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Rev. Troy Perry reflects on 50 years of Metropolitan Community Church

‘I tried, always, to be fearless and faithful’

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Rev. Troy Perry and Phillip De Blieck with Esteban Montemayor, president of Christopher Street West. (Blade photo by Karen Ocamb)

The battles to secure equal rights for LGBT people have played out in marches, demonstrations, parades, courtrooms, the media, houses of worship, houses of government, hospital wards, and boardrooms. They are all places where Rev. Troy Perry has always been front-and-center, advocating for LGBT issues and everyone’s civil rights. Now, 50 years after starting the Metropolitan Community Church in his Los Angeles apartment living room, the good gay reverend looks back on an extraordinary life.

“Scripture tells us, ‘they overcame him by the word of his testimony and the blood of the lamb.’ In my church, your testimonies—your stories—are remembered,” Perry tells the Los Angeles Blade in a Sept. 17 interview.  “I always tell our community, ‘Remember your stories. Remember how you came out. Remember how you went to your first march with a lot of fear and trepidation. Remember when you talked to your parents for the first time—when you told you best friend that you’re different.’ So, for me, that’s what’s going to happen, and for all of us, on the 25th anniversary of the 1993 March on Washington and on the 50th anniversary of the Metropolitan Community Church.”

Rev. Perry has a lot to remember. In 1970, with activist Morris Kight and Rev. Bob Humphries, he co-founded Christopher Street West to organize what was then the first Pride parade in the world on the West Coast, in conjunction with a commemoration of the Stonewall riots in New York City. Nine years later, Perry helped plan the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. In 1993, the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation saw LGBT and allied participants reach close to 1,000,000. During the historic events, Perry performed mass ceremonial marriages, including one for about 2,600 same-sex couples 25 years ago in front of the IRS headquarters.

Rev. Troy Perry performs mass wedding during March on Washington in 1993, while partner Phillip De Blieck goes to help Karen Thompson and her disabled partner Sharon Kowalski, whose parents fought Thompson over the right to care for Karen. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

On July 16, 2003, Perry and his partner of 18 years, Phillip De Blieck, traveled to Toronto to officially get married. The following year, the couple joined Robin Tyler and Diane Olson in their annual quest for a marriage license at the Beverly Hills Courthouse—only this time their powerhouse feminist attorney Gloria Allred filed a lawsuit against the state for denying Tyler and Olson a license and refusing to recognize Perry and DeBlieck’s Canadian marriage as a result of Prop 22. Their 2004 lawsuit was folded into other lawsuits leading to a 2008 victory for marriage equality in the state.

Rev. Perry’s conviction that LGBT folks should not be excluded from marriage and family, institutions that are especially valued by people and communities of faith, now seems uncontroversial—the sure sign of an authentic pioneer.

“In 1969,” Perry says, “I performed the first wedding at MCC for two young Hispanic men. That’s when I started fighting, right then and there, and decided this would be part of our doctrine.” He was mocked by other LGBT activists who said: “Who do you think you are—Reverend Moon?” (The Korean religious leader famous for performing mass weddings.) “They couldn’t get it through their heads why it was so important. I said, ‘I am fighting for the right of every person to be treated equally under the Constitution of the United States.’” It was a position later articulated by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Obergefell ruling.

1969 Gay Rights demonstration and march led by Rev. Troy Perry in Hollywood from Hollywood High School, down Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street to the local Los Angeles Police Station. (Screen grab from producer Pat Rocco and Bizarre Productions through UCLA Television Archives)

As a progressive activist, Perry—along with his congregation—faced opposition from people who opposed marriage equality, conservative religious leaders and bigots who committed acts of violence against them. “In 1975,” he says, “our church was burned by an arsonist in Los Angeles. There were four other MCC meeting places that were either burned by arson or desecrated, including the fire in New Orleans where our pastor and his lover and nine of our late members were burned to death in a terrible fire that killed 32 people at the Upstairs Lounge.”

In the next few years, 21 MCC churches were burned by arson or desecrated and eight clergy members were murdered. “They’ll pay for that one day, if not in this life, in the life to come,” Perry says.

