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Story in the Seattle Gay News this week:
On Saturday, October 20, the sidewalks along all four corners of the intersection in front of the Lynnwood Convention Center were packed with men and women of all ages, races, and sexual orientations. Their brightly colored signs, rainbow flags and-in some cases-manner of dress all sought to convey one message: hate is not welcome in our town.
The protestors, approximately 150 people in strength, assembled outside in the wet and chilly Northwest weather to protest Watchmen on the Walls, an international anti-Gay organization that was meeting at the Center for its sixth convention. Past conferences have been held in Bellevue; Riga, the Latvian capital; and Sacramento, California in recent years.
The Montgomery, Alabama based Southern Poverty Law Center recently described the group as "extremist" and warned that the group's rhetoric could potentially incite violence. However, no violence was reported during the weekend long conference, according to a spokesperson for the Lynnwood Police Department.
"The Watchmen has the right to express their beliefs," Deputy Police Chief Paul Watkins of the Lynnwood Police Department told the Seattle Gay News on Saturday. Likewise, the protestors have the right to express their beliefs. Our position on that is neutral-other than it needs to be conducted in a safe and lawful manner."
Protest organizer Cindy Worthen, an Everett resident, said she pulled the protest together in only a couple days through e-mail. She was pleased with the turnout.
"I'm thrilled. I sent out a couple of e-mails. I have been hearing from people all over-King County, Snohomish County, and, even, Whatcom County," she said. "I am hoping that the Watchmen are given the message that they are not welcome here and that other hate groups get the message that they are not welcome here. That is what I am hoping for. I also want Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people to know that we love them."
Inside, speakers at the Watchmen on the Walls conference spoke less about love for LGBT people and referred to them as "wrong, unnatural, and harmful."
"...[W]e are especially focused against homosexuality, because those who practice this self-destructive vice, and have organized themselves into a political movement, are the chief enemies of the natural family," said lawyer and author Scott Lively during convention's opening night. "We do not apologize for opposing homosexuality because it is morally, physically, psychologically, and socially wrong, unnatural, and harmful."
Lively, a resident of California, wrote the book The Pink Swastika, which contends that Gays were the masterminds behind the Holocaust. The Southern Poverty Law Center previously noted in an article published on its website that Lively had been ordered to pay $20,000 in damages in 1991 for dragging a Lesbian photojournalist by the hair through a church.
Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Redmond-based Antioch Bible Church and longtime foe of LGBT equal rights, also addressed the conference participants. "I believe in the word of God 100 percent," he said. "What we need to take back is the right to disagree."
Watchmen on the Walls has a large number of Russian speaking immigrants among its membership. This was evident by the Russian interpreter present at the conference.
Protestor Charles Fey, a Marysville resident, said that the Watchmen on the Walls had a right to their views but only up until the point it affects another's ability to do the same.
"It is not illegal in this state to be hateful toward Gays. Hate speech is not illegal," he said. "They have a right to their views but when it threatens my well being or it threatens the well being of specific groups of people, it is concerning because it can lead to violence. We should say that we don't respect that.
"I think it is a little bit strange that people from Russia, the Ukraine and the Balkan countries who may have come here from their countries because their religion wasn't respected enough come to this country and expect to put their views on us."
Wallingford United Methodist Church Pastor Jim Carter also took part in the protest. He said groups such as the Watchman on the Walls have a distorted view of Christian teaching. His church openly welcomes LGBT people as they are, he added.
Robert Guerrero, a Native American, dressed in the traditional garments of his tribe. He traveled to Lynnwood from Tacoma, a two hour drive, to participate in the protest.
"Each time we stand up for each other, we not only let the world know that we have a coalition of people that will stand up against hate, we win one more person and put one more brick in the road to a better society," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, Lynnwood is my backyard. Whether hate sprouts up in Vancouver, Lynnwood or Spokane, all of those places are my backyard. I won't have that. I have got to lend my voice to a chorus of people standing up for what's right."
The Watchmen on the Walls had planned for as many as 700 attendees but fell well short of their goal. About 125 people attended the opening event on Friday and just 40 people showed up for Saturday morning's event. This reporter did not attend other scheduled events of the conference.