As the Fall Festival and Taste of Falls Church combined under sunny skies to produce the largest turnout in the history of either event outside the Falls Church Community Center Saturday, two organizations with opposite messages were there, with one reacting in a decidedly unfriendly way.
The Northern Virginia chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) were at a table distributing materials advocating compassion and support by parents and friends with respect to gays and lesbians.
About 30 yards away, a table manned most of the day by a single person, held literature promoted by Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays, a group that contends homosexual orientation can be “cured.” This group, with ties to conservative religious organizations, supports so-called “reparative therapy” to change homosexual orientation, by contrast to PFLAG’s focus on compassion and acceptance.
The PFLAG table, shared with the News-Press at News-Press owner Nicholas F. Benton’s invitation, included a hand-made sign reading “Gay Is Good.” It was inspired by 82-year-old gay pioneer Frank Kameny, a D.C. resident and friend of Benton who’s spoken previously in Falls Church and was alerted to the fact that PFOX would be at the Festival.
The sign was a replica of the one Kameny used in the 1960s in protests supporting gay rights now on display, along with other artifacts of Kameny’s early activism, at the Smithsonian.
At one point, the News-Press’ Benton asked a young lesbian couple to hold the “Gay Is Good” sign beside, but at a distance from, the PFOX table for a photograph. Benton took a photo of the juxtaposition. But when he asked the man at the PFOX table for his name to use in identifying the picture in his paper, the man, who said he was Greg Quinlan, became belligerent.
He insisted the picture would be used to present a slanted view, despite being reminded that both groups would be represented in it. He then accused Benton of “causing an altercation” by taking the picture, and when Benton asked why, he began accusing Benton of “fitting the description” of someone who had an alleged run-in with a PFOX table at the Arlington County Fair last month.
Benton provided his business card at that point, but the man said, “Do I have to call the police?” He added that Benton’s questions amounted to “accosting him.”
The man then held up a video camera to video tape Benton, who was standing on the other side of the table. When Benton raised his camera, suggesting he take a picture for his paper of the man video taping him, the man put down his camera and dialed his cell phone.
Benton left, but over the course of the day, the man was seen video taping the PFLAG and News-Press table. He also videotaped some of the individuals who came to his table to look at his literature.
Meanwhile, the PFLAG organizers enjoyed a steady stream of friendly Festival goers stopping by to offer their support throughout the afternoon, including a significant number of Falls Church elected officials.
Many had been alerted by an e-mail Benton sent out the night before calling for a show of moral support for the PFLAG parents. Benton said of PFOX, “While there is not a shred of scientific evidence to show that gay orientation can be actually changed the way PFOX contends, they can cause enormous emotional harm by creating false expectations. The false assertions tear families apart whenever children fail to be transformed according to parental expectations.”
PFOX literature distributed at the event included fliers saying, “Ex-gays prove that homosexuals can and do change to a heterosexual orientation.” Another, called “Homosexuality and Hope” talked of “prevention and healing” of homosexuality and still another claimed to be produced by “Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality.”
Kameny, upon learning of PFOX’s presence at the event, wrote a letter to Benton that Benton circulated at the Festival. In it, Kameny wrote, “Being gay is a wonderful stroke of good fortune and good luck, to be celebrated, not changed,” adding, “Part of the meaning of Gay Is Good is that our homosexuality was given to us by our true God as a divinely-inspired gift and blessing, to be enjoyed to its uttermost, exultantly, exuberantly, and joyously. That, of course, makes of their God of Leviticus a false god who is an irrational homophobic bigot and an abomination.”
Wayne Besen, whose organization “Truth Wins Out” is dedicated to critiquing the claims of the ex-gay movement and whose “Anything But Straight” column appears weekly in the News-Press, was also present to show support for PFLAG.