Gay-pride event, protesters rile ballpark crowd

Posted: August 19, 2005

The Phillies found themselves in the middle of the culture war as well as the National League wild-card race last night.

As the Phillies played the Washington Nationals, a confrontation developed in the upper deck at Citizens Bank Park between Repent America, a fundamentalist Christian group, and fans, many of whom were attending the game as part of a gay pride group.

This is the third year for Gay Day, which featured a national anthem performance by the Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus and a first pitch from Cyd Ziegler of Outsports.com.

It's also the third year Repent America's Michael Marcavage has attended in protest of the event. Marcavage and another man held a sign that read, "Homosexuality Is a Sin, Christ Can Save You" at the top of Section 303 in right field.

At one point, other fans stood in front of the banner, obscuring it. Eventually, officers from the Philadelphia Police Civil Affairs division flanked Marcavage and his unidentified companion.

"This is totally offensive to me," said James Duggan, a fan from Merchantville who stood several rows in front of the sign and engaged Marcavage in debate. "These people are false Christians. I was told the Phillies' lawyers arranged this with Repent America's lawyers, and I find that totally offensive, too."

Mike Stiles, the Philles' vice-president of operations and administration, said the team's attorneys had met with attorneys for Repent America after the group protested the first gay-pride event at Veterans Stadium in 2003.

"It's pretty clear under the Constitution," Stiles said, "that if you're going to have a gay community night, people have the right to express another opinion. We understand it's distressing for some people to have to look at that sign. We believe the leaders of the gay community who arrange this night like any other group know what they're going to have to put up with."

The Phillies have written policies barring fan behavior "interfering with other guests' ability to enjoy the game," as well as banners that contain "fighting words likely to provoke a breach of the peace."

Both policies, Stiles said, are trumped by Repent America's First Amendment rights.

"On a night when we didn't have the gay community, we wouldn't necessarily permit a sign like that," Stiles said. "A sign expressing an objection to the war would not be permitted because it has nothing to do with baseball."

Marcavage and the second man rolled up their sign at the end of the sixth inning, prompting cheers from the fans around Section 303. As the police officers and Phillies officials escorted them out of the grandstand and to an employees' elevator, fans booed and chanted obscenities.

Duggan left the section a few minutes later and headed over to buy a beer.

"I moved here from New York," Duggan said, "and I've traveled a lot. I've found Philadelphia to be the most tolerant place I've ever been. I think that says something. I'm a gay man, I confronted this guy, and I'm not the one who got booed. He is."

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