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300 march on Hyatt as history convention crosses gay picket line

Close to 300 people staged a raucous demonstration at the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel in San Diego on Jan. 9, to protest the American Historical Association's (AHA) decision to go ahead with its annual meeting there rather than honor the gay boycott of the hotel.

The boycott was launched in mid-2008 after hotel owner Doug Manchester donated $125,000 to the campaign to put Proposition 8 on the ballot. The constitutional amendment passed in November 2008, repealing same-sex marriage in California.

The AHA said its contracts with the Hyatt were in place long before anyone had heard of Prop 8 and that it would have cost the association around $800,000 to move the Jan. 7-10 convention.

Instead, the AHA staged a free-to-the-public, 15-part miniconvention at the Hyatt "to explore historical perspectives on same-sex marriage."

AHA President Laurel Thatcher Ulrich told local media there really is no such thing as "traditional marriage."

"We can argue about what marriage should be today, but we cannot argue that marriage has always been the same," she told The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The miniconvention, which ran for four days and cost the association around $100,000, came in for criticism of its own, however.

Gay activists said it should have been held anywhere downtown except the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

"The American Historical Association today made the wrong decision," said veteran gay activist Cleve Jones, who organized the recent National Equality March on Washington, D.C., and was portrayed in the Academy Award-winning movie Milk.

"What is particularly distressing to me is that today, for the first time, we will see members of the LGBT community violating the boycott," Jones said. "We require solidarity."

Among those at the protest was Harvard professor Dr. Ian Lekus, chair of the AHA-affiliated Committee on LGBT History.

"The panel on The Queer 1970s has moved out of the Hyatt and into the Embassy Suites because none of the participants wanted to violate the boycott," Lekus said in an interview.

"I do not support how the AHA has handled this," he said. "I believe that having a miniconference on the historical context around this issue is a valuable thing, but to have it inside of the Hyatt is a slap in the face to the local communities. Having this elsewhere in San Diego would have been a much more productive political statement."

After several speeches on the plaza outside the Hyatt, the protesters marched around the mammoth property twice, chanting, "Boycott the Hyatt -- Check! Out! Now!"

"If Doug Manchester is so concerned with preserving traditional marriage, maybe he ought to start with his own," Jones told the crowd.

Manchester's wife Elizabeth filed for divorce last year, citing irreconcilable differences, local media reported.

In an undated note on one of his Web sites, Doug Manchester writes:

"Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego has been the subject of negative attention in the wake of my personal donation to California's Yes on 8 Campaign in 2008. I am sorry for the pain and conflict I have caused and would like to take this time to apologize, clarify my views on the matter and share some background on Hyatt's long-standing and commendable support of the GLBT community." See tinyurl.com/y9nnkj7 for the full letter.

The site also states: "Mr. Manchester gave this donation based on his personal religious beliefs and he is not anti-gay. Mr. Manchester believes he has apologized for the contribution, acknowledged his mistake, and has committed to no further contributions going forward."