Last edited: May 08, 2004

Gay Rights Rally Protests Tennessee County Ban

The Associated Press, May 8, 2004

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 the Wind.”

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 marriages.

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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