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Olympic Torch Run in S.C. Tinged With Controversy

June 25, 1996

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) _ For most of Olympic torch’s 230-mile run through South Carolina, it was wild celebration.

But the final 17 miles, through Greenville County, were shrouded in controversy and compromise because of an anti-homosexual resolution.

Olympic officials decided to withhold the flame from view there, except for inside the Greenville city limits.

On May 21, the Greenville County Council passed a resolution saying homosexuality was incompatible with community standards. It reaffirmed the vote earlier this month.

The city, however, is independent of the county and never considered the resolution. So the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games said it would proceed through the city because it had committed to local torch runners.

Max Heller, a former Greenville mayor who was to bear the torch to its last stop at the city’s Peace Center, said that on Tuesday morning a woman just outside city, who had planned to watch the torch with her grandchildren, called him.

``She was in tears,″ Heller said. ``She said, `I pay taxes like everybody else. Why do I get punished?′ When I hear that, I’m not sure what should have been done.″

A motor home, part of the extensive caravan, was to drive the torch to the city shortly after a celebration at BMW’s new auto-making factory in neighboring Spartanburg County.

``We feel like we did the right thing,″ said Rennie Truitt, the torch relay’s senior manager. ``We want to go where we’re invited.″

Twenty-two who were to have carried the torch in the county were given new routes in the city in addition to the 10 already assigned to run in Greenville.

After the flame spends the night in the city, a few runners are scheduled to carry it back to the city line on Wednesday, then it will be loaded back into the motor home and taken to the North Carolina line to continue the run.

``We’re disappointed it won’t be in Greenville County,″ said Susan Stallard of Projustice Carolina, which opposed the anti-gay resolution but did not want to see the area penalized.

``But we’re delighted that the Olympic committee has taken a stand and said we’re not totally wrong to assume the change was because of the resolution,″ she said.

Spartanburg County passed a similar resolution, then rescinded it, so no adjustments were made to the torch route there.

After Georgia’s Cobb County passed a similar resolution three years ago, Olympic officials bypassed that county entirely on the torch’s 15,000-mile route, which leads to the opening ceremony in Atlanta on July 19.

The torch entered South Carolina early Tuesday on its longest one-day trek, a route that took it from the suburbs south of Charlotte, N.C., past the Statehouse in Columbia, then north again to Spartanburg and Greenville.

Crowds lined Columbia’s sidewalks four and five people deep in the 98-degree noontime heat, and hundreds of others cheered the torch carriers during a celebration at a local park.

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