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Gays Cautious in County That Condemned Homosexuality

August 21, 1993

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) _ Jon Greaves and his partner keep a loaded gun within arm’s reach at their home and cautiously look around their cars before getting in now that the county they live in has condemned their homosexuality.

″It’s very frightening to have your government wink at people and say it’s OK to dislike somebody,″ said Greaves, a credit analyst who has lived openly gay for seven years. ″I’m very angry that my government has made me afraid to live in my home.″

On Aug. 10, the Cobb County Commission declared homosexuality incompatible with community standards, bringing an edgy national issue to the doorstep of this affluent, politically conservative Atlanta suburb, where quaint town squares and historic cemeteries mix with glass-box office towers and new housing developments.

Now the commission is poised to restrict arts funding only to groups that promote ″family-oriented standards.″

″I felt it was important that we were not going to spend our money to implement the gay agenda,″ said Commissioner Gordon Wysong, who pushed for both measures.

No one seems surprised such a clash surfaced in Cobb County, where the city of Kennesaw requires every household to own a gun. Until now, the gay members of the county’s population of 450,000 were silent and largely hidden.

Wysong said two recent occurrences made him feel a ″gay agenda″ was creeping into Cobb County. On Aug. 2, the city of Atlanta agreed to provide insurance benefits for unmarried partners of city workers. This spring, Marietta’s Theatre in the Square produced the acclaimed off-Broadway play ″Lips Together, Teeth Apart,″ which deals with AIDS, many of whose victims are gay.

Wysong said he received citizen complaints about the play, but he admits he never saw it. Audiences voted ″Lips Together, Teeth Apart″ the season’s best play, and theater directors say no one complained to them.

Reaction to the county’s vote didn’t take long to register:

- The theater says donations and membership applications are up.

- According to the Cobb Galleria Centre, the site of a convention center under construction, at least one organization has threatened to pull its 1994 convention out of Cobb County and take its 800 delegates elsewhere. It declined to name the group.

- An editorial cartoon in Thursday’s Atlanta Constitution depicted a sign that read: ″Welcome to C.O.B.B. - County Operated By Bigots.″

- And the normally invisible gay community of Cobb County has been galvanized into action, supported by other gays and heterosexuals throughout the Atlanta metro area.

The commission has brought in a dozen extra workers to handle the thousands of calls generated by the vote. Wysong claims the calls run 4-to-1 in favor of his proposals; critics say their calls aren’t being counted accurately.

A showdown of sorts was expected Sunday in Marietta’s town square, with gays gathering for a ″Queer Family Picnic″ and church groups holding a prayer rally.

″I don’t know when this county will ever recover,″ said Michael Horne, co-founder of Theatre in the Square. ″Their hatred toward the theater and the gay community is harmful and detrimental to our community.″

Cobb’s move to condemn gays is only the latest clash in the national shoving match between gays and Christian conservatives, with gays insisting they want basic civil rights accorded other Americans and conservatives asserting that gay rights are ″special rights.″

″The heterosexual community all at once decided that we are going to be proud that we are not homosexual and we are going to push for our laws,″ said the Rev. Lou Sheldon, chairman of the California-based Traditional Values Coalition, who says he lobbies against gay rights on behalf of 30,000 churches.

″The Cobb County vote is part of a nationwide offensive by the far right to limit the rights of gay and lesbian citizens and send us back into the closet,″ said Robin Kane, spokeswoman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

The county’s elective offices are held predominantly by married white men who are native Georgians, but more than half the county’s residents are from other states, drawn by good schools and affordable housing.

The newcomers have been disinclined to get involved in local politics, as evidenced by the 9 percent voter turnout this summer for a referendum that would have paid for parks improvements, including a site for the 1996 Olympic softball competition. Olympics organizers chose Columbus, Ga., instead.

″People haven’t been involved, but I think that we’re going to find people more involved in their local government than ever before after this issue,″ said David Greer, an accountant and Greaves’ partner.

Horne said he and theater co-founder Palmer Wells would consider moving their popular 225-seat theater, which draws about 65,000 patrons a year, out of Cobb if the commission cuts its $41,000 grant.

″I don’t think it’s fair for Cobb to reap the benefits of our acclaim and our economic impact if they truly disdain what we are all about,″ Horne said.

Citizens strolling through the Marietta square one afternoon last week had mixed reactions.

″I don’t believe in the gays running loose and getting so much recognition,″ said Doris Scarborough of Mableton, a native Georgian who has lived in Cobb for several years.

″I don’t think they should single out one group,″ said Catherine Gotch, who moved to Marietta from Tennessee a year ago with her husband and children. ″I think what people do in the privacy of their own home is between them and God.″

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