St. Luke belongs on list of gay-affirming Methodist churches

Article on lawsuit raises questions about whether predominantly African-American congregations are subject to different standards

Editor’s Note: The number of gay-affirming Methodist churches in our Feb. 10 article was based on an online database maintained by GayChurch.org.

Steward-HaroldIn a Feb. 10 article in Dallas Voice describing a lawsuit filed against the St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church and our recently resigned senior pastor, Tyrone Gordon, contributing writer David Webb distinguished St. Luke from the “six gay-affirming Methodist churches in the Dallas area” and stated that the “congregation includes some LGBT members.”

Although Webb’s statements were an attempt to illustrate St. Luke as gay accessible, his comments unintentionally reduced the congregation’s track record of fighting for human rights, social justice and inclusion.

As a member of St. Luke for nearly six years and as an active member of the LGBT community, this causes me to question the required actions needed in order to deem a church “gay affirming” — especially in light of St. Luke’s efforts not only for the liberation of its gay members, but for all sexual minorities within the state of Texas.

A core value of the St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church is to be an advocate and a prophetic voice in the community for all oppressed peoples. Although the membership is largely African American and heterosexual, homosexuals are included the churches understanding of “Community.”

In my opinion, St. Luke has not only served as a place for spiritual development, but also as a safe haven for members of the African-American LGBT community.

It was not uncommon for Pastor Gordon to clarify God’s inclusion of gays in his lineage within his sermons. Gordon has preached sermons where he stated, “Gay or straight, you’re a child of God,” and, “The church needs gay fish and straight fish.” Gordon even facilitated the removal of a member of the St. Luke ministerial team a few years ago when she preached a very homophobic sermon. But these statements of gay Christian identity and affirmation and creating a safe space for sexual minorities didn’t start with Pastor Gordon.

His predecessor, Pastor Zan Wesley Holmes, described by Webb as a “a respected civil rights leader,”  was also known to preach of and create an environment of inclusion. Additionally, Pastor Holmes was an avid supporter of the passage of hate crimes legislation in Texas,  a position that he has stated he took not only because of the crimes committed against racial minorities but also because of those committed because of one’s sexual identity. Holmes’ support and work with State Rep. Helen Giddings, a St. Luke member, led to the church being vandalized in 2001.

The St. Luke church, under the leadership of Pastor Holmes, was also a forerunner against the fight of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Dallas. As an early responder, the church created care teams to provide aid and services to people living with HIV and AIDS and made it a point not to discriminate against the gay men who were disproportionately affected by the epidemic.

And this list does not include the very personal actions that Pastors Holmes and Gordon have taken to provide pastoral care to St. Luke’s LGBT membership, myself included.

Since the only requirement detailed for something to be considered “gay affirming” is to affirm gays, I wonder how only six local United Methodist Churches acquired that designation — or are there other requirements needed in order to gain membership into the sisterhood? And are the inclusionary practices of St. Luke not a valid source of gay affirmation?

But more importantly, who gets to decide what levels of affirmation are needed even for consideration and are African American’s  and other people of color left out of that conversation? Surely that has been the case on other issues related to the wants and needs of the overall gay community, such as things like marriage equality.

For me, my spirituality is based on my individual relationship with my higher power and in that same vein, I believe individuals determined how their spiritual institutes affirm them based on individual desire and need and multiple local United Methodist institutes (more than six) can potentially offer that. But if the very well documented gay affirming actions of the St. Luke “Community” United Church does not position it to be a source of affirmation for sexual minorities, then we are working off of a broken metric system — and it is our work to create an evaluation and reworking of that structure.

The St. Luke Community United Methodist Church has and continues to be a prophetic voice for all oppressed people. That is partially the reason many gay notables such as Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, continue to call it their church home. And every

Sunday when we proclaim through song that “we are the church that reaches up to God and out to everyone,” take it from me, gays are included.

Harold Steward is artistic director of Fahari Arts Insitute and editor in chief of BlaqOut Dallas. He can be contacted at info@blaqoutdallas.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

D.I.V.E. drive to benefit Genesis Women’s Shelter

Genesis Women’s Shelter on Lemmon Avenue has long been a staple to the LGBT community for some nifty shopping and easy drop-off of items that can be resold to help provide and maintain a safe haven for women who are victims of domestic abuse. A couple of colleagues  always tell me about the finds they get for cheap. Well, a coalition of businesses have come together to create Dallas Independent Venue Exchange, or D.I.V.E., to begin a coat drive as winter nears and temperatures start to drop. D.I.V.E. selected Genesis and the Austin Street Centre homeless shelter as recipients of the drive with which they hope you’ll drop off some of that outerwear that you don’t wear so much anymore.

