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San Francisco Examiner, 1 Nov 1990

Prayer Army and ‘pagans’ tangle

75,000 in Castro; thousands pray in Civic Center

by Craig Marine and Jane Ganahl
SF Examiner Staff

With nearly 7,000 fundamentalist Christians crowding the Civic Auditorium to pray for the souls of San Francisco’s heathens and pagans, tens of thousands jammed the Castro District to pray that the party never stops.

Haloween in San Francisco — darned near a religious holiday in this town — took a turn for the serious as Texas televangelist Larry Lea arrived with his traveling prayer show. His pronouncements that he was here to save San Francisco from itself, that his “Prayer Army” would rid the Bay Area of “spirits of witchcraft, violence, greed and moral corruption,” were seen by The City’s gay community as a direct affront to its way of life.

Combined with Lea’s arrival on Halloween, when “demons are at their strongest” and San Francisco is at is loosest, the stage was set for the melee outside the Civic Auditorium that came within a few shoves of deteriorating into an ugly scene.

Police in riot helmets stood behind steel barricades that separated the arriving worshipers from several hundred protesters determined to vent their anger.

Using their Bibles as symbolic and sometimes literal shields, Lea’s followers were showered first with chants and slogans, and later with eggs and fruit. The hostile protesters began with creative chants such as “The people, perverted, will never be converted” and “Bring back the lions,” but those soon deteriorated into shouted obscenities and foul gestures.

For their part, some of the worshipers provoked the crowd by wlking right up to the barricade, waving the Bibles in their faces, and threatening the protesters with eternal damnation.

At several points, police had to separate the arriving “Prayer Army” — some actually dressed in battle fatigues with painted faces — from the protesters, some of whom were dresses as nuns or genitalia.

A man costumed as Jesus Christ, with his body painted pink, said he had come as “a living political cartoon” to show Lea’s followers that “the real Jesus would never put up with their crap.”

Eyeing the screaming, hostile crowd as he prepared to enter the auditorium, 27-year-old Curtis Tarpley of the Christian Faith Center in Seattle said he bore no animosity toward the protesters.

“I’ve been out of the gay lifestyle for seven years now,” said Tarpley, “so I understand the inner hurt and confusion they are suffering. Seven years ago, I would have been on the other side of the line. Now, I am here tonight to pray for them.”

Once the last stragglers made it inside the auditorium, the crowd outside decided that enough was enough, and most took off on a march toward the Castro, complete with police escort.

Once there, they blended in perfectly with the other celebrators. The scene resembled a walking wax museum, with numerous Judy Garlands and Madonnas posing for pictures dressed in the most popular style of the night: tourist with camera.

The crowd of party goers and spectators appeared comparable in size to last year’s gathering, which was estimated at 50,000 to 75,000 people. As in previous years, some police estimes placed the crown at 250,000 or more.

Police barricaded 15 square blocks this year, up from the usual four, in an effort to ease the crowding around the most popular areas of the Castro. Several groups gathered donations for various charities, including several for AIDS-related causes.

While the more outrageous element grabbed the public eye, San Francisco’s other neighborhoods enjoyed more traditional Halloween fun….

Copyright 2013-5 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco