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

Death penalty provision likely to be removed from anti-gay bill in Uganda

Measure still carries life imprisonment for those convicted of homosexual acts

JASON STRAZIUSO  |  Associated Press

KAMPALA, Uganda — The Ugandan parliamentarian behind an anti-gay bill that attracted worldwide condemnation said the most controversial part of the legislation — the death penalty provision — is likely to be dropped from the bill.

David Bahati said if the parliament committee the bill currently sits before recommends that the death penalty provision be removed, “I would concede.”

“The death penalty is something we have moved away from,” Bahati told The Associated Press in an interview.

After Bahati’s anti-gay bill was proposed some 18 months ago, it attracted international condemnation, including from President Barack Obama. Since the initial uproar, the bill has languished in committee.

But Stephen Tashobya, the chairman of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, said the legislation may come up for a vote before parliament’s session ends May 12.

“We shall try and see how far we can go with the bill. It may be possible. We are doing all we can. We have limited time,” he said Tuesday, before adding: “Many people have expressed concern about that provision providing for the death sentence and I’m sure when we start hearings on that bill we will hear many more concerns.”

Homosexuality is highly unpopular in Uganda, and pastors in this Christian country speak out loudly against the practice. Bahati said he thinks the bill would become law if voted on by legislators.

“I can guarantee you I have not seen any member of parliament who is opposed to it,” he said.

Frank Mugisha, the director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a gay rights group, said anti-gay sentiment in Uganda has increased since the bill’s introduction. More gays are being harassed, he said, because of media attention and because church leaders have been preaching for the bill’s passage to congregations.

Bahati’s original bill carried harsh provisions. The original bill would mandate a death sentence for active homosexuals living with HIV or in cases of same-sex rape. “Serial offenders” also could face capital punishment, but the legislation did not define the term. Anyone convicted of a homosexual act would face life imprisonment.

Anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality” would face seven years in prison. Landlords who rent rooms or homes to homosexuals also could get seven years.

“If the bill passes we cannot even be allowed to do our work,” Mugisha said.

Last year a tabloid newspaper in Uganda published the names and photos of men it alleged were gay. One cover included the words “Hang Them.” Shortly afterward, in January, a prominent gay rights activist whose picture was published was bludgeoned to death, though authorities contend David Kato’s sexual orientation had nothing to do with the killing.

Mugisha said the murder was not thoroughly investigated. “I think it had to do with all the hate that has been spread. All avenues lead to a homophobia-based crime,” he said.

Bahati called Kato’s death regrettable.

“My reaction is that I extend condolences to the family, parents of Kato. It’s regrettable that they could find themselves in this situation, and also regrettable that he could be allowed to be used to recruit our children. But the death of Kato had nothing to do with the bill in parliament,” he said.

Bahati, 36, is serving his first term. He said that the bill has helped raise public awareness about what he calls “the dangers to our children.” Many Ugandan leaders who support the bill say that gay Ugandans recruit school children to become homosexual.

Mugisha says no one has ever been arrested for doing such a thing despite Uganda being what he called a highly homophobic country.

Bahati submitted his bill in late 2009, several months after American evangelicals attended a conference in Kampala. Those U.S. religious leaders consider same-gender relationships sinful and believe gays and lesbians can become heterosexual through prayer and counseling, fueling speculation that the Americans helped craft the bill.

Bahati said that was false and he labeled it a communication strategy and “conspiracy” by pro-gay groups in the U.S. to make his bill easier to attack.

“I didn’t meet any American evangelicals. I’ve said before we have friends in America but they have nothing to do with the bill. This actually has been an insult to suggest that Ugandans cannot think for themselves, that we have to wait for America to think for us,” he said.

—  John Wright

Students building Equality at Eastfield College

BUILDING EQUALITY | When Philomena Aceto, right, realized that Eastfield College had no LGBT organization on campus, she and another student decided to start one themselves. Judith Dumont, left, signed on as the fledgling group’s faculty advisor.

