, he managed to persuade most conference attendees not to argue with her.

Inside, the conference went on as planned. The teenagers and young adults went to workshops such as "Creating Healthy Relationships" and "How to Handle Harassment."

The latter workshop addressed a timely topic for J.J. Akins. The 17-year-old junior at Edmonds-Woodway High School probably could have taught the subject. He has faced constant jibes and loathing from fellow students since he said he was gay during his freshman year.

"A day for me involves going to the classes, getting harassed in the hallway, going to gym and getting harassed by every single guy in that locker room," he said.

Some students have been suspended for harassing him, but at other times, teachers have allowed the taunt of "faggot" to go unpunished, he said.

Saturday, Akins said he finally felt accepted by his peers.

"Ever since I got here, people have been kind, understanding, and doing everything to make people more comfortable than they would otherwise be," he said.

After planting a tree to thank the college for holding the event, the youths went inside for a round of small-group discussions followed by comments from retired U.S. Army Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, who was kicked out of the Army when she admitted that she was a lesbian.

Cammermeyer, who was accompanied by her lesbian partner, said she had no regrets about "coming out."

"Without her, I would be a general," she said of her partner. "But because of her, I have a freedom and a voice I would never have had otherwise."

Her comments could not be heard outside by Porter, who accused conference organizers of trying to recruit young people into a homosexual lifestyle.

But conference participant Sorrell Joshua, 25, of Bellingham, said the point of the event was to offer badly needed support to homosexual young people, many of whom find themselves rejected by their families and friends.

"These youths don’t need support because they are gay. They need support because of the stigma associated with it, the teasing and the not having family support," she said.

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