From Madison, Wis.
The people accusing firefighter and pastor Ron Greer of intolerance began gathering at his Madison, Wis., church, Trinity Evangelical Fellowship, by about 3 p.m. A group of homosexual activists and their sympathizers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison turned out in force, with coats and gloves and signs and bullhorns. The police officers who stood by looking put-upon did little to diminish the party atmosphere of the protest.
The scene at first looked pretty much like a Friday night college kegger. Little by little, however, the signs and rainbow flags began appearing, and the crowd began working up its righteous indignation. Ron Greer had earned their wrath by openly opposing homosexuality, and the lockstep leadership at City Hall was in the middle of investigating him, trying to determine whether he could be fired for voicing his views.
A leather-jacketed lady, her face pale and reddened by the icy end-of-winter winds, sipped from a styrofoam cup she held close with both hands, and cleared her throat. Then she threw back her head and chanted: "Hey,hey, ho, ho, Christian hate has got to go!" By the end of the first repeat, more than a hundred other voices joined in; she stopped and smiled, pleased with herself.
The signs were bright and amateurish, simply worded and consistent: "HATE--Not in my town"; "Hatemongers go home!" The protesters held them obligingly for the television camera crews who also showed up early.
By 6 p.m., more than 300 homosexualists had gathered across the street from the church; with sufficient numbers, the mass was ready to move toward the church with the loose, lolling coordination of an elementary-school fire drill. They set up a gauntlet outside the doors to the church, a tight corridor lined by chanting, shouting activists. They also clustered at the door, ready to pack the church as soon as the doors opened.
Mr. Greer was the main attraction. He had run afoul of the avidly pro-homosexual city administration last year, just after it hired 44-year-old Debra Amesqua as its fire chief. Miss Amesqua, while she has refused to comment publicly about her sexual habits, has strong, visible ties to the homosexual community. When she learned that Mr. Greer had handed out to other firefighters at work a few tracts that denounce homosexuality as unbiblical, she ordered an investigation. For this, she informed him in November, she was suspending him without pay for two months and ordering him to attend diversity training scheduled for him by the department. "The good of the service demands it," she wrote to him.
Tolerance as a non-negotiable demand? The very idea is fast losing its novelty:
n In Orange County, Calif., a group of employees has demanded the county develop rules against "workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians." The protection the group seeks, according to news reports, is against "verbal abuse" from anyone who considers homosexuality wrong.
n A news anchor in Los Angeles, angry at a poor-quality script, let a comment slip off-air about the news writer's speaking "English as a second language" (which she did). The comment prompted KCBS-TV to force every one of its employees to attend
a diversity-training class, during which they were instructed to "honor all the cultures, races, genders, and sexual orientations that make up our community."
n In the New York Police Academy, a homosexual officer instructs each new policeman in how to "respect gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders." On city time, he meets with homosexuals in gay bars to "discuss common problems"; he helps organize the annual Queens gay-pride parade; he has helped committees commemorating the Stonewall riots. During those 1969 riots, drag queens and teenaged male prostitutes attacked police who were making a raid outside a bar called the Stonewall. When the police retreated into the building under a storm of beer bottles and shot glasses, the homosexuals forced the door shut, then set the building on fire.
n In Minnesota, the state board of education has decided "diversity instruction" isn't enough; board members want to mandate "diversity-related action." They have established the "goal [that] students reflect movement beyond the level of awareness to the level of making decisions on social issues and taking actions" that demonstrate allegiance to the diversity movement's fundamental principles. And it's not just for kids. The state Supreme Court has ruled that to continue to practice, attorneys in Minnesota must attend diversity training periodically.
Diversity wasn't celebrated in the tract Ron Greer has admitted handing out to a few friends. Titled "The Truth about Homosexuality," the short treatise is woefully intolerant, Fire Chief Amesqua contends. It states, "There is no constitutional right to commit homosexual acts," which technically is true, given a recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of a Georgia law banning sodomy.
Mr. Greer's tract also points out: "God is love. He is also Holy.... There is nothing loving about letting homosexuals slide into eternal damnation unresisted. There is likewise certainly nothing loving about not protecting the weak and vulnerable from a filthy scourge such as homosexuality."
