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Of freaks and faithfuls

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Here they come again, marching this time from the steps of the state capitol in Denver for 70 miles to the front doors of Focus on the Family.

Their message, as always, is unwavering. And, at least to most of the rest of us, that they have to keep delivering it borders on the absurd. They are not freaks, they are not pedophiles, they are not mentally unbalanced. They are gay. They are faithful. They have partners and families. They are actual, real, live human beings.

But don't expect members of Soulforce to be welcomed with open arms by James Dobson and crew when they arrive in Colorado Springs on Saturday, July 22.

Last time Soulforce came through was May Day 2005, when they staged a 700-person-strong nonviolent rally in front of Focus' massive headquarters in northern Colorado Springs. Rather than risk the prospect of happy same-gender couples frolicking hand-in-hand through their broad hallways, or eating a snack in their chapelteria, Focus on the Family pulled up the drawbridge, barring all visitors for the day. Focus refused to meet with Soulforce representatives, claiming its execs were all out of town.

This year, an estimated 80 to 90 people will start out at the Capitol, and spend several days marching to Colorado Springs. The final two miles, to the steps of the ministry, will be led by Chad Allen, who as a kid was in "Our House" with Wilford Brimley, and was one of the children on "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," which was based in Old Colorado City. Because he is gay, Allen recently generated some controversy by playing a missionary in a Christian film called End of the Spear. Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man who was murdered in Wyoming in 1998, will also help lead the group.

The finale, on July 22, will be a free concert on the public grounds outside Focus on the Family, featuring Broadway star Billy Porter.

Richard Lindsay, interim media director of Soulforce, hopes the event will draw a crowd of 1,000.

"I was there last year, and it seemed the community of Colorado Springs was hungry to come out and support us and say, "This is not who we are or what we believe,'" Lindsay says. That last statement, of course, is a reference to this city's persistent reputation as a bastion of intolerance.

Focus on the Family has worked tirelessly to depict gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people as "miserable, lonely, disordered, sick and sinful," Lindsay charges. The ministry and media empire is a major promoter of the "ex-gay" movement, claiming that gays can be "cured." It also is a political driving force behind anti-gay measures, including an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would restrict marriage as being between a man and woman only.

Last month, when Focus was unable to persuade the U.S. Senate to push forward such an amendment, Dobson, through his ministry's political newsletter CitizenLink, vowed to never give up.

"The future of our society and our children's well-being depends on the passage of the Marriage Protection Amendment," he was quoted as saying. "We and millions of other conservatives are committed to doing what it takes, for as long as it takes, to see that the great institution of marriage is protected from renegade judges."

Soulforce's Lindsay is equally resolute.

"We have a continued commitment to truly change the policy of Focus on the Family ... we really want them to change," he says.

Meanwhile, in El Paso County, the "great institution of marriage" currently boasts a 70 percent divorce rate.

But on the bright side, the Soulforce rally has not at least yet attracted the attention of Westboro Baptist Church, of "God Hates Fags" fame, whose members showed up to protest last year's Soulforce gathering.

A visit to the group's Web site indicates that Westboro members are instead busy continuing their protests at the funerals of soldiers around the country.

The Westboro gang is also rejoicing over last week's massive flooding on the East Coast, which it calls "divine retribution and retaliatory vengeance for their ill treatment of Westboro Baptist Church."

"Expect worse, and more of it."

degette@csindy.com

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