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Operation Rescue quietly protests Gay Day at Disney World

Outside the Magic Kingdom  

Two members meet their matches

June 6, 1998
Web posted at: 10:54 p.m. EDT (0254 GMT)

ORLANDO, Florida (CNN) -- Operation Rescue evangelists in red, white and blue "Pro-Life" shirts held a sedate protest and mingled with visitors Saturday during the unofficial Gay Day at Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

More than 100 protesters gathered outside the theme park, holding signs that said "Choose Jesus over Mickey," as a plane flew overhead with a banner reading: "Jesus can free you from your lifestyle."

A few Operation Rescue members went into the park with Bibles in hand to evangelize and film the gays and lesbians with video cameras. They were tailed at all times by a dozen Disney security officers and sheriff's deputies.

vxtreme CNN's Susan Candiotti reports from Orlando, Florida

Disney policies forbid handing out literature or talking to patrons against their wishes, but no one was ejected from the park and no one was arrested.

A group of 20 counterprotesters led by gay activist Bob Kunst met the Operation Rescue group outside the park.

Operation Rescue has focused on Disney, because the company hires homosexuals and extends benefits to same-sex partners. Disney defends its policies, saying they are nondiscriminatory.

"Disney has decided that it will be the platform that endorses homosexuality," said the Rev. Flip Benham, Operation Rescue's national director.

Non-confrontational manner intentional

But the protests were muted in comparison to the confrontational anti-abortion protests the group has held outside women's clinics in past years.

inside the park
A few Operation Rescue members mingle with Gay Day visitors  

Bill Shanks, an Operation Rescue member from New Orleans, said the 12 members sent into the park were under strict orders not to be arrested.

"We've lost our lawyers ... and we don't have bail money," he said.

The protest capped a week of Orlando-area demonstrations by Operation Rescue members at Barnes & Noble bookstores and clinics where abortions are performed. Eight activists were arrested in those protests.

Disney does not officially endorse or sponsor Gay Day, which began eight years ago. Gays and lesbians who attend the event wear red shirts to identify themselves.

Disney does not tell guests about Gay Day, but it does allow upset guests to exchange their passes for other parks.

"Our concept is when you come here, you're kind of escaping the everyday realities of the world, and you're immersing yourself in a magical experience -- and we want everybody to enjoy their vacation," Disney spokesman Bill Warren said.

Some of the Operation Rescue members who went inside the park talked to some of the gay visitors. David Lackey and Shanks began a conversation with David Smith and Robert Pitman by asking where they were from.

The Austin, Texas, men matched the evangelists point-for-point in a cordial, diplomatic 30-minute talk observed by Disney security officers and a handful of reporters.

"The statistics show that your lifestyle is much shorter than other people's," Lackey said. "It's not a lifestyle. It's a death-style."

Smith, a 33-year-old Methodist seminary graduate, countered by saying, "My lifestyle is exactly like yours. I wake up, I pick up my paper, I say 'hi' to my neighbor, I feed the dogs, I go to work ... The only thing different is that I share a bed with a man and I love a man."

Correspondent Susan Candiotti, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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