Groups Of Gays Protest Picnic

A column of mostly gay or lesbian demonstrators - expecting to confront a gathering of anti-gay fundamentalists in Volunteer Park yesterday - marched through a scattering of families with blankets and coolers who were themselves expecting little more than a Christian picnic.

About 300 demonstrators cheered, beat drums and waved helium-filled condoms, surging toward the amphitheater where they drowned out a lone guitarist singing, ``God is love.''

The demonstrators said they were protesting the ``occupation'' of the park by ``right-wing Christians.''

The event, billed as a family gathering, was sponsored by a Christian interdenominational steering committee, Go'90.

Go'90 drew criticism this spring for seeking to evangelize athletes during the Goodwill Games.

Members of ACT-UP, a coalition advocating more effort in the fight against AIDS, said the choice of Volunteer Park, in the heart of Seattle's gay and lesbian community, was a direct provocation. Go'90 organizers said they chose the park because of its amphitheater, not the neighborhood.

``It's really sad,'' said Kit Hackett, one of the picnickers. ``We didn't know what we were getting into.''

Demonstrators said Go'90 literature dubbed Volunteer Park ``the gates of sin,'' but no one could produce any copies. Organizers insisted their literature did not mention homosexuality at all.

A Go'90 spokesman who wouldn't give his name said its 270 evangelical churches don't have a unanimous position on homosexuality, but he said the Bible is clear in its condemnation.

The protest was sponsored by ACT-UP Seattle, the Stonewall Committee for Lesbian/Gay Rights and the United Front Against Fascism.

Small confrontations and dialogues sprang up around the park. A shoving match broke out briefly when the demonstrators took over the stage, according to Lt. Steve Butler, one of the 18 Seattle police officers monitoring the event.

A small group of teen-agers stood in a circle, holding hands and singing. Most were 12- and 13-year-old girls. A large, older crowd of demonstrators grew around them, jeering and tossing at them packets of condoms that said ``Unite Safely.'' Some shouted ``God loves queers.'' Pairs of men and women demonstrators moved into the circle and took turns kissing.

Once the initial uproar subsided, some on both sides tried to build bridges. One demonstrator explained to picnickers that not all the demonstrators approved of the ``Go home'' chant echoing occasionally across the grass and said that he is Christian, too.

Carrie Vasko of Seattle, carrying a Bible, said she had good conversations with a few demonstrators, even though they still disagreed.

One demonstrator walked the short distance to his home and returned with a bread bag full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a group of young people.

Another demonstrator, Drew Holweger of Seattle, sat with a group of teen-agers from various churches, urging them to practice safer sex if they decide to be sexually active and to be open to gay and lesbian friends and church members.

``Anything we do is worth it,'' Holweger said. ``We're mad as hell because people are dying . . . one person not ignorant is one person saved.''

Beverly Barbo of Kansas came to support the protest en route to the Gay Games, an athletic competition in Vancouver, B.C. Her son Tim died of AIDS 3 1/2 years ago.

A former fundamentalist Baptist, she said that some of the group's methods only reinforce biases of people who oppose homosexuality, nodding toward a bearded man in a spaghetti-strap bridal dress and veil.

``If only they could put their preconceived ideas of each other aside and come together and really talk about the issue,'' she said.