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Volume 15/Issue 23

by PlanetOut,, a Worldwide Online Community of Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Trans People

Churches' Hellish Display

Homosexual lies, violent rape, medical murder-business is booming in the Mile High City!" Satan announces as he towers over the Denver, Colorado skyline in a full-color poster. "If you can't take the heat, stay outta hell!" A visit to hell is just what's being sold, as some segments of the religious right have turned from denouncing the pagan holiday Hallowe'en to shaping it to their own political and financial ends, creating haunted houses on a theme of the wages of sin-including, of course, homosexuality-being death. According to one Associated Press report, the first "Hell House" was staged in 1993 in Roswell, NM, the town best known as the site of a putative extraterrestrial crash landing.

Keenan Roberts, now assistant pastor at Arvada, Colorado's Abundant Life Christian Center, claims to have created "Hell House," which he describes as "a scared straight morality play." Abundant Life staged its own first Hell House in 1995, drawing complaints about its grim portrayal of the funeral of a gay man felled by AIDS. But the church went on to upgrade its production and to market the concept to other groups via the Internet. Abundant Life sank $25,000 and many volunteer hours into this year's display, in expectation over 16 nights of a total of 10,000 visitors paying $6.50 admission each for a net of $40,000. Abundant Life has also sold "outreach kits" at $150 each to 231 churches in 45 states and 6 foreign countries, and some have used the detailed instructions to build their own local hells. Vacaville, California and Willard, Ohio are two such sites.

Hell House displays are gory enough that children aren't admitted (age 10 is the minimum in Arvada, 13 in Vacaville) and that counselors are made available to patrons as needed. Demons escort visitors to rooms where costumed church volunteers act out the miserable deaths of a gay man with AIDS, the fetus of a woman having an abortion, a drinking-and-drugging teen's suicide, and the victim of a Satanic cult. They have drawn protests not only from gay and lesbian, AIDS, and pro-choice groups, but from Christians who find the approach un-Christian.

There is no doubt whatever in Roberts' mind that homosexuality is perverse and wrong and that the church cannot be expected to be tolerant of lesbians and gays. Similarly, Vacaville, California pastor Scott Brooks defends the gay death scene at his Harvest Church's first Hell House this year, saying the Bible "specifically lists homosexuality as a sin that will keep [gays] from entering into eternal life. We're not gay bashing. We don't hate homosexuals. God doesn't hate homosexuals. God hates sin." The San Francisco Bay area pastor claims to have received threats to the exhibit, but takes them in stride, noting that, "They killed Jesus Christ because of his message." The Vacaville display cost $4,000 and anticipates a total of 1,700 visitors.

Brooks' near neighbor, Rev. Jim Mitulski of Metropolitan Community Church-San Francisco, responded, "I don't think any kind of fear-based religion is healthy. I think that's perversion.... And I think it gives Christianity a bad name."

No Parole for Sailor's Killer

One of two sailors who brutally bashed to death their gay shipmate on the "U.S.S. Belleau Wood," has been denied early eligibility for parole by the Naval Clemency and Parole Board. Terry Helvey was given a life sentence by a military court for murdering radioman Allen Schindler on October 27, 1992 in a toilet in a park in Sasebo, Japan, inflicting injuries which made Schindler all but unrecognizable and were compared by the medical examiner to those from a high-speed car crash or even an airplane crash. Helvey's accomplice, Charles Vins, was allowed to plea bargain and served only a 78-day sentence before receiving a general discharge from the Navy.

The gay and lesbian Servicemembers Legal Defense Network's (SLDN) staff attorney Kirk Childress has been representing the interests of Schindler's family, especially of his mother, Chicagoan Dorothy Hajdys-Holman (recently the subject of the LIFETIME made-for-television movie, "Any Mother's Son," starring Bonnie Bedelia). Childress says that the only action Helvey had requested of the Naval Board was to consider decreasing the period before he could be considered for parole, and that the Board's ruling consisted only of the statement, "Request for advancement of parole eligibility date is denied." As a result, the earliest date for which Helvey can be considered for parole continues to be in 2002. He is currently incarcerated at the Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks.

This was Helvey's second appearance before the Board, which is required by Navy law to annually review for possible sentence reductions every case with a sentence of more than one year. In the first review, held in September 1996, both advancement of parole and clemency were denied.

Hajdys-Holman is hoping to collect one million signatures on a petition to have Helvey serve out his full term, to present to the Naval Clemency and Parole Board when he first becomes eligible for parole. She, SLDN and GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, are among those who believe it is important to have Helvey's punishment send a strong message that gay-bashing will not be tolerated in the service. So far, SLDN reports that about25,000 people have signed on. Copies of the petition can be obtained at SLDN's website, in response to e-mail requests, or in response to phone requests at (202) 328-3244. It is also possible to write directly to the Board at: Naval Clemency and Parole Board, 801 N. Randolph Road, Suite 1130, Arlington, VA 22203.

Senate Committee OK's Hormel

A quick voice vote by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Nov. 4 recommended for approval by the full Senate a few dozen diplomatic nominees, bringing meat packing heir James Hormel one step closer to becoming the country's first openly gay ambassador. The Committee is chaired by the Senate's leading homophobe, Jesse Helms (R-NC), who recently blocked the nomination of gay-friendly liberal Republican former Massachusetts Governor William Weld to serve as ambassador to Mexico, and who publicly tagged attorney Roberta Achtenberg a "damn lesbian" in the course of her historic appointment to the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Clinton's first term. A Helms spokesperson has said of Hormel only that the Democrat "would not have been Senator Helms' first choice for the post." Helms had been notably absent from the Committee's hearing late last month on Hormel's nomination, leaving the chair to Gordon Smith (R-OR), who seemed enthusiastic about the nomination. The scuttlebutt around Capitol Hill, as revealed in statements to the media by officials who refuse to be named, has suggested that Helms asked for and received certain "assurances" from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -those assurances presumed to be that Hormel would remain publicly silent on gay and lesbian issues should he come to be the ambassador to Luxembourg. Committee member and Hormel supporter Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) declared herself "cautiously optimistic" about his chances, but admitted she'd heard that some Senator might act to put a "hold" on the nomination, preventing it from coming to a floor vote. In fact, no floor vote has yet been scheduled on any of the nominees approved by the Committee this week, but Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) said he would make an effort to set aside time for their consideration before the body's adjournment planned for November 14. Hormel has been a major Clinton/Gore and Democratic Party contributor, one whose name has turned up in the course of investigation of possible misfeasance in campaign fund-raising out of the White House. The administration had previously tested the waters on a possible nomination of Hormel to serve as ambassador to Fiji, but backed off. A businessman, scholar, philanthropist, and presence in San Francisco civic affairs, Hormel is generally seen as well qualified for the job of envoy to the small but rich European Grand Duchy.

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