RENO, Nev. -- Twenty-five years after the Stonewall riots in New York City marked the start of the nation's gay liberation movement, conservatives in more than a half-dozen states are pushing anti-gay ballot initiatives that homosexuals say would turn back the clock.
The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force has deemed the threat so crucial that it has declared the campaign its utmost priority and has dispatched four field officers across the country to serve as consultants to local gay rights groups.
The Pacific Northwest and Nevada are targeted by the Oregon-based U.S. Citizen Alliance, and separate campaigns are under way in Arizona, Michigan and Missouri.
Most of the petition drives face June deadlines in order to qualify for November election ballots.
Just last week, in a vote considered a triumph for the anti-gay movement, voters of typically liberal Austin, Texas, overwhelmingly repealed a measure that offered insurance benefits to unmarried partners of city employees.
"The vigor with which the far right is pursuing these initiatives is frightening," said David M. Smith, spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "They are building grass roots, raising money, and they're doing it by misrepresenting gays. It's a green light for discrimination."
Among other things, organizers of the anti-gay rights initiatives hope to disallow sexual orientation as a protected or minority classification; forbid schools to portray homosexuality as acceptable behavior; and prohibit same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships.
"These are things that just aren't right," said Daisy Stanley, a Reno homemaker who is spearheading the Nevada drive. "We've got a lot of education to do on people."
In spirited Nevada, which has been shaped by a live-and-let-live lifestyle, the threat to gay rights from the proposed "Minority Status and Child Protection Act" has mobilized the state's homosexuals for the first time.
In Reno, the gay community is so small that the 31 gay and lesbian members of the Metropolitan Community Church of the Sierra congregate in a synagogue, and, until a few months ago, the closest thing to a political group was the Lesbian Breakfast & Walking Club.
But next week a newly created group called No Hate will hang lavender ribbons on car antennas across "the biggest little city," the first phase of its "Hands off Nevada" publicity drive.
No Hate organizer Eddie Anderson, a gay talk-radio host, said he hopes the campaign will stir support from Hollywood celebrities. He said that $40,000 has been pledged so far for a statewide media campaign to counteract what he called "the biggest threat posed to this community in the history of the state."
Proponents of "The Minority Status and Child Protection Act" -- crafted by Lon Mabon of the seven-year-old U.S. Citizens Alliance -- must gather 51,339 signatures by June 21 in order to secure a spot on the November ballot.
It was 25 years ago in June that rioting erupted at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, which turned out to be the beginning of the gay rights movement. Most of the anti-gay measures in place across the country will be decided in June and July.
"Even if we don't collect enough signatures," Mr. Mabon promised, "we'll be back."
Mr. Mabon, the guru of anti-gay forces in the Pacific Northwest, said he decided to enfold Nevada in his campaign after the state repealed its 82-year-old sodomy law.
"In Nevada, the average citizen is quite shocked at how much influence 1-to-2 percent of the population has over the media and public officials," said Mr. Mabon. "The average citizen does not want homosexuality equated with race, gender and national origin.
"Our initiative does not deal with the privacy issue or live-and-let-live issue. If homosexuals wanted to be left alone, that would be fine with us," he added.
"But they are in the statehouses of Boise, Carson City, Salem and Washington, D.C., demanding to be recognized, demanding force on the rest of society acceptance of their behavior."
Mrs. Stanley, whose daughter works for Mr. Mabon in Oregon, is spearheading the Nevada drive from her kitchen table. She said that 25,000 petitions, with space for 15 signatures apiece, are being floated throughout Nevada. They won't be counted until the second week of June.
Last weekend, Mrs. Stanley stood outside the Reno Kmart seeking signatures. She got 35 of them. "One of the folks said, 'God bless you.' I liked that," Mrs. Stanley said. Other supporters are going door to door and soliciting signatures in front of Reno's main post office.
pTC This past Friday, newspapers in Northern Nevada were stuffed with a paid circular called "Homosexual Agenda Exposed" as part of a distribution of 100,000 leaflets pushing the ballot drive.
Nevada Gov. Bob Miller, Reno's police chief, the local district attorney and a host of other public officials have criticized proponents of the anti-gay measures for planting what the governor has called "seeds of intolerance and discrimination" in their state.
In an interview, the governor said, "In my estimation, it is a threat intended to create fear and intimidation. This drive is being fronted by a small group of people who are spreading misinformation and misbeliefs."
Mr. Miller said that he has spoken to the governors of Idaho, Washington and Oregon and that they hold a "common opinion" about the petition drives in their states.
'We don't accept bigotry'
At the Metropolitan Community Church in Reno, the Rev. Roy Cole often speaks of tolerance, but never as much as he's done recently.
"In a sense, this whole thing has been a shock," he said. "Our community, by and large, didn't realize we were next. It isn't the gay community's fight as much as Nevadans saying, 'No, we don't accept bigotry, intolerance and people from other states telling us how to run ours' .
"Historically, this has been a state of tolerance. We built our economy on gambling. We have legalized prostitution. Nevadans are pioneers. They tend to want to be unencumbered by people with prejudices," Mr. Cole said. "So, I say, 'Go back to Oregon, folks! Leave us Nevadans alone.' "