And worse yet, when a belligerent reporter quizzed Mr. Greer about his feelings when the Hotel Washington (a homosexual landmark that hosted one of Madison's gay nightclubs) burned down in February 1996, the fireman poured on some gasoline: He said he was sorry to see the loss of a historical structure, but "if it means the end of certain types of business, I don't have a problem with that." Local newspaper editorials railed at the "homophobia" expressed in that sentence, while Miss Amesqua told him, "You appear to fail to appreciate the significance of your words."
But the homosexualists in front of Mr. Greer's church understood what was at stake. In a blockade that would have called for the resources of federal law enforcement had it been of an abortion business, activists massed around Trinity Fellowship. As Christians began showing up for the 7 p.m. service, the police stood back and let the protesters block the doors. Fewer than 40 church members made it through the gauntlet and into pews; they were outnumbered more than 10-to-1 both inside the church and outside. Jeers and shouts overpowered anyone who tried to speak from the pulpit.
From outside, a new chant came, seeping in under closed doors like a cold wind: "Bring back the lions! Bring back the lions!"
Ron Greer is an 18-year veteran of the Madison Fire Department, and at first glance he's an odd target for Madison's diversity machine. During the 1980s he served as a "sensitivity trainer," instructing white firefighters in how to get along with the city's minority groups. But he's gone against the liberal orthodoxy, he says. Unlike most of the pastors in Madison, he's remained publicly and vocally opposed to homosexuality.
"This is about what I believe," he says. "I believe the wrong thing."
He doesn't sound angry. Unlike the homosexuals who oppose him, there's no bitterness and no indignation in his voice. Why not? "God took it away from me," he says.
Twenty years ago, as an angry young recruit in the Marine Corps--"an angry, racist black man waiting for the revolution to come so we could put these whites in their place"--Mr. Greer was jailed after an "altercation" with a superior officer (he decked the guy). In prison at Fort Leavenworth, he prayed to the God he didn't know yet for help, before the anger consumed him. God answered, he says, by calling him out of darkness, and he's lived for the Lord since then. "When I'm attacked like this, I know it's not me they're attacking, it's God," he says. "I can no more get angry with them than I could get angry with a blind man who steps on my foot."
Ralph Ovadal, director of Wisconsin Christians United, has been one of Mr. Greer's few defenders in a city where two openly homosexual City Council members serve. Mr. Ovadal has brought in Christians from the suburbs to rallies for the firefighter; on this bitter February evening, about 200 show up from neighboring towns. They can't hope for the kind of positive press the homosexual activists received after the near-riot at Trinity Fellowship; the best they can do, one elderly Baptist woman confides, is to show Mr. Greer he's not alone.
The third round in Mr. Greer's civil-service hearing came on Feb. 25; he's appealing the two-month suspension and requirement to get sensitized. His lawyers finally have a chance to present his case, although they privately admit they don't expect the Police and Fire Commission members to side against the fire chief they hired.
Members of the press line the walls in a Madison police department classroom, watching the proceedings with more interest than they want to admit. One television reporter points out that the city attorney has just committed the offense Ron Greer is in trouble for; he has given out copies of the infamous tract, on city property. The humorless city attorney, a gray-haired, tweed-coated, slightly stooped man who clutches a Starbucks cup, just glares.
He's already made his case. Over two evenings, he's outlined the charges against Ron Greer and called a few witnesses. He spent more than an hour with a reporter on the stand, exploring whether it was possible that he misquoted Ron Greer (the reporter said no, it wasn't possible).
The city attorney is leaning against a table when the fire chief arrives. Debra Amesqua, a Native American, is a short, solid woman who wears no makeup with her uniform and man's tie. Two years ago she was hired by Madison from the city of Tallahassee, Fla., in a process that was widely regarded as perfunctory. With virtually no management experience (she'd only ever supervised three people), Miss Amesqua had been assistant chief over the fire-training division in Tallahassee (she was also a drummer in an all-woman folk band that played the lesbian bookstore circuit). Still, city officials picked her over a 26-year veteran of the Madison department.
