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Gay Activists Angered by Pope's Plan to Visit S.F. : Coalition Plans Demonstrations

January 11, 1987|RUSSELL CHANDLER and MARK A. STEIN | Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO — Pope John Paul II's planned trip here is stirring anger and anxiety within the city's homosexual community.

An Episcopal priest who is a gay-rights activist predicts huge demonstrations unless the pontiff cancels his visit.

A 350-member gay political group has adopted a resolution opposing the Pope's visit to San Francisco, one of eight cities on his Sept. 10-18 trip to six states. And a coalition task force is planning events to counter the Roman Catholic Church's official views on homosexuality and the role of women.

"The Pope has become possibly the most visible symbol in the world of oppression to gays and lesbians, and of homophobia. Having him here in San Francisco is like waving a red flag in front of a bull," said Richmond Young, chairman of the Political Action Committee of the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian-Gay Democratic Club.

Church's Stand

A major statement issued in October by the Vatican restated and strengthened the church's condemnation of homosexual behavior and warned against association with pro-homosexual groups.

"Things have just started" in organizing opposition to the Pope's visit, Young said Friday. "I don't know if there will be any violence, but there is certainly going to be a lot of anger."

The club's resolution asks the mayor and Board of Supervisors of San Francisco not to extend an official welcome to the Pope nor to spend any public funds on his visit.

More organized opposition to the pontiff is expected, according to John Wahl, a San Francisco lawyer who is a member of the Stonewall Gay Democratic Club and chairman of the Papal Visit Task Force--a coalition of eight groups comprising gays, lesbians, abortion-rights groups, feminists and people who favor the ordination of women in the Catholic Church.

'We're Mad as Hell'

"We are preparing a significant, strong, even unforgettable reception for what really is a foreign prince coming to our country to preach against the freedoms many of us have fought for many years to achieve," Wahl said. "We are in no mood to meet this man. . . . If the Pope wants to be some kind of enemy, so be it. We'll take him on. . . . We're mad as hell."

Topics discussed by the task force at its first meeting last week included:

- Several demonstrations, at which members believe they can draw at least 100,000 people.

- Possible legal action to prohibit the use of city-owned Candlestick Park for the Pope's celebration of Mass on Sept. 18, based on an ordinance forbidding the city from doing business with groups that discriminate against gays.

- A letter to the Vatican warning the Pope of the adverse sentiment.

The Rev. Robert Cromey, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, 50 of his parishioners and the church's board of directors recently signed a petition to San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, urging that she join him in asking the Pope to cancel his visit because it could "cause greater divisions between the homosexual and heterosexual communities in San Francisco."

"Many gay men and lesbian women I've talked to are offended and are sitting around thinking of things to do. I suspect there is going to be a lot more response to the Pope's position, which we call immoral because we think it leads to disruption, violence and gay-bashing," Cromey said.

"I don't think the mayor and police have any idea of the hostility and anger homosexual people have toward the Pope," Cromey, who is not gay, added. "I think people could get physically hurt in demonstrations and counter-demonstrations."

San Francisco is heavily Catholic, however, and support for the Pope is also likely to be high.

No Protest Planned

A spokesman for Dignity, a support group for homosexual Catholics, said that the organization was "outraged" at the guidelines recently issued by the Vatican that call homosexuality "an objective disorder" and "an intrinsic moral evil." But he said Dignity had no present plans to protest the Pope's visit.

"We want to be seen as the loyal opposition," he said. "But we will issue a vigorous and creative public statement during the Pope's stay in San Francisco offering him a prophetic Christian witness . . . and explaining our dissatisfaction with the papal statement" against homosexuality.

The Dignity spokesman, who spoke on condition that he not be named, said "a number of members" of the San Francisco chapter of Dignity had also signed Cromey's petition.

Bill Strawn, a spokesman for Feinstein, said the mayor had written Cromey that she "essentially disagreed completely" with his view that the Pope should not come to San Francisco.

"I feel San Francisco is a city of great tolerance. No one ideal or religion, in my view, should be denied to be heard," Strawn quoted Feinstein's letter as saying.

San Francisco Episcopal Bishop William Swing has also disassociated himself from Cromey's position.

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