Gay Rights Rally Protests Tennessee County Ban
The Associated Press, May 8,
By Bill Poovey
DAYTON, Tenn.—More than 400
people turned out Saturday for a Rhea County Gay Day celebration prompted by
the county commission’s vote to ban homosexuals and have them arrested for
“crimes against nature.”
That commission vote in March, although reversed two days
later, changed Diana Cunningham’s life.
“It enraged me. That meant they were going to ban
me,” Cunningham said at Saturday’s celebration at a park.
Cunningham, of nearby Spring City, said the gay day
gathering allowed her to “go one step further in admitting who I am,”
after knowing for more than 30 years that she is a lesbian.
“I am not ashamed of it,” said Cunningham, 48, a
former bank employee who is now disabled. “I don’t want to harm anybody. I
just want the same freedoms everybody has.”
A Friday demonstration against homosexuality in Dayton
included preaching on the lawn of the courthouse where a jury in 1925
convicted John Scopes for teaching evolution. The verdict was reversed on a
technicality. The trial became the subject of the play and movie “Inherit
On Saturday, same-sex couples holding hands joined
heterosexual couples at the park in the town of 6,200 people.
Russ and Jennifer Bridges of Ringgold, Ga., sat listening
to activists speak.
“I’m not gay,” Russ Bridges said. “It’s all
about humans getting together for a common cause.”
No county commissioners attended gay day or Friday’s
demonstration against homosexuality.
Although commissioner J.C. Fugate clearly explained his
motion to ban gays in March, members of the panel have since said they thought
their first vote was only to show support for state lawmakers banning same-sex
More than 40 law enforcement officers provided security
at Saturday’s event in the rural community about 35 miles north of
Chattanooga. Police Chief Kenneth Walker said two anti-gay demonstrators were
arrested at the park entrance on charges of disorderly conduct and interfering
with a special event when they refused his order to leave.
Walker said they were among a group of about 10
“out-of-towners coming in here wanting to cause trouble.”
Rhea County Sheriff Mike Neal said four more people were
arrested on drug charges as the event was wrapping up.
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