Snow delays start of Eastfield College GSA, but organizers say first meeting will be rescheduled

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

MESQUITE — Eastfield College was the largest of the area’s community colleges without a Gay Straight Alliance, according to student Philomena Aceto. But now Aceto is working to change that.

Aceto — whose partner is longtime activist Dawn Meifert and who has her own history as an activist — began working on her degree at Eastfield last summer. She met Kris Fleskes, another student, and they realized there was no representation for the LGBT community on the more than 18,000-student campus.

Other area two-year colleges have GSAs and campus LGBT alliances. Last fall, P.R.I.S.M., which stands for Promoting Respect In Sexual Minorities, opened successfully at Navarro Community College in Corsicana. The GSA at Richland College, the largest Dallas County Community College, meets twice a month.

“Let’s start one,” Aceto urged Fleskes.

Any campus group must have a faculty advisor but faculty cannot start a group themselves. So Fleskes and Aceto met with two Eastfield staff members, Judith Dumont and Kristie Vowels.

Dumont, former director of Youth First Texas, is now the faculty advisor for the new group.

When she began working at Eastfield last summer, Dumont said, she tried to make her office the safe space on campus for the LGBT community and indicated that by putting an HRC sticker and “proud ally” stickers on her door.

She said she cheered when the two students approached her about starting the GSA.

Aceto said Vowels told her, “You are exactly what we’ve been praying for.”

The group’s first meeting has been postponed twice because of weather. Aceto said that’s just giving her more time to promote the club in classes and on campus.

“I’m out preaching it every day,” Aceto said. “This isn’t about being gay. It’s about equality.”

To emphasize that point, they’re calling their group Equality.

Aceto said she’s has been running up against some resistance and a lot of indifference in an area she called one of the most conservative in Dallas County.

“We’re curious how the campus will receive us,” Dumont said.

She attended advisor training and said there was no reaction when she announced the name of the group she would facilitate.

“I’m hoping everything will be OK,” she said.

But Dumont agreed that the campus was very conservative.

“There were raised eyebrows on campus when I didn’t change my name after I got married in November,” she said.

Aceto said she would like to bring some interesting speakers to campus and produce some creative programming.

“We want to go after bullying,” she said.

Dumont said the group was important as a safe space not just for students, but for faculty, staff and administrators as well.

She said she’s already planning to participate in National Day of Silence. Last year, Dumont organized that event among students who are active with Youth First Texas.

Eastfield College was closed on Wednesday, Feb. 9, the most recent launch date for Equality. Aceto said the group would reschedule over the next week.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Zach Wahls; study shows health risks of anti-gay bullying; Kato remembered

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. If you haven’t seen it already, take three minutes out of your snow day and watch 19-year-old Zach Wahls, the son of same-sex parents, address the Iowa House of Representatives during a public hearing on a proposal to ban gay marriage. The clip has almost 1 million views on YouTube, and some are comparing it to Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns’ “It Gets Better” speech. Also, watch Wahls and his family’s interview with MSNBC below.

2. Anti-gay bullying is bad for your health. Not only does it lead to increased suicide rates, but the hormonal imbalance it creates can also increase memory loss, cardiovascular problems and bone density depletion, according to a new study.

3. Murdered Ugandan gay activist David Kato was remembered Thursday in New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, a group from Cambridge University has launched a fundrasing campaign in Kato’s name. Half of the proceeds will go to Kato’s organization, Sexual Minorities Uganda, while the other half will go to support LGBT refugees from Africa. For more info, go here.