Perry was invited to the White House five times—the first on March 26, 1977 in a meeting organized by Midge Costanza, a closeted aide to President Jimmy Carter and twice by President Bill Clinton—one for a conference on AIDS and another on hate crimes, both history-making. “I took a report,” he said, “and the other LGBTQ groups were thrilled because we document everything in our denomination. We took good records.”

Perry also shared stories about hate crimes when the Cuban organization CENESEX honored him last year with an award for his work for human rights and LGBT rights worldwide. “We had the American, Swiss, and French ambassadors sitting in the Karl Marx theatre in Cuba,” he says. “I told the story about all [the violence] that happened. I said, ‘that didn’t happen in your country; it happened in my country.’ And I said that in front of the American ambassador.”

Rev. Perry’s congregation has not been spared from the discrimination caused by homophobia, regardless of their sexual orientation. “I’ve had heterosexual people fired from their jobs because they were a part of Metropolitan Community Church,” Perry says. “I had a woman member in my church in the 1970s and she was a nurse at White Memorial Hospital here in LA. And that Seventh-Day Adventist hospital—it was reported in the newspapers that she had joined Metropolitan Community Church because she was a minister of our denomination—and they fired her. I’ve had to watch that and our heterosexual members have had to pay the same price that we have just for being part of an organization.” 

Conservative religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Anita Bryant scorned MCC’s core principle that LGBT identities are perfectly compatible with Christianity. “It gave us a lot of power,” Perry says, “because they couldn’t quit talking about us. They could ignore other groups but trying to ignore us was impossible.”

In the 1970s, he fought against Bryant’s “Save the Children” initiative, a campaign that sought to overturn an inclusive non-discrimination ordinance passed in the city of Miami. He worked with grassroots activists in Los Angeles and activists such as gay Supervisor Harvey Milk in San Francisco to defeat the Briggs Initiative, a ballot measure that would have prohibited gay and lesbian teachers from working in California public schools. He launched a 10-day fast to raise funds for the fight, which was successful in 1978.

Perry’s congregation also suffered tremendously from AIDS while Falwell preached that the disease was divine comeuppance for immoral behavior. More than 5,000 members of MCC died from AIDS, Perry says. The Westboro Baptist Church picketed an MCC service in San Diego in which the worshippers prayed for people who were sick. But the epidemic also brought forth angels.

“Bishop McKinney of the Church of God in Christ,” Perry explains, “which is a black Pentecostal denomination that does not agree with our stance on homosexuality, called a press conference and condemned the Westboro Baptist Church. McKinney said, ‘What a sick group of people who are coming to demonstrate against the church just for praying for people who are sick.’ It completely turned the city of San Diego on its head.” 

To this day, says Perry, MCC is involved in civil rights and believes in inclusion—in both houses of worship and demonstrations like Pride. At the same time, he says, “What worked 40 or 50 years ago for Pride won’t necessarily work today. And that’s a good thing!” Today, amid outrage over the Trump Administration’s policies concerning LGBT issues, Perry supports the inclusion of political protest in Pride. “I absolutely believe with all my heart that it doesn’t have to be one or the other—you can have political messages, too.” 

“For 50 years I tried, always, to be fearless and faithful. I’m faithful to my concept of being a person of faith; but I’ve also tried to be fearless in the LGBTQ community as we fought the good fight,” says Rev. Troy Perry. “I’ve never asked anyone in my community, whether in my church or in any other organization, to do more than I would do…I look back at this incredible life, and I say to people, even if I die tomorrow, I have lived history, and it’s been an incredible journey for me as a gay man.”

Rev. Perry is being honored on Oct. 6 at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Los Angles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of MCC. For more, visit: here.

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California

Following Newsom’s vaccination measures, California employers follow suit

We will work with the governor on additional ways we can help encourage vaccines without negatively impacting economic recovery

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Los Angeles Blade Graphic

SACRAMENTO – Throughout the past week, some of California’s largest employers – both private businesses and local governments – have followed Governor Newsom’s lead in implementing vaccine and testing measures for employees. After California implemented new vaccine verification and testing requirements for state and health care workers on Monday, and with President Biden following suit this past Thursday, employers have implemented similar measures for thousands of employees throughout the state.

