By David Webb – Staff Writer

Arkansas resort town that attracts gay Texas visitors, residents riles conservative Christian activists

Donald Wildmon

EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. In a video being sold on its Web site for $14.95, the Mississippi-based American Family Association is urging Christians to take Eureka Springs back from the “professional homosexual activists” the conservative group claims has invaded and conquered the quaint Arkansas Ozark village.

American Family Association founder and chairman Donald E. Wildmon apparently conceived the idea for the video as a response to the Eureka Springs City Council approving an ordinance for a domestic partner registry that became effective in June 2006. It is the only such registry in Arkansas, and numerous gay and lesbian couples have visited Eureka Springs from Texas and across the country to exchange vows and register their unions.

An effort by a group of Eureka Springs ministers to call for a vote on the ordinance by the town’s 2,300 residents failed because of a problem with the wording on the petition. The deadline has since passed for presenting a new petition.

Now, the American Family Association, in cooperation with Philip Wilson of the First Christian Church, one of the town’s ministers, is urging Christians from across the country to rebel against gay activism. The video claims that while the rest of Arkansas is experiencing a 17 percent boom in tourism, Eureka Springs has experienced a 23 percent decrease.

Jeff Feldman, president of the Greater Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, said in a phone interview he “would like to know where the speakers on that video obtained their numbers.”

He disputed their accuracy, and he said everyone is welcome to visit the town, which has long been known for its liberal atmosphere.

“The chamber’s focus is on economic growth and economic development,” Feldman said. “We encourage our visitors, and we certainly continue to welcome all people to visit Eureka Springs to enjoy the art, architecture, shopping, dining, attractions, lodging and the nature.”

Feldman and city hall officials said they were aware of the video’s distribution, but they did not comment on the allegations that “militant homosexual activists” had taken over the town.

“I would encourage people to seek out alternative media that portrays Eureka Springs in a positive light to find out about the wonderful things we have here,” Feldman said.
The conservative Christians featured on “They’re Coming to Your Town” warn that most people wrongly believe that the “problem” of gay activism is confined to large urban areas like San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C. That leaves people in small towns vulnerable to takeovers by militant activists, the featured speakers say on the video.

Wilson notes that gays and lesbians followed the art and music scene to Eureka Springs in the 1960s. At first, they maintained low profiles, he says.

“They have come out of the closet now, and they are trying to or have taken over a lot of the operations of the city government,” Wilson says on the video.

Anti-gay researcher Robert Knight of the Culture and Media Institute notes that Eureka Springs is known for being the site of the seven-story statue “Christ of the Ozarks” and the home of the “The Great Passion Play” and several Christian exhibits. He acknowledged that Eureka Springs is a “heck of a nice place to be,” but he said there is likely another motive for gay and lesbian people moving to the city.

“I can’t help but think they get a special delight in taking over a place that has been known for its Christianity,” Knight says on the video.

Wilson is shown on the video complaining that gay-friendly Eureka Springs Mayor Dani Joy, who did not return a phone call left at her office, and other council members conspired with gay activists to get the ordinance passed, “blindsiding” those who opposed it.

The minister says on the video that the mayor ran on a platform of uniting the city to help its sagging economy, but instead she undertook the most divisive agenda in the city’s history.

The video ends with a message from Wildmon, who suggests that viewers sign up for the American Family Association’s e-mail blast and its efforts to combat gay activism. All of the group’s e-mails are accompanied by solicitations for donations.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 8, 2008 sitectj jgnbvbpfwbz