Queer-friendly spots such as the Granada Theater, Good Records and The Kessler are among the drop-off sites for the drive that runs until Nov. 23. You can see the other locations in the poster above. Click here for more information or email this guy if you want to do just a little more.

—  Rich Lopez

Nether region

Amsterdam, possibly the gay-friendliest city in the world, is a monument to tolerance — of all kinds

mark lowry  | Contributing Writer marklowry@theaterjones.com

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DUTCH TREAT | Rainbow flags are peppered throughout the streets of Amsterdam. (Photo courtesy Mark Lowry)

Amsterdam, the capital and largest city in the Netherlands, is often called the most liberal city in the world. Holland was the first country to legalize gay marriage (in 2001), and cannabis and prostitution are not only legal, but there’s a live-and-let-live vibe about them (as well as other vices). This idea of acceptance is not new: Amsterdam was a safe haven for religious refugees going back five centuries.

But perhaps nothing speaks to the city’s passion for tolerance as much as a small area near the city’s Jordaan District, in the Western Canal Ring. Across the street from the Anne Frank House, now a museum and one of the world’s greatest symbols of intolerance, sits the Homomonument: Three large pink granite triangles that form a larger triangle, on the same small patch of land where one of the city’s oldest churches, the Westerkerk, sits.

The Homomonument, designed by Dutch artist Karin Daan, opened in 1987 as a tribute to persecuted gays and lesbians around the globe. Tying it more closely with the Anne Frank House, the pink triangles represent the emblem that homosexuals wore in Nazi concentration camps.

Both are stirring tributes to horrors of a war from the not-so-distant past, from a country that shares a border with the Netherlands. But despite the Nazi occupation and a history of warring rulers wanting to claim Amsterdam as their own, the city is remarkably well-preserved. The signature row houses from the 17th and 18th centuries still hold up beautifully. Some of the older structures, with the neck gables atop four or five stories, even display the date of construction proudly. It’s not uncommon to see “1627” or such on one of these buildings … and that’s not referring to the address.

That’s all part of the storied history. But what’s interesting about Amsterdam is that it’s completely feasible to hang out here for a good week (or longer) without even visiting the museums and historical sites, and still get a strong sense of this world-class city.

Everyday life — people bustling on their way to work, most of them riding bicycles and ringing bells on their handlebars to warn pedestrians — intermingles seamlessly with the tourism industry. Travelers from all over Europe and the world arrive on trains and leave from the Central Station and throughout the Old City Center and Canal Rings, hanging out at one of the many outdoor cafes by the edge of one of the city’s famous waterways. (There’s actually more canal mileage here than in Venice, reflected in Amsterdam’s nickname “the Venice of the North.” Doing a canal tour is a must.)

They also populate the coffee shops, where you’ll find the younger generation, as that’s where marijuana is legally sold, even to foreigners. It can be purchased in joint form, smoked in pipes, or in baked goods, such as hash banana bread (yes, there are brownies, too). In fact, walking through the tourist-heavy Old City Center, it’s impossible not to get a bit of a contact high — pot smoke wafts from everywhere.

Perhaps that’s why the Dutch seem so laid-back. There’s a word they often use, gezelligheid, that refers to the sense of leaving all your cares behind and chilling.

Where to stay

We have nothing but raves for the gay-owned bed-and-breakfast in the Jordaan District, Mae’s Bed and Breakfast. American Ken Harrison and his Russian partner Vladimir Melnikov have run this spot for more than 15 years, and even have a newer property down the street. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, and the breakfast goes far beyond the typical continental fare found at European hotels. Mae’s is a few blocks’ walk to the Anne Frankhuis.

They can also guide you to some of the city’s gay-owned restaurants and establishments. We especially recommend the bar Prik. Gay bars are all over the city and not necessarily clustered in any one neighborhood, another sign of Amsterdam’s acceptance of all walks of life. If you need further help, find the Pink Point tourist kiosk, which caters to gay travelers. It’s easy to find: Just a few feet from the Homomonument.

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WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE | Amsterdam’s extensive canals earned it the name ‘Venice of the North.’

Getting around

It’s not a huge city, so walking to many of the attractions is feasible. But there’s also an easy bus and tram system, and you can take bicycle tours, too. At the Centraal Station, pick up an “I Amsterdam” card, which gets you free transportation for one, two or three days, and free entrance into many attractions, plus discounts to restaurants.