  • City of Los Angeles: “Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Nury Martinez announced today that they would push for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for City employees, beginning with a requirement that workers either submit proof of vaccination or a weekly negative test.”
  • City of San Francisco: “City officials said that the requirement would promote safety in municipal workplaces and among the general public, given that police officers, firefighters, building inspectors and other city workers come into regular contact with members of the community. ‘With those two things in mind — the safety of our employees and the safety of the public we serve — we made this decision,’ said Carol Isen, San Francisco’s director of human resources. ‘We believe this step is a simple one to take. It’s safe, it’s very effective, and it’s going to guarantee the safety of all.’”
  • San Diego County: “The County will begin requiring its employees to verify COVID-19 vaccination or undergo regular testing. Details being worked out but implementation expected by mid-August. Vaccination is the key to fully and safely reopening the economy.”
  • City of Long Beach: “We are announcing today that all @LongBeachCity employees will need a mandatory vaccination or be required to show a weekly negative COVID-19 test. Thank you to the 72% of employees who are already vaccinated. It’s important that public institutions model responsible leadership. I strongly support Governor @GavinNewsom’s action to do the same for state employees. The standard for those who serve the public must follow the best science available. I hope that cities and counties across the state will take similar actions. It’s time we beat this pandemic.”
  • Google: “‘Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,’ Mr. Pichai wrote. He added that the vaccine mandate would apply to U.S. office locations ‘in the coming weeks’ and to other regions ‘in the coming months.’”
  • Facebook: “‘As our offices reopen, we will be requiring anyone coming to work at any of our US campuses to be vaccinated,’ VP of People Lori Goler said in a statement. ‘How we implement this policy will depend on local conditions and regulations.’”
  • Netflix: “Netflix has become the first major studio to implement a mandatory vaccination policy for its U.S. productions. The move comes after studios and Hollywood unions last week finalized an agreement that allows producers to require vaccines for the people who are potentially at highest risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19 on set: actors and the crew who work most closely with them. Netflix was particularly quick to implement the policy. More major studios are expected to follow in the coming weeks as they work out the challenging logistics of overhauling their approaches to pandemic safety on set.”
  • Lyft: “As of August 2, all employees working in Lyft’s offices are required to be vaccinated, according to an email Lyft (LYFT) CEO Logan Green sent to staffers that was viewed by CNN Business.”
  • Uber: “Uber Technologies Inc (UBER.N) is pushing back its back-to-office date to late October globally, and all employees in the United States will have to be fully vaccinated before returning to office, a spokesperson said on Thursday.”
  • California Business Roundtable: “The governor’s approach will allow economic recovery to continue while redoubling efforts to encourage vaccinations. From the beginning of the pandemic, the business community has been a partner with the governor and public health officials by implementing mitigation protocols and testing, hosting vaccination clinics, communicating the need to get vaccinated, promoting the vaccine through its own PSA, and offering incentives to employees and customers. We will continue to look to work with the governor on additional ways we can help encourage vaccines without negatively impacting employment opportunities or our economic recovery at this critical stage, while paying special attention to continued outreach to Black and Latino communities, of which 51 percent and 49 percent remain unvaccinated, respectively.”
    • The coalition includes:
      • California Business Properties Association
      • California Hotel and Lodging Association
      • California Manufacturers and Technology Association
      • California Retailers Association
      • California Restaurant Association
      • Orange County Business Council
      • Los Angeles County BizFed
      • Central Valley BizFed
      • Inland Empire Economic Partnership

Here’s what health, labor, and other local leaders have also said about Governor Newsom’s vaccine and testing measures:

