LANCASTER — A sidewalk rally by about 60 supporters kicked off the Antelope Valley's first gay pride festival Friday evening. A large protest demonstration announced by critics of the event failed to materialize.
Shortly after plans for the festival were announced in April, conservative activists, including a group called the Alliance Against Immmoral Conduct in Public, vowed to picket the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, where the event was to be held.
But only three men and a 7-year-old boy showed up Friday evening to protest peacefully. One man said homosexuality was sinful, and another said it was contributing to the destruction of the nation's moral character.
"The message I'm trying to share is that Jesus loves sinners," said protester Saunders Swaski of Lake Los Angeles. "It's obvious that if people are supporting this, they're professing to be sinners, and they need Jesus."
The protesters, standing on one side of a parking lot entrance, did not make much of an impression on the dozens of festival supporters on the other side who cheered and waved signs at passing cars and trucks. Many of the motorists honked their horns or gave thumbs-up signs, apparently to show support for the festival.
There was little evidence of the anti-gay sentiment that has surfaced elsewhere in the Antelope Valley.
In recent years, the city councils of Palmdale and Lancaster have taken stands against gay rights legislation, and a Lancaster church produced "The Gay Agenda," a nationally distributed anti-homosexual video. More recently, a number of residents have criticized the festival in calls to local radio shows and in letters to a local newspaper.
Dee Dicey, a board member of the Antelope Valley Gay and Lesbian Alliance, which organized the event, said she was pleased that so few protesters showed up Friday.
'I felt that was a lot of hot air," Dicey said. "I think it just shows us what they're all about. Maybe they've become educated, and wouldn't that be nice."
Brian Maxey, a Lancaster resident who helped organize the demonstration in support of the festival, said more protesters may show up before the event concludes. "It's not over," he said Friday night. "We still have tomorrow and Sunday. Nothing would surprise me."
The festival, which features an exhibit on gay history, speakers, refreshments and musical entertainment, opens at noon today and Sunday at the fairgrounds, Division Street at East Avenue I.