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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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Southern California

Enjoy as a tradition returns this year with July 4 fireworks displays

Here are the places hosting firework shows around Southern California, organized by each county in the region:

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LOS ANGELES – (KABC 7) Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last two years looked a little different on the Fourth of July weekend. This year, events are back in full force.

Here are the places hosting firework shows around Southern California, organized by each county in the region:

Los Angeles County

Burbank
Starlight Bowl, 1249 Lockheed View Dr., Burbank
Festivities from 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.
starlightbowl.com

Glendale
Jewel City Sparkles Fireworks show in downtown Glendale.
Centered near Harvard St and Brand Blvd.
Fireworks show will begin at 9 p.m.
For information, call (818)548-2792.
glendaleca.gov

La Crescenta
Crescenta Valley High School, 2900 Community Ave.
Show begins at 9:30 p.m.
cvfireworks.com

Long Beach
Fireworks over Queensway Bay
Begins at 9 p.m.
visitlongbeach.com

Hollywood Bowl
This year the Hollywood Bowl is having three nights of Fourth of July traditions.
Thomas Wilkin and the Los Angeles Philharmonic are performing a program of favorites alongside Steve Martin and Martin Short.
First night of festivities is July 2.
The last night will be on the Fourth of July.
Gate opens at 5:30 p.m.
Show begins at 7:30 p.m.
hollywoodbowl.com

Marina del Rey
Fireworks can be seen at Burton Chace Park or Fisherman’s Village
Event begins at 9 p.m. and is a 20-minute show.
visitmdr.com

Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena
The annual AmericaFest is recognized as one of the nation’s largest and longest running shows celebrating the Fourth of July.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
The event starts at 7 p.m.
Tickets are available and start at $20.
visitpasadena.com

Santa Clarita
Spirit of America Fireworks Spectacular at Westfield Valencia Town Center.
Begins at 9:20 p.m.
santa-clarita.com

Santa Fe Springs
Annual independence day celebration and firework spectacular at Los Nietos Park.
11143 Charlesworth Rd.
Sunday July 3, festivities start at 4:30 p.m. with the fireworks show at 9 p.m.
santafesprings.org

South Gate
Fireworks show at South Gate Park
Show starts at 9 p.m.
cityofsouthgate.org

Woodland Hills
The July Fourth extravaganza is at Warner