  • California Hospital Association President & CEO Carmela Coyle: “The new public health order announced today by Gov. Newsom will help ensure that California remains ahead of the curve in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The unfortunate reality is that COVID-19 is again on the rise nationally, and in California, driven by the highly infectious Delta variant. It is imperative that we all do everything possible to protect patients and our communities from COVID-19 illnesses and death. Everyone should get vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective — and they are free. The evidence is clear — vaccination against COVID-19 has prevented people from becoming seriously ill, requiring hospitalization, or dying from the virus, as well as spreading it to others. To date, 75% of eligible Californians have received at least one dose, with minimal side effects. Requiring health care settings, including hospitals, to verify the vaccination status of all health care workers — and to expect those who are unvaccinated to wear masks and be tested regularly — are important and necessary steps that must be taken in this extraordinary situation. The Governor’s announcement is essential to keeping patients and those who care for them safe.”
  • California Primary Care Association Vice President & Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mike Witte: “The California Primary Care Association supports twice weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated healthcare workers. The science is clear: the vaccines work, and they are safe. Over 97% of people seriously sick or dying from COVID-19 viral infections are unvaccinated. This trend is completely preventable with increased vaccination, to the point of herd immunity of our population, when we can begin to look at the pandemic ending. Twice weekly PCR testing for all unvaccinated healthcare workers fits the model for good prevention: accessible, accurate, inexpensive and easy to administer. This is an important addition to prevention of COVID-19 infections. CPCA is in full support.”
  • Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California President/CEO Jodi Hicks: “Once again, the state of California is leading by example, using data, and following best scientific practices to protect millions of people from COVID-19. We commend Governor Newsom for today’s announcement: implementing a vaccination verification system for employees in high-risk environments – a critical step in helping curb the recent uptick in spread across the state and get us back on track. Planned Parenthood continues to work closely with providers and government officials across the state to ensure access remains equitable and the communities hardest hit by the pandemic have access to correct information about the vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and Planned Parenthood will continue to encourage every Californian who can to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
  • California Medical Association President Peter N. Bretan, Jr., M.D.: “Throughout this crisis, health care workers have been a source of strength, sacrifice and perseverance. Ensuring all of us are vaccinated against COVID-19 sends a strong message that the safety of our patients and our colleagues is top priority. It is a duty that comes with our responsibility as people who care for others. We can all do more to keep each other safe, and health care workers in particular have a moral and ethical obligation to do all we can to protect our patients. When someone comes into a health care setting, they deserve to know the medical personnel who care for them are doing everything in their power to keep them safe. Ensuring that all health care workers are protected against COVID-19 will help put patients at ease and will help us bring this deadly pandemic to an end. So many physicians, nurses and medical workers have sacrificed so much over this last 18 months. We know what this virus can do. Many of us have witnessed the devastation first-hand. After going through so much, it is heartbreaking to see cases rise once again, especially when we have vaccines that can stop the spread of this deadly disease. We’ve come too far to ease up now in our fight against COVID-19. It makes sense for the health care community to lead the way in requiring vaccines for our employees. We will continue to do all we can to help convince all Californians that vaccines are safe, effective and critical as we come together to bring this pandemic to an end.”
  • SEIU-UHW Executive Committee Member Gabe Montoya, EMT: “California’s frontline workers in health care and frontline jobs serving the public are growing increasingly concerned as the number of COVID-19 cases rises. We support Governor Newsom’s efforts to ensure vaccinations reach more Californians because these life-saving shots not only prevent death and grave illness from the virus but also prevent more dangerous variants from taking hold. Since this pandemic began, belonging to a union has given workers the strength we needed to speak up for our own safety and the communities we serve, from demanding PPE to creating the conditions for students to return to schools safely. For this reason, we will continue to bargain with our employers to ensure that implementation of the policy includes workers’ voices and push for recognition of all essential workers who have risked their lives during the pandemic.”
  • United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals President Denise Duncan, RN: “COVID-19 transmissions are high, we’re in a fourth surge, and we know that unvaccinated people are suffering the most. This is a forward-thinking order from Governor Newsom which will save lives by protecting patients and caregivers both. Our nurses and health care professionals are still reeling from the last year and a half of the pandemic, including staffing shortages. This is a proactive step to protect patients, workers, and the broader community.”
  • California Statewide Law Enforcement Association: “The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, which represents peace officers across the state, responded to the order by sending a message to members reiterating the state requirements and pledging to follow up on outstanding questions. ‘CSLEA is in the process of confirming that testing will be done at no cost to the employee and on State time and how employees will be compensated for self-quarantine if mandated to do so,’ the union said in a statement. … ‘Further, the State is not presently mandating proof of vaccine, though it would likely be legal if it did. Employees can elect to decline to provide proof of vaccination if they are willing to adhere to the masking and testing requirements,’ the union said in a memo to members.”
  • California Correctional Peace Officers Association: “Glen Stailey, the union’s president, said in a statement, Gov. ‘Newsom’s new vaccine policy is a reasonable compromise that we can get behind. It provides for regular testing at work for those who have chosen not to get vaccinated — this will prevent the spread of the virus among correctional officers and incarcerated individuals alike.’”
  • Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg: “I support Gov. @GavinNewsom in requiring #Covid vaccination or regular testing of employees. I believe we should do the same in @TheCityofSac for the sake of our employees and customers.”
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California

Employees of statewide LGBTQ+ group Equality California form union

Employees at other progressive and LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU and Lambda Legal have formed unions in recent years.

