Scopes Trial Site Hosts Gay Rights Fight
Post, May 5, 2004
By Bill Poovey
DAYTON, Tenn.—The Tennessee
courthouse that hosted the Scopes Monkey Trial over the teaching of evolution
nearly 80 years ago is the site of another furor after local officials voted
to ban gays.
Commissioners in rural Rhea County quickly rescinded the
vote in March, declaring they were only trying to show support for a statewide
ban on gay marriage. But their action is drawing a new generation of
protesters to the courthouse where high school teacher John Scopes was
convicted in 1925 of giving lessons on evolution.
Competing demonstrations are planned this week—one a
courthouse march Friday against same-sex marriage and civil unions, and a Gay
Day on Saturday that is expected to draw 3,000 people to a park for a picnic
“God condemns homosexuality very, very strongly,”
said the Rev. Franklin Raddish, an organizer of the protest march.
Kristie Bacon, coordinator for Gay Day, said her event is
not about “trying to make heterosexuals accept us.”
“I am just trying to help them understand more,” she
The issue flared when commissioners discussed gays and
same-sex marriage at a meeting. Commissioner J.C. Fugate asked the county
attorney to find a way to “keep them out of here.”
The board voted March 16 to endorse a resolution calling
for a ban on gays and an amendment to state law that would allow the county to
charge homosexuals with “crimes against nature.”
Two days later, the board voted 8-0 to rescind its
action. Commissioners quickly adjourned and declined to comment as deputies
escorted them out of the meeting.
County Attorney Gary Fritts said he advised commissioners
they could not ban homosexuals or make them subject to criminal charges. The
U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down laws on homosexual sodomy as a
violation of adults’ privacy.
“There has just been so much misunderstanding about
this,” Fritts said at the time. “It was to stop people from coming here
and getting married and living in Rhea County.”
Commission Chairman Terry Broyles said he hopes to move
past this “unfortunate situation.” But the protests and national attention
are not going away.
It was here, about 35 miles north of Chattanooga, that
Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution in a trial that attracted
protesters and reporters from all over the country to the famously muggy,
The verdict was thrown out on a technicality. The trial
became the subject of the play and movie “Inherit the Wind.”
The courthouse, now air-conditioned, remains much as it
was in 1925, and the courtroom is still used. The building also features a
museum dedicated to the trial, and the community holds an annual festival
commemorating the proceedings.
Diana Cunningham, a lesbian who lives in nearby Spring
City, said the commission’s vote “meant they were going to ban me.” She
plans to attend the Gay Day event.
“I thought, `OK, I’ve got to stand up for this
now,’” she said. “This can’t just blow over. I am those people, and I
don’t hurt anyone,” she said.
Chip Pendergrass, president of the Dayton Chamber of
Commerce, said the level of tolerance for gays among the city’s 6,200
residents is “no different than any other community.”
“The majority of the people of Dayton are friendly and
welcome anybody,” he said. “I guess you have a few who aren’t
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