The outgoing chief was so sure that Miss Amesqua's hiring was inevitable that even before the job had been advertised, he handed Madison Mayor Paul Soglin a sealed envelope. It contained an article about and a photo of Miss Amesqua. "Here's my replacement," he reportedly told the mayor. He wasn't happy about it, and neither was Mr. Greer, a longtime opponent of affirmative action. Mr. Greer attended Miss Amesqua's swearing-in, carrying a sign that read, "Injustice isn't an affirmative action."
He admits with a wry smile that maybe their relationship got off to a bad start. "She didn't think much of what I had to say then, either," he says.
Tonight, Chief Amesqua is all business. "I can't comment on the charges," she tells WORLD. As the commission members find their seats and the lawyers settle in, she takes a chair next to the city attorney.
Ron Greer takes the stand.
During the next couple of hours, the city's case starts slipping away. First, Mr. Greer's lawyer lays down a stack of magazines, calendars, and newspapers he's collected from firehouses across the city. He had gleaned copies of Penthouse, Sports Illustrated, Popular Mechanics, and even the homosexual newsweekly Wisconsin Light during the last 24 hours from firefighters' communal kitchens and coffee tables. If pornography is allowed, attorney Michael Dean contends, why not a tract about the Bible?
He also dramatically recalls, through the testimony of Mr. Greer and others, the tense 1990 confrontation between the city and the black community--a confrontation Mr. Greer mediated and diffused for the city.
In March of that year, five black children died in a fire in the poor Summerset housing project. A City of Madison fire station was less than a block away, but because Summerset isn't within the city's confines, engines from that station couldn't respond without permission. Firefighters got the permission, but belatedly. By the time firefighters arrived, the apartment in which a mother had left her five sleeping children while she visited a neighbor was ablaze, and the best the firefighters could do was try to recover the bodies.
Embittered residents took out their anger on firefighters and police officers. When one female officer went to the Summerset projects on an unrelated case a few days later, residents gathered around her in the parking lot. They chanted, yelled, then began throwing rocks and even hot coals from a barbecue grill.
Mr. Greer ministered in that community, and he went to the city administration with an offer: He would investigate the fire and the city's response, and work with black community leaders to calm residents. City officials realized that their own internal investigation wasn't going to satisfy the people who had watched five children die, so they accepted Mr. Greer's offer.
After looking into the incident and listening to the 911 tapes, Mr. Greer concluded the city did the best it could with an awkward extra-jurisdiction response policy.
At a meeting in a black church in south Madison, Mr. Greer convinced community leaders the city wasn't to blame for the deaths. And when that was over, he helped establish the Sable Flames, a group of black firefighters who go into the projects and mentor young boys. He also helped establish a scholarship program for kids from Summerset.
As the Summerset story unfolds, the city attorney looks bored. His only response: "Mr. Greer's disciplinary record is extremely poor." Still, he seems to be getting antsy. When Mr. Greer's attorney broaches the subject of faith, the city attorney objects. Chief Amesqua huffs and crosses her arms.
"It's 7:40 and we haven't gotten to a single transaction," the city attorney objects to the commission. "This isn't about what he believes."
Mr. Greer, still on the stand, catches his wife's eye and smiles.
Chief Amesqua just frowns and nods to the commission.
The hearings will likely continue through April, and even then the losing side is expected to appeal the commission's ruling to the state district court level. It could be months before Ron Greer's fate is decided.
Some in the community aren't willing to wait, however. On a recent Sunday morning, Mr. Greer and his family (he has three sons) awoke to find their home, yard, and car awash in pink triangles. The Lesbian Avengers had struck, stretching a banner across his porch and pounding in yard signs with slogans like "Welcome to Fag City, USA," "Wisconsin Lesbians Against Greer," and "We want you, Ronnie." Pink triangle stickers, most bearing graphic sexual references, were pasted on walls and windows. Some signs were screwed into the porch.
A homosexual group at UW-Madison calling itself the Ten Percent Society has admitted responsibility, but there is no police investigation. "I don't have any qualms about the demonstration against Mr. Greer," the group's co-president, David Wilcox, told the campus newspaper. "I think it's important to let Mr. Greer know that free speech works both ways. It's important that he and the Religious Right be aware of that."
Now if only Mr. Greer could exercise his religious rights without the trouble and expense of a trial.