By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- Foes of repealing a ban on fortunetellers in Front Royal recently attacked a nonprofit group and claimed it supported pagans.
The executive director of the Center for Workforce Development ended her silence this week by responding to the accusations, including one claiming the organization recruits youths into the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community through witchcraft.
Arlene Ballou called the actions by a few people who recently spoke at a Town Council meeting in favor of keeping the ban on fortunetellers "disgraceful" and accused them and others of spreading misinformation about her organization. Ballou said she hopes to get a chance to speak to Town Council soon about the issue.
"It's all about hate because the LGBT community does not come out of pagan worship," Ballou said. "It's offensive to say that gay adults are recruiting young people by using witchcraft. That's offensive. That's disgusting."
Town Council meets Monday to consider a motion on second reading to repeal the years-old ban on fortunetelling, roving "gypsies" and practice of the magic arts.
A woman who spoke at a Town Council public hearing on Aug. 11 against the repeal of a ban on fortunetellers said the Center for Workforce Development operates programs such as One Workforce that draw upon the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. She and others alleged that the pagan community also attracts these groups of people.
Ballou founded the Sterling-based, nonprofit organization in 2007 as a vehicle for employment and business-creation opportunities for those people in the neediest of circumstances. The organization works with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as well as military veterans, homeless people, individuals with disabilities and seniors, Ballou said.
"It would seem to me that a deliberate attempt was made to pull in a group of people that can easily be demonized and that is disgraceful because we serve a great many people," Ballou said.
The center started Brooklyn's Marketplace as an incubator where currently 17 area residents are working to build their own businesses. The Rusty Den came out of the incubator, Ballou said.
Area pagan Maya White Sparks came to Brooklyn's Marketplace a few months ago and read tarot cards for a few hours the first day. The next day, two regular customers came in and told Ballou they could no longer shop in her store if she continued to allow tarot-card reading. Fearing a greater backlash that could jeopardize the other 15 businesses operating in the incubator, Ballou said she asked Sparks not to return.
"I don't want the tarot card reader attacked but, really, coming after me is your answer, because we've written proposals and we've worked for the LGBT community?" Ballou added.
Ballou said she didn't want publicity nor did she question any regulations on the books because the code section "did not apply."
"Now, to see a group of people using this for their own personal beliefs and trashing an entire group of people -- it doesn't matter whether I believe in either side -- this is not what this is about," Ballou said. "This is unfair now. They're creating an atmosphere of hate."
The center director claims the Sunday before the Aug. 11 hearing that some people near her store were telling passersby not to come into her business "because we are evil."
"We have dealt with an enormous amount of nonsense," Ballou said.
Ballou said she has received calls from people pretending to be reporters or affiliated with state government. Ballou recalled having to convince a pagan newspaper not to hold an Occupy Front Royal event.
"Town Council is trying to work on an ordinance, which was brought to their attention -- let them do it," Ballou said.
The fallout from the controversy continued to affect Brooklyn's Marketplace. Ballou said she received notices from the town accusing her of encroaching into the public space and that she did not have a proper business license. She explained the business license is under the Center's name.
"So while I could see some confusion, why were these letters prepared prior to anyone speaking to me?" Ballou said. "I have my own opinion of who pushed this issue with zoning.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org