What to do

Here a few tips for places to visit on your trip to Amsterdam. If you don’t get to them all, don’t worry — this is one of those cities that beckons you to come back for more.

Rembrandt’s House. Holland was home to a number of well-known artists, including Van Gogh and Vermeer, and you can visit museums that tribute them in Amsterdam. But the one not to miss is the house where Rembrandt lived and worked. The multistory house is a fantastic history of 17th century Dutch life, and is filled with Rembrandt’s paintings. If you’re walking through as an etching demonstration is going on, don’t miss it.

The Red Light District. The most famous Red Light District in the world is on streets that spoke out from the city’s oldest church, the Oude Kerk, which began construction in the 14th century. You’ll see red lights denoting spots where the prostitutes are, posing in full windows for willing customers. The industry is regulated by the government, so it’s closely watched and the workers are kept safe. (You’ll notice that when they’re not working, they often file their nails or talk on cell phones, as bored as most other people at the daily grind.)

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GET YER GAY HERE! | Kiosks like this one, catering to the gay community, are common in the city. (Photos courtesy Mark Lowry)

The Red Light District is not only a great place to people-watch, it’s filled with some of the area’s best restaurants. Their Chinatown, one of the best in Europe, is nearby. And considering that Amsterdam has one of the largest international populations of any city in the world, there are plenty of choices, including Spanish, Russian, Argentinean, Mexican and even Tibetan. Indonesian is especially popular, considering that the Southeast Asian island nation was once a Dutch colony.

Another popular food in Holland is pancakes, slightly thicker than French crepes and large in diameter. You can get them with sweet toppings, but also with savory ones, such as Thai red curry. (We have a theory as to why pancakes are so popular in Amsterdam: Munchies.)

The Anne Frankhuis (Anne Frank House) is the most popular museum in Amsterdam (aside from the famous tulips, which bloom in April), and if you plan to go, get there early, because the line gets long quickly.

It’s a fascinating tour. The building next to the apartment where Frank and seven others hid out from the Nazis for nearly two years is a museum. From there, you walk up winding, steep stairs and enter, through the bookcase that was used to mask the hiding spot, the area where the Frank family and their friends stayed. In Anne’s room, her pictures from movie magazines are still there, preserved by her father Otto, who was the only one of the eight hideaways who survived the concentration camps after they were discovered. It’s truly an awe-inspiring tour.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

DISD approves LGBT-inclusive bullying policy

William Morvant, a gay student at Booker T. Washington High School, addresses the DISD board of trustees while other audience members from the LGBT community stand in support on Thursday.

Following a discussion in which several named their own personal schoolyard tormentor, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees voted unanimously Thursday evening to approve a comprehensive new bullying policy that specifically protects LGBT students.

Trustees also heard from several members of the LGBT community, including two students, before voting 9-0 to approve the policy, enacted in the wake of a string of gay teen suicides across the nation.

The policy, spearheaded by trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn, reportedly makes DISD the first district in the state to specifically prohibit bullying based on both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

“School should be one of those places that we call a safe haven,” said Blackburn, who said his bully “Brandon” took his lunch money every day. “If we are fearful for our physical being, then our intellectual being is not going to benefit.”

Blackburn said the board tried to make the policy as inclusive as possible and drew on policies from Broward County, Fla., Los Angeles and Michigan.

“I’m hopeful that the administration will implement this policy with full vigor whereby all of our students will have protections,” Blackburn said. “Safe schools is one of our goals, it’s always been one of our goals. It’s not only about somebody coming to a school building with a gun or a knife. Safe schools mean being safe from people like Brandon.”

Nutall took the opportunity to apologize to DISD students who’ve been bullied, including those who spoke Thursday.

“I commend you on your courage for coming down here and telling your story,” Nutall said, adding that her bully is now in prison. “I apologize that we didn’t act on this faster.”

William Morvant, a gay student at DISD’s Booker T. Washington High School, told the board he came out in seventh grade and attempted suicide twice. He said his memories of DISD will be mostly of bullying, harassment and being called “inhumane words.”

“I’m here to speak today because if this policy were in tact, I believe I would have had a better growing up experience in school,” Morvant said. “I wouldn’t have had to go taking 20 pain pills to kill myself to get rid of the pain, cutting just to get those words that I was called out.”

Others from the LGBT community who addressed the board prior to the vote were Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas; Omar Narvaez, vice president of LULAC #4871-The Dallas Rainbow Council; Delaney Hillan, also a student at Booker T. Washington; and Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas.

Dozens more from the community attended the meeting, standing when speakers took the microphone and erupting in applause after the vote.

—  John Wright