Camp Sister Spirit Update

Camp Sister Spirit is located in Ovett, Mississippi and was founded by Brenda and Wanda Hensen as a residential retreat for lesbians and their friends and supporters. From the very beginning these women, who moved to Ovett from Gulfport, have been under attack by the "good Christians" of the Ovett area. Brenda and Wanda Hensen are strong community organizers who are carrying on despite the harassment and, besides their work on their land, are running a food pantry, providing monthly food boxes to 60 local people in Ovett. What follows is from their recent newsletter, The Grapevine, Summer 1995:

Our two year struggle to have a meeting space on our own private property and to teach and learn non- oppressive lifeways continues. The "nuisance" lawsuit against us, which was concocted and paid for by Mississippi For Family Values and carried out by 5 of the original 11 plaintiffs in an attempt to legally stop us from gathering, was dismissed. In Chancellor Frank McKenzie's "Opinion of the Court", he acknowledged that "none of the Plaintiffs expressed any objections to lesbians living in their community" and " that the only issue is whether Sister Spirit, Inc. is now using its property in such a manner as to constitute a private nuisance to the Plaintiffs." He further states:

"based upon the evidence of the actual land use of Sister Spirit, Inc. from the time they acquired the property to the date of trial, this court cannot find that the actual use constitutes a private nuisance to the plaintiffs. The court cannot set a precedent of issuing injunctions against persons who invite a reasonable number of people to come to their property for an infrequent event--whether that event is a "Womyn's Festival"; a family reunion; a private party; a church meeting; a gathering of hunters at a deer camp; or a political rally. All of these events can cause an increase in the amount of traffic on the roads leading to the event and a congregation of people attending the event.

"At this time the actual activities of Sister Spirit, Inc. on their property do not rise to the level of a private nuisance as a matter of law or fact.

"This court is a firm believer in the right of the owner of property to use that property for their enjoyment and benefit so long as that use does not violate the law or cause actual injury to the surrounding property owned by others. The fact that neighbors may disagree over politics, religion or any other social issue does not diminish the right of a property owner to use their property for their enjoyment and benefit. Within the bounds of the law, the people are free to do what they want, think what they want and say what they want on their own property. So long as they do so without harm to others and without violation of the law, no government has a right to disturb them..."

We believe that the plaintiffs' actions against us were and are deeply rooted in their religious-based, homophobic belief system. Under oath, the testimony of Michelle Carter was, and I quote the "Opinion of the Court', "that she didn't mind if Wanda and Brenda quietly lived on the Sister Spirit property until doomsday. Plaintiffs Perlene Creel, Bobbie Smith and Stansel Smith were all in agreement with her. William P. Tucker expressed no opinion on the subject." We also wonder if the Plaintiffs would have went forward with this litigation if they had to pay for the expenses and the attorney fees to do so. Not content with justice, Mike Barefield plaintiffs attorney, filed a Motion to Reconsider. In an "Order Overruling Motion" Chancellor McKenzie states, "...For the Court to go further and rule upon what specific uses of the property would become an actionable nuisance in the future would require the Court to engage in pure speculation. Therefore, the motion is overruled." The court denied our requests for an award of sanctions and attorney fees against the plaintiffs. And stated that the "fears and concern of the Plaintiffs are genuine and are justified under the evidence." We here at Camp Sister Spirit long for the day when "fears and concerns" that are rooted in homophobia and heterosexual airs of superiority will be exposed by the courts for what they are and not be protected. Special protections for homophobes must not be given by the court. Injustice against Lesbian and Gay Americans must not be minimized by the courts.

Everyone in America knows that this lawsuit was an attack upon us simply because we are Lesbians who wrote a newsletter and proudly talked about our lives as Lesbians building Lesbian Community here on our land in Ovett, Mississippi.

Instead of calling us and finding out more about us, the group Mississippi for Family Values (MFV) formed in response "to a group of gays and lesbians that moved into Ovett, Mississippi with the purpose of building a homosexual encampment for immoral lifestyles!" From day one of the organizing, their goal has been to "oust them from our community". These are the people that organized our neighbors against us and even paid for this litigation against us--an immoral act for people who claim to be working "to serve God." What we ask for is equal protection under the law not "special rights" as the right wing keeps stating. We ask for our courts to treat us with respect and dignity. And we are happy to be letting you know that we have literally stood our ground and fought for our property rights as the judge states, "as a self-proclaimed lesbian couple."

Camp Sister Spirit, Inc. is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Contributions are tax deductible. Write them at Camp Sister Spirit, P.O. Box 12, Ovett, MS 39464. Checks to Sister Spirit, Inc. They have lodging for visitors (supportive men are welcome) for either working or non-working visits. SASE for more info, including their wish list.

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