A well-publicized southern California mass murder involving homosexuals is seen by the gay community here as harming their efforts to obtain political acceptance and additional civil rights.
"The timing obviously couldn't have been worse," said Peter G. Fritsch, one of the organizers of a successful homosexual political action committee. "A lot of money has to be raised, and it is hard to raise money when people are fearful. A murder like this one sends people back to their closets in droves."
The Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles, which Fritsch helped form, raised $35,000 this year to support 11 municipal and legislative candidates; 10 won.
Nevertheless, Fritsch and others consider it unlikely now that a pending city ordinance to prohibit discrimination against homosexuals in private employment or housing rentals will even be brought up for a vote. Gays fear that opponents of the legislation would force a referendum and it would be defeated by Los Angeles voters.
Attention given to recent crimes involving homosexuals also may fuel a drive to ban gays from teaching positions in California. This effort, which probably will become an initiative on the 1978 ballot, is being pushed by State Sen. John Briggs of Orange County, a hitherto obscure legislator who campaigned with singer Anita Bryant against gays in Dade County, Fla.
The issue is likely to become a cornerstone of Briggs' effort to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1978, a possibility that seemed totally improbable two months ago but now is regarded seriously by GPO politicians.
Briggs, a 47-year-old insurance man, says that it is "too soon to tell" whether the southern California kill ings called the "trash bag murders" by police because some of the victims were dismembered and stuffed into trash bags -- will intensify fears of homosexuality. But he clearly views them as raising the consciousness of the electorate.
"These murders have reminded people that the Houston murders were homosexually oriented and that there are many crimes involving homosexuals," says Briggs. "It has reminded them that there was a sexual strain in the Corona murders."
Houston was stunned by the sex-thrill slayings of 27 youths by three acknowledged Texas homosexuals in 1973. The same year Juan Corona, a Mexican national, was convicted of murdering 25 fellow farm workers in Yuba City, Calif. Corona, now serving a life sentence, denied both the killings and the allegation of homosexuality. His lawyer maintained that an unknown homosexual actually committed the crimes.)
The trash bag killings have been described as the largest mass murder in U.S. history. There are some suspicions, however, that this may be a convenient way of solving some unsolved crimes.
Patrick Wayne Kearney, 37-year-old electronics engineer, was indicted Thursday by a Riverdale County grand jury for the three murders committed in that county. His purported lover, David Douglas Hill, 34, was freed after the grand jury decided there was insufficient evidence against him.
A dozen bodies, four of them found in trash can liners, have been discovered in five California counties. Police say they have evidence of three other murders.
The "largest mass murder" claim of 28 killings comes from a statement Kearney supposedly made to law enforcement officers after he and Hill, who had shared a Redondo Beach apartment, walked into a police station and surrendered.
The known victims are all young and single. Many had a homosexual background. Most were either relatively friendless or rootiess drifters of the kind who have always been easy prey for killers. Most were killed by gunshots through the head, and their bodies, or parts of them, found in the desert.
Only the most bizarre or unusual murders receive much media attention in southern California. But the trash bag murders are in the public consciousness here because for months they have been linked to the same killer. In fact, say police, the widespread publicity may have been the reason that Kearney surrendered.
David Goodstein of San Mateo, publisher of the Advocate, the nation's largest homosexual newspaper, said. "I think everybody's awfully anxious about it, but we're also breathing an enormous sigh of relief. If this guy is indeed murdering gay people, as it looks like he has, we're awfully glad to have him in jail. We don't like people of our group being murdered any more than anyone else does."
The anxiousness reflects a widespread belief among gays that the issue of homosexuality is ripe for political exploitation in the wake of a 69 per cent vote in Dade County repealing an ordinance that outlawed discrimination against homosexuals in housing, employment and public accommodation.
Echoing an issue of that campaign. Briggs said that ordinances, such as the pending one in Los Angeles, actually are homosexual-preference laws.
"A landlord would be able to turn away a couple with a child but not a homosexual," briggs said."You can tax people's cars and dirty their air but when it comes to fooling around with their children, that's where they draw the line. The homosexual threat, if carried into infinity, would end our culture and our civilization."
Some gays -- and some GOP politi" cans -- think that the practical result of Briggs campaign will be to make another GOP candidate. Los Angeles Police Chief Edward M. Davis, seem more moderate than he really is. Davis handles the issue with tongue-in-cheek, saying. "I've never had any thing against homosexuals. I figure that means more girls for the rest of us."
Davis has endorsed the objectives, if not necessarily the tactics, of the anti-homosexual drive in Dade County, and he opposes allowing homosexuals to teach or to serve on the police force. He has made no comment about the trash bag murders, some of which are under investigation in his county.
While Briggs is widely regarded as using the homosexual issue chiefly to attract publicity for a low-budget campaign. Davis already has all the public attention he needs. He is also certain to have a more-than-adequate campaign war chest, since his fund raising will be undertaken by Richard A. Vigurie of Falls Church, Va., the successful direct-mail specialist who has raised millions for conservative candidates and causes.
California is considered ripe for political exploitation of the homosexual issue, partly because it has been more permissive -- "enlightened." say the gays -- in dealings with homosexuals. A 1975 law by Assemblyman Willie Brown repealed a statute making homosexuality between consenting adults a crime, and now homosexuals can be arrested only for displaying "aberrant sexual behavior" in public places.
Since then, homosexuals have come out of the closet in increasing numbers. They are a major political force in San Francisco, where their support contributed to the victory of Mayor George Moscone. More than 300,000 persons either participated in or watched a recent "gay power" parade in San Francisco, compared with about 25,000 who turned out in Los Angeles.
Even in southern California, gays are politically potent. Only one candidate turned down their contribution in this year's Los Angeles elections. The Los Angeles Community Guild, a gay business group, has 167 members. The Metropolitan Community Church, catering to homosexuals, was founded in Huntington Park and has 22 branches in the state. A number of businesses in southern California have made known they have no objections to hiring homosexuals.
But old fears and attitudes persist. Last month a city gardener in San Francisco was stabbed to death by four young people who cried, "faggot, faggot" at him. Gays' fears also were aroused by police rumors that they were near the arrest of an unnamed San Franciscan in the murders of 14 homosexuals two years ago.
The killer is known as "the doodler" because he usually met his victims at a bar, sketched them on a tablecloth, then took them home for sex and murdered them.
In Sacramento, state legislators seems to wish that the entire issue would go away. Before the legislature adjourned in June it bottled up bills that, on the one hand, would have outlawed discrimination against homosexuals in employment and, on the other, would have allowed school boards to fire homosexual teachers. The latter bill is the one almost certain to turn up as a Briggs-sponsored initiative in 1978.
In this climate, the last thing that the homosexual community needed was the arrest of a homosexual in a prominent murder case.
"The effect on us," says Fritsch, "is something like what would it be if you had a black man arrested for murdering 10 white people during a civil rights drive in the '60s. There's just no way it can help. Nevertheless, by and large, the community is grateful that the two men were apprehended."