They still haven't worked out all their differences in Eureka Springs. The colorful little Ozarks town is known for, among other things, the frequency and intensity of public disagreements among its residents. Now it's the subject of a new DVD purporting to show “how a small group of homosexual activists took over the city council in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and began imposing their homosexual agenda on that community.”
Conceivably, the video — produced by the conservative American Family Association — could have a deleterious effect on tourism, Eureka's lifeblood, but it's too early to say. City officials seem to be mostly ignoring the DVD, Mayor Dani Joy to the extent that she wouldn't return telephone calls from the Arkansas Times. The mayor is fairly prominent in the video, shown presiding at city council meetings, and is apparently considered part of the problem by the AFA. (In the video, she's identified as “Mayor Dani Wilson.” She's remarried since.)
Titled “They're Coming to Your Town,” the DVD was produced by the AFA, a conservative group based in Tupelo, Miss., and headed by Donald E. Wildmon, who is a large figure on the Religious Right. The DVD was released in December, but wasn't heavily promoted until January, according to AFA spokesman Cindy Roberts. “We've had a lot of requests” for the DVD, Roberts said, but she didn't know exactly how many.
An AFA news release about the DVD says:
“For 40 years Eureka Springs has been known as a resort town for Christians. Their Passion Play has been attended by hundreds of thousands of Christians. But the activists are now in the process of turning Eureka Springs into a haven for homosexuals. ‘They're Coming To Your Town' shows how, using deceitfulness and lies, homosexuals maneuvered themselves into positions of power and then used those positions to promote their agenda. ‘They're Coming To Your Town' is an eye-opener to those who are not familiar with how homosexuals use the system to attain their goals. It is a 28-minute DVD, making it perfect for viewing during Sunday School.” The DVD sells for $14.95. The AFA prefers to call the charge a “donation.”
The Passion Play referred to is presented during the summer near a large statue called “the Christ of the Ozarks.” Both play and statue were projects of Gerald L.K. Smith, a noted anti-Semite, now deceased, who moved to Eureka in the 1960s.
Rev. Philip Wilson, pastor of the First Christian Church at Eureka Springs, is interviewed at length in the DVD. He said he was selected because his opposition to a domestic-partner registry had put him in the middle of a debate over homosexual activities in the town.
The Eureka Springs City Council last year adopted an ordinance creating the domestic party registry. Unmarried couples, gay or straight, can register with the city and receive a certificate recognizing their relationship. It's signed by the mayor and the city clerk. The certificate doesn't legalize gay marriage, which is illegal under state law, but the official recognition can be useful in other ways, such as obtaining benefits as a couple from an employer. Wilson said he tried twice to have the ordinance referred to the people for a vote, but was blocked when the city clerk said that his filings were invalid. Asked if there might be another attempt to refer the ordinance to a popular vote, he said, “No comment.” He said he hadn't seen the DVD, but there was a copy on his desk.
Richard Grinnell, chairperson of the City Advertising and Promotion Commission, said that he'd heard of the DVD but not seen it. As for it having an adverse effect on tourism, Grinnell said, “At this point, we haven't seen any effect. I personally don't think it's going to have any effect.”
Jeff Feldman, president and CEO of the Greater Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, said he'd received a couple of communications from people “expressing concerns” about Eureka Springs after seeing the DVD. “We've chosen not to respond,” he said. “Certainly people are entitled to their opinions. The Chamber has taken the tack that we're here to do things positive and progressive, not spend time dwelling on the negative or the perceived negative.”
People on the opposite side from Wilson and the AFA have said that the DVD will scare off the kind of tourists that Wilson and the AFA approve of. A writer on gaynewsbureau.com said:
“That sound you hear is the squealing tires on the church buses driving away from Eureka Springs. All the AFA's mocumentary succeeded in doing was to scare away the ‘faith-based' market it claims to represent by telling them Eureka has been ‘taken over by professional, militant homosexuals.' With the AFA's help, spokesmen for the Great Passion Play and Best Western/Inn of the Ozarks shot themselves in the feet while bemoaning the notion of ‘gay-friendly' on film. Conversely, in a way, the AFA is one of the best ad agencies we've ever had. Thanks to the attention the video has generated in the blogosphere, a great many more potential tourists now know about this progressive, enlightened, inclusive off-beat little town that has the ONLY Domestic Partnership in the state (which has already attracted couples from 11 other states) and three Diversity Weekends a year which attract thousands of visitors.”