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Des Plaines council approves FEMA funds for controversial campground
News update posted May 10, 2011
by Tracy Baim, Windy City Times

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The City Council of Northwest suburban Des Plaines on May 2 approved pass-through Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA ) funds from the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program for the Historic Methodist Campground, which only recently settled a years-old lawsuit alleging anti-gay discrimination at the facility.

Gay activist John Paquet, a resident of Des Plaines, asked the council to defer the measure while the campground's policies were investigated. A councilmember asked the city's lawyer if this lawsuit was true, and the lawyer said he did not know. Then someone asked a campground representative in the audience to address the issue.

James Lane, president of the campground's board of trustees, actually admitted to everything Paquet said, but he said the campground has changed its ways and now has an anti-discrimination statement. There was no further discussion and the council voted unanimously to back the $402,000 federal grant. One councilmember wanted to make it clear that these were not local funds going to the campground, which calls for the 14 homeowners covered by the grant to provide a match of about $134,000.

Lane said he would send Windy City Times the campground's nondiscrimination statement, but as of press time it was not received.

Mayor Martin Moylan, asked about the controversy before the meeting, said he was not aware of it, but that "all discrimination" is bad. He reiterated that sentiment during the council vote, but clearly the council did not want to further investigate the claim.

The problems associated with the Methodist Campground started more than a decade ago.

William, Nannette, Will, and Amelia Graham received a "Friend of the Community" award from the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2003 "for efforts against racism and homophobia within their United Methodist denomination, including their pursuit of a sexual-orientation discrimination claim" against the Methodist Campground.

The Grahams, who no longer live at the campground, first had trouble in the mid 1990s when they tried to bring inner-city youth to the facility and experienced racism by their neighbors. "In the wake of that incident, the Chicago area's United Methodist bishop came to preach against racism at the campground, but thereafter the Grahams felt shunned by other cottager," the Hall of Fame website states. "In 1998, a gay male couple and their son rented a cottage at the campground and encountered hostility. Those events set off a chain of responses that have included a long … legal battle over whether the Grahams have the right to continue occupying a cottage at all.

"The gay men's applications to rent and then to purchase a cottage were refused in 1999. The Grahams supported them, to the point of producing and hanging signs of welcome in their own cottage windows, inviting the men to be guests in the Grahams' cottage, and informing campground officials that the men would be their guests."

The campground's association said the Grahams were in violation of the rules and tried to terminate their ownership rights. The Grahams were locked out of their cottage even though members and officials of the United Methodist Church itself opposed that action, the Hall of Fame stated.

Also in 1999, the gay couple ( Russell and Bob Carroll ) and the Grahams filed complaints with the Cook County Commission on Human Rights alleging unlawful discrimination and retaliation by the campground operators.

The Cook County Human Rights Commission ruled against the property, but the case was appealed to the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Grahams eventually settled out of court for less than their goal. According to both Bill Graham and James Lane, the settlement happened just about two years ago—a decade after it began.

Graham said he did not know the campground was up for FEMA funding, or his family may have come to the council meeting. Reached by phone the day after the vote, Graham said he was not allowed not discuss the settlement, but it was settled in his family's favor. Asked about the campground, and Lane, now saying they are open to gays, Graham was not convinced.

"Never during our negotiations with them or in speaking with the campground or board did I have anybody apologize or say what they did was wrong," Graham said. "I think it sounds rather self serving to me." Graham said his family has not lived at the campground for several years.

After the council vote, Lane told Windy City Times that "this campground is inclusive," though he is not aware of any gay homeowners at this time. He also said the campground's rift with the Methodist church was even stronger, because they had refused access to the bishop at the time. He said they now have a good relationship with the Northern Illinois Conference of the Methodist Church. "The disagreement [ with the Grahams ] went on way too long. We are Methodists and we must all be at one table," Lane said.

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