—  John Wright

New GSA is opening doors — and minds — at Navarro College

Members of P.R.I.S.M. say new group is being well-received by administration, most classmates

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

LEADING THE WAY  |  Officers of P.R.I.S.M., the new gay-straight alliance at Navarro College in Corsicana, meet each Tuesday. Officers are, back row from left, Kristen Joyner, assistant historian; Mauricio Palacios, treasurer; Max Tucker, prime historian; Chasidy Merida, public relations chair, and Jessica Martinez, secretary; and front row from left, Juan Tenorio, president; Brandi Collard, faculty sponsor, and Micheal Dickens, spiritual advisor.
LEADING THE WAY | Officers of P.R.I.S.M., the new gay-straight alliance at Navarro College in Corsicana, meet each Tuesday. Officers are, back row from left, Kristen Joyner, assistant historian; Mauricio Palacios, treasurer; Max Tucker, prime historian; Chasidy Merida, public relations chair, and Jessica Martinez, secretary; and front row from left, Juan Tenorio, president; Brandi Collard, faculty sponsor, and Micheal Dickens, spiritual advisor.

Think of Corsicana, Texas, the county seat of Navarro County located about 55 miles south of Dallas on I-45, and “liberal enclave” isn’t likely to be the first description that comes to mind.

The town of about 25,000 is known as home of the Collin Street Bakery, famous around the country for its fruitcakes. But Corsicana is also home to the main campus of Navarro College, which now has what its members call the first gay-straight alliance to be formed — and recognized as an official campus organization — at a Texas community college.

Members of the group and faculty advisor Brandi Collard recently answered a few questions about the alliance for Dallas Voice.

Dallas Voice: Who came up with the idea of starting a gay-straight alliance at Navarro College? What is it called?

P.R.I.S.M.: Our GSA was truly a collaborative idea, and several people were instrumental in starting the group. The organization is called P.R.I.S.M., which stands for Promoting Respect In Sexual Minorities.

DV: Why did the group start? Was there a specific event, or series of events that led to it being started?

P.R.I.S.M.: We started the group because we wanted to form an organization that would provide support for LGBT students and cultivate lasting positive relations between the LGBT and straight communities. No specific event or series of events triggered the formation of the club.

DV: When was P.R.I.S.M. started?

P.R.I.S.M.: We began developing the framework for the group in late August of this year. We became an official campus organization on Sept. 20.

DV: Have you encountered any opposition from administrators? From other students? From the community around the college?

P.R.I.S.M.: We have received nothing but support from the administration. We have had a few cases of individualized harassment of P.R.I.S.M. members by other students, but nothing our members haven’t been able to handle on their own. The community response has been mostly positive so far.

DV: How has the school administration helped or hurt in forming the group?

P.R.I.S.M.: We have been treated exactly the same as any other organization — with fairness and equality.

DV: How many members are in P.R.I.S.M. and how often do you meet?

P.R.I.S.M.: We currently have 40 members, and we’re still growing. The club meets every Thursday afternoon, with an additional meeting on Tuesday just for officers and our advisor.

DV: What kind of activities have you done already?

P.R.I.S.M.: We had a booth at the Club Fair on campus where we signed up new members and handed out rainbow awareness ribbons and bags of Skittles with our meeting info on them. The members are currently selling candy bars as a fundraiser.

DV: What kind of activities do you have planned?

P.R.I.S.M.: We have a “Partners with You” night planned at the Cotton Patch Café. The restaurant will donate 10 percent of participating patrons’ total bills to the group. We’ll also have a booth at the Navarro College Homecoming post-game festivities. Our biggest event so far is a “Science Fiction Double Feature” at the end of October. We have an opportunity to volunteer with a pet adoption event for the local animal shelter in November. We will also be participating in Phi Theta Kappa’s holiday food drive, and we’re planning a holiday bake sale near the end of the semester.

DV: What can people in the LGBT community outside Navarro College do to support your organization?

P.R.I.S.M.: People can help us a lot by contributing to our fundraisers and supporting our events. We’re also looking for guest speakers to inspire and encourage the members of the club.

DV: What else do people need to know about the GSA?

P.R.I.S.M.: We at P.R.I.S.M. want to emphasize that we are an alliance. There is a misconception on campus that we are simply a “gay club,” but we’re so much more. We’re a group that promotes awareness, respect, and unity for all.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas