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LGBT faith leaders meet in Harlem



“Empowering Ourselves: Using Faith as Our Anchor” –

Adam Clayton Powell State Office Bldg., New York City, 10/20/2012

By Charles Gilmore, Jr.

HARLEM, USA, 10/20/12 – Over 100 faith leaders – including lay people, divinity students and clergy – met last Saturday in Harlem for an inspiring conference convened by LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent. Founded just 3 years ago, the NYC-based organization seeks “to oppose discrimina-tion, exclusion or intimidation of LGBT persons in our society, [especially] in our faith-based communities,” as their mission statement says.

Bishop Yvette Flunder,
founder of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ

The gathering was blessed with two electrifying speakers. We began with  Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ, who reminded the group that the church is ‘more often [about] culture than it is [about] religion,’ and often reflects the values of the dominant culture rather than the teachings of Jesus Christ. She described the ways in which minority people have been ‘colonized internally as well as externally,’ taught to hate our African roots, our looks and our sexuality. Bishop Flunder exhorted us to know who we are, and whose we are, reminding us that LGBT people have been chosen by God to carry out some special ministries within the church: gospel musicians, preachers, prophets and seers.

Her stunning interpretation of the beloved parable of the Good Samaritan focused attention not only on the mercy shown to the robbers’ victim, but also on the need for the Jericho Road to be transformed so that all people can travel it safely, without risk of being beaten and robbed en route. LGBT people, says Bishop Flunder, are called to transform the Jericho Road. She concluded by reminding us that we’ve been beaten and broken, so our tendency is to beat and break others; “hurt people hurt other people.” With therapy, mutual support and love, LGBT people of faith can help ourselves and each other to “get our God back.”

Conference discussion groups focused on specific areas of concern: LGBT youth; “The Genesis of Sodom & Gomorrah: Propaganda Against the LGBT Community;” and a reflection on God’s love for all creation based on Psalm 139. The group I attended, “We Tell Our Stories/You Tell Yours,” was co-facilitated by GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and two founding members of LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent. Video interviews with several founding members were catalysts for a pow-erful conversation about the impact of telling our own stories and our search for communities where we are fully accepted.

Germano Toussaint,
founder of A Mile in My Shoes

GLAAD staff members Marcus Brock and Ross Murray shared recent data showing that almost half of the LGBT-focused stories in African-American online news media were about homophobia, bullying and/or discrimination. Stories matter in educating the “movable middle,” those who are neither opponents nor allies of our community. Telling our stories needs to be done in pursuit of a goal either short-term (such as addressing a policy issue) or long-term (such as broader cultural change). There is a growing awareness of the difficulties faced by LGBT people of color, and increasing support for LGBT rights. Groups like Germano Toussaint’s “A Mile in My Shoes” (www.amims.org) and the National Black Justice Coalition (www.njbc.org) are working to strengthen these encouraging trends.

Sharon Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director and CEO of NJBC, concluded the conference with a rousing message. She described how NBJC was founded in 2003 in response to the emerging issue of marriage equality, and the need for people of color to participate in the struggle toward this goal. She observed that no constituency has gained more than LGBT people have under the Obama Administration. In the “First Term 2012 edition” of the NBJC journal Justice, she praised the President’s affirmation of support for same-sex marriage, stating: “If anyone in America has ever wondered what courageous leadership looks like, here it is.” Her message inspired gratitude and hope in us as the conference ended.