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Conservatives' Meeting on Homosexuality Assailed

Rights: Officials speak against conference of group that contends that being gay is a curable disorder.

October 24, 1998|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A downtown conference sponsored by a group that says homosexuality is a psychological disorder was denounced Friday by the Los Angeles City Council and by other officials and civil rights leaders.

"This comes, literally, one week after Matthew Shepard was buried," said Joe Hicks, executive director of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, referring to a gay college student killed in Wyoming. The conference, held Friday and today at the Regal Biltmore Hotel, "contributes to an atmosphere that allows those hate crimes to take place," he said. "This is an issue that cuts across sexual orientation."

Titled "Making Sense of Homosexuality," the conference is sponsored by the conservative Claremont Institute and the National Assn. for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which contends that homosexuality is a developmental disorder that can be cured.

The conference was originally to be held at the Beverly Hilton, but the hotel dropped the event Thursday morning after it received with hundreds of protest calls, including one from Los Angeles Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg.

The sponsors then scrambled to find a new site. Joseph Nicolesi, executive director of the association, said the pressure exerted on the Beverly Hilton was an attempt to restrict his organization's free speech rights.

He dismissed accusations that his association or the conference was anti-gay. "We believe that homosexuality is a developmental disorder, we have scientific evidence, and we have a right to express our views," he said.

At a news conference Friday at City Hall, several civic leaders denounced the conference. All 15 members of the City Council signed a resolution condemning it.

"It is true that they have speech rights, but we also have our speech rights," Hicks said. "We must all stand up in condemnation."

Goldberg said the Beverly Hilton's general manager had told her that the hotel was not aware of the nature of the conference. Marcia Neuberger, a hotel spokeswoman, said the hotel had no contract with the groups and had not accepted a deposit.

But Nicolesi said, "They knew who we were, who our speakers were, what was on our program. We had a signed contract. We gave them a $5,000 check, which they accepted and cashed."

As for the Biltmore, Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) said she would have a discussion with Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party, about the possibility of canceling some post-election victory parties scheduled to be held there.

No one at the Biltmore would comment on the controversy.

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