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Equality California staff volunteer for congressional candidate Christy Smith, March 2020 (Photo Credit: EQ Calif. Facebook)

LOS ANGELES – A supermajority of workers at Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, announced the formation of a union, Equality Unites, with the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

In a letter sent via email Thursday, the staff urged Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur, who is leaving his post at the end of 2021, and Executive Director-designate Tony Hoang to voluntarily recognize their union, inclusive of all non-Director level employees.

The union organizers laid out issues that merit the need for the union and what is felt to be critical concerns including addressing employee hiring and retention — particularly among employees of color, trans, gender nonconforming and intersex people — salary, raise, and promotion transparency, guidelines around overtime and fair compensation, a healthy culture of feedback, and any decisions that impact their health, safety and lives.

Organizers also pointed out that the staff at the non-profit organization had exceeded all expectations and kept the organization afloat during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. The organizers also want to ensure that all employees have a voice as the organization undergoes a change in and restructuring of leadership, as well as a shift in goals and mission.

“CWA Local 9003 is proud to welcome our newest bargaining unit, Equality Unites,” said CWA Local 9003 President Marisa Remiski. “We are urging management to voluntarily recognize them and CWA Local 9003 as their Union. We look forward to working together!”

Late Thursday afternoon Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur and Executive Director-designate Tony Hoang responded in a written statement;

“This morning, Equality California received notice from our employees that they intend to organize a collective bargaining unit and a request that we voluntarily recognize it. As a progressive civil rights organization, Equality California has always stood shoulder-to-shoulder with unions in support of workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain,” the statement read.

“We remain fully committed to these pro-worker values, and we intend to support our employees’ organizational efforts and voluntarily recognize a bargaining unit. We look forward to continuing to provide a supportive and equitable environment for all of our employees and to working collaboratively with them going forward,” Zbur and Hoag added.

Zbur and Hoang’s voluntary recognition of the union is significant. Employers often resist efforts to unionize by forcing employees to vote or engaging in other practices to dissuade workers from organizing.

But the outgoing and incoming executive directors of the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization immediately made clear that they have no intent to do so, and instead will support the employees’ efforts.

Employees at other progressive and LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU, Lambda Legal and the Center for Reproductive Rights, have formed unions in recent years.

Throughout the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement, labor unions have played an important role in advocating for LGBTQ+ Americans. In 2007, Pride at Work — an official constituency of the AFL-CIO — signed onto an amicus brief in support of marriage equality in In re marriage cases.

Unions like the Communications Workers of America, California Teachers Association, United Food and Commercial Workers, and more staunchly opposed California Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which sought to prohibit marriage equality.

More recently, unions have played a crucial part in advancing protections for LGBTQ+ workers, including the overwhelming 90% of union support for the Equality Act (H.R. 5) and celebration of the historic Supreme Court decision in Bostock, which affirmed that LGBTQ+ workers are protected from discrimination under federal law.

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Los Angeles

BNT: Buck case highlights intersection of race & sexual orientation

Journalist Jasmyne Cannick, said that the case “intersected race.” She joins “Black News Tonight” to discuss the case and its impact.

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Screen shot via Black News Tonight

PHILADELPHIA – Appearing on BNC’s Black News Tonight anchored by journalist Marc Lamont Hill Wednesday, Los Angeles based political strategist and journalist Jasmyne Cannick, who has covered the Ed Buck case, told Hill that the case intersected race and sexual orientation.

“As much as this case is about Ed Buck, it’s also about our housing crisis, and what it makes people feel they have to do — play Russian roulette with their lives just to have a roof over their heads,” Cannick stressed.

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