GARDEN GROVE — In one of the largest gay rallies in Orange County history, 17 people were arrested after an estimated 1,000 demonstrators marched down Garden Grove Boulevard, chanting and cheering to protest Gov. Pete Wilson's recent veto of a homosexual rights bill.
Drowned in shouts of "Gay rights now!" 16 demonstrators were led away one by one to be arrested by police after they linked themselves arm-in-arm and refused to leave the center of a major intersection.
While no violence occurred, the event grew increasingly confrontational as the protesters marched past residential areas on Garden Grove Boulevard, and police struggled to push back crowds of counterdemonstrators who lined the neighborhoods.
In addition, at the march's end organizers burned a California state flag and effigies of Gov. Pete Wilson and U.S. Sen. John Seymour.
"Rights are not given! Right must be taken!" Joseph Amster of Laguna Beach, a member of the gay rights group Queer Nation, shouted from atop a flatbed truck that led the procession.
Several small groups of residents opposed to homosexual rights squared off against the protesters in angry shouts. "Wilson! Wilson!" a group of Garden Grove High School students shouted in support of the governor's veto.
One counterdemonstrator was arrested. Thomas E. Rosales Jr., 41, of Indiana reportedly threatened the gay protesters with a baseball bat, police said. The suspect, who police said appeared to be drunk, struggled with police and was finally dragged away by several officers as the crowd of gay protesters cheered.
The arrests of gay rights demonstrators occurred at the end of the march, after they marched past a section of Garden Grove Boulevard that police closed off for the protest, and entered Euclid Street.
Capt. David Abrecht said the marchers were cited for misdemeanor unlawful assembly and failure to disperse.
The demonstration was one of several staged in Southern California on Saturday. Earlier in the day, about 1,000 gay rights activists brought business to a standstill in the posh shops of Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood, and jammed traffic on streets across the Westside.
The current slew of protests was triggered last Sunday when Gov. Wilson--after showing some indications of support--surprised and incensed gay activists throughout the state by vetoing AB 101, a bill that would have banned job discrimination based on sexual orientation.
While decrying "bigotry," Wilson said he believed existing laws provide sufficient civil rights protections for the gay community.
Since the veto, there have been protests nearly every day by gay rights activists in Hollywood, Los Angeles, Northern California, Orange County and elsewhere around the state. Some of the protests have turned violent and have included confrontations between activists and police, broken windows, and even oranges thrown at Wilson during an address in Los Angeles.
The Garden Grove demonstration caused some disruptions in the community. A 1-mile stretch of Garden Grove Boulevard closed because of the rally.
But a Carl's Jr. restaurant, picked as the site of the protests in part because of what gay activists perceived as the anti-homosexual attitude of founder Carl Karcher, plans to stay open as scheduled through midnight.
A manager at the restaurant said employees had been ordered not to talk about the rally, but she added, "We'll be all right."
Rick Miller, 46, who lives about a block from the rally site, brought his 9-year-old son, Nicholas, in front of the restaurant "just to have a laugh."
"This makes the city look bad," Miller said.
Scores of residents lined the demonstration route to catch a glimpse of the parade.
"We're out here to see what it's all about," said Tom Butler, who was standing at the intersection of Safford Street and Garden Grove Boulevard with a group of neighbors. "They don't bother me. They have a good enough cause."
Tensions, however, were visible elsewhere at the rally.
Police said one of their main objectives was to avoid confrontation between the protesters and about a dozen counter-protesters who held signs with messages such as, "Repent, Sinners."
"Thank God Peter Wilson did one thing right," one of the counter-protesters shouted at the group.
"Homosexuals want rights? What's next? Rights for rapists? Rights for child molesters?" said Reuben Israel of Los Angeles, who blared anti-homosexual epithets through a bullhorn.
But gay activists were undeterred by the counterdemonstrators and hailed the event as a huge success.
"This is our biggest event ever," surpassing a rally at the Santa Ana City Hall during the gay pride festival that drew 600, said Jeff LeTourneau, a longtime leader in the Orange County gay community.
Garden Grove police began closing down Garden Grove Boulevard between Harbor Boulevard and Euclid Street about 7:30 p.m. but warned protesters that anyone disrupting traffic outside that area would be arrested.