By Michal Ortner
There is a new trend popping up throughout the South—lesbians who are planting churches as lead pastors with their significant others, according to research by the Old Black Church.
Valerie Williams is the lesbian pastor of St. Luke’s Community Church in Jacksonville, FL. The church is actually a part of a specific denomination that was formed for the LGBT community. The Rev. Troy Perry founded the Metropolitan Community Church denomination in 1968.
“It was like a fist fight sometimes,” Perry said. “We had to fight our way into the Christian church and we had to fight our way into the gay rights movement in America.”
Williams feels like it is her responsibility to minister to everyone in the community—including gay people. Being gay herself, she has no problem with congregants who wish to hold leadership positions or be married in the halls of her church.
“The rite of holy union holds particular significance for me. Cindy and I were joined together in a spiritual ceremony in May 2009. It was the happiest day of my life,” Williams said back in 2010 before gay marriage was legalized in her state.
Acting Pastor Alana Thompson and her significant other, Tonya Allen, are another lesbian couple that are leading a southern-based Pentecostal church. Their church, The Empowerment Center of Atlanta, hasn’t captured an audience as widely as Williams’. Their Facebook page shows various pictures of Thompson and other women dressed as men, while Allen remains in feminine attire.
With the shift in society and legalization of gay marriage across the U.S., gay leadership in churches is being met with less and less protest. However, the Rev. Bruce Joffe explains that the LGBT community is learning to adapt to the acceptance.
“They had been taught, and internalized, the belief that God hated them and rejected them,” Joffe said, adding that they are still overcoming stigmatizations.
“Many gays first have to be deprogrammed from the self-loathing they picked up growing up in church,” he said.
Harry Knox established the Human Rights Commission, which has been seeking out advocates in church leadership for the gay community since 2004. He says that there are now tens of thousands of church leaders who are either gay or support the cause, as opposed to only a few hundred 10 years ago.
“It makes us more accessible to people we are trying to reach” and provides “a whole new vein of (gays and lesbians) who had not found their voice before,” Knox said.