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Gay Rights Protest Disrupts Wilson Speech


STANFORD — Gov. Pete Wilson was showered with debris and obscenity-laced taunts Tuesday by gay rights protesters angered by his veto of an anti-discrimination bill who crashed a ceremony commemorating Stanford University's centennial.

The author of the legislation, meanwhile, urged the gay community in California to refrain from violence. Democratic Assemblyman Terry Friedman of Los Angeles pledged to explore another legislative effort and said gays and lesbians should transform their anger into political power that could be used to win the battle next time around.

Wilson, who described the Stanford demonstration as a "fascist tactic," gamely completed a speech extolling family values and individual responsibility despite 15 minutes of unbroken screams, whistles and chants from about 200 protesters who massed below the stage.

Protected by a line of police in riot gear and his own security officers, Wilson made a one-handed catch of an orange hurled at him, then lobbed it back into the crowd. The invited guests rose in a standing ovation.

The confrontation was prompted by Wilson's rejection Sunday of legislation that would have prohibited employment discrimination against gays and lesbians. The bill would have added sexual orientation to the list of factors--including religious beliefs and physical handicaps--for which people cannot be denied a job.

Gay rights advocates were outraged by the veto and were angered all the more because Wilson had courted their support during the 1990 governor's race and had said earlier this year that he was "likely" to sign such a bill.

In Los Angeles earlier, a noisy demonstration by hundreds of protesters outside the Century Plaza hotel, where activists believed Wilson was spending the night, exploded into a violent clash early Tuesday between baton-wielding police and missile-throwing demonstrators. There were 12 arrests, including three people booked for felony assault on a police officer. Activists on Tuesday asked the Los Angeles Police Commission to investigate allegations of police brutality.

Demonstrators marched through West Hollywood on Tuesday evening, the third night of their protests against Wilson's veto. The crowd of about 500 were taunted at one point along the march by spectators, and a few brief scuffles broke out, authorities said. There were no arrests.

In San Francisco, police said more than 5,000 protesters rampaged Monday night, setting fires and smashing windows in a state office building. Many of the same people attended the Stanford event Tuesday, where they sat through several speeches by university dignitaries and others before the governor, wearing a black academic robe and purple sash, rose to the platform amid a chorus of boos and catcalls.

"This is not the place for fascist tactics," Wilson said in his only acknowledgement of the disruption. "They won't make converts at Stanford."

Then the first-year governor, who almost always deviates from his text in lengthy ad-libs, read his speech word for word.

"Shame! Shame! Shame!" chanted the protesters, marching through the aisles and toward the podium, where Wilson, bent over the microphone, hunched his shoulders in a protective posture. Two plainclothes State Police officers flanked Wilson, deflecting eggs--one of which glanced off the governor's shoulder--and wads of paper thrown from the crowd.

The demonstrators were stopped about 30 feet from Wilson by two dozen stone-faced Palo Alto police officers and Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies, who wore helmets and carried batons. There were no arrests.

Almost lost in the ruckus was Wilson's speech, which was a departure from his more common fare of technical, nuts-and-bolts discussions of the state's ills. Intended or not, the address seemed to be a comment on the scene that was unfolding before him.

In the speech, Wilson called for a future with values more popular in 1950s America, when the family--"a sacred union born from romantic love"--was more cherished and the country believed itself to be a place where "hard work was rewarded."

"It does seem that as we acquired state-of-the-art comfort, we may have gone a little soft, have lost some discipline and direction," Wilson mused. "And yes, I do worry that in recent years, we have stressed the rights of the individual while ignoring his or her duties."

But Wilson, in words that only part of his audience could hear, said he does not accept "all this declinism" put forth by social pessimists.

"If the young people, who are soon to be our next generation of leaders, are held fast by the mooring of ethical values, the winds of change needn't blow them in a headlong rush into mindless hedonism," he said.

He called on Stanford to avoid becoming "an elegant informational cafeteria for the curious" that would fail to feed "moral stamina and discipline" to those "ravenous" for judgments and values.

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