Catonsville parade to bar gay veterans BALTIMORE COUNTY

June 26, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

The committee sponsoring Catonsville's Independence Day parade won't let gay veterans march down Frederick Avenue this year, which is exactly why the vets are determined to march.

The result, so far, is the second annual standoff over whether the vets will march in the parade, which is scheduled for 3 p.m. July 3.

This year there's a new twist. The committee changed its bylaws so that any group wishing to apply to march must be sponsored by a committee member. The Gay and Lesbian Veterans of Maryland Inc. could not apply because no one on the 20-member committee was willing to sponsor them. Thus, the committee was not forced to vote on the group's participation.

This is the third year in a row that the Catonsville parade has been the focus of controversy. In 1991 a group of black-clad demonstrators, carrying charred baby dolls to protest the Persian Gulf war, crashed the parade.

George A. Abendschoen, parade committee co-chairman and aide to Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden, said the controversy threatens the parade's future.

"All we want to do is have a parade in Catonsville," he said. "Why don't they [gay and lesbian veterans] go to the Arbutus parade, or to Towson . . . I don't understand it."

Mr. Abendschoen said he fears there may be violence if the gay veterans march, or even stand in the wrong place on the sidelines.

"They could run into a real hornet's nest," he said and, he denied that the bylaw change was aimed at the gay veterans' group.

The parade is "for the enjoyment and entertainment of the people of Catonsville," he said. "It's not for causes."

John Geiss, also a committee co-chairman, said he would not sponsor the group.

"That sort of lifestyle is not acceptable to me," said Mr. Geiss, who also said that when he was a youth "even talking about it was offensive."

The committee just doesn't want to see a banner saying "Gay and Lesbian Veterans of Maryland" floating by among the 110 other entrants, including children's sports teams, on parade day, said Mr. Geiss, 47. The parade's theme is "Youth in Sports."

Catonsville's County councilwoman, Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, said she will participate in the parade. After the fuss in 1991, she sponsored legislation requiring permits for parades. This gave organizers legal control over who can march. It also gave county police authority to remove unauthorized marchers. Mr. Hayden also is scheduled to appear in the parade.

Alan Stephens, spokesman for the veterans' group, said Mr. Geiss's sentiment is why his members are determined to focus on Catonsville. "It's exactly that attitude that has created extreme self-hatred in gay and lesbian children," he said. "Just because they don't talk about it doesn't mean it doesn't exist."

Mr. Stephens said the refusal to allow his group to march is "a slap in the face."

"Catonsville is behind the times. They're denying us," he said, adding that several of his group's 150 members come from Catonsville.

Last year the group stood on the parade sidelines and hoisted the club banner. There was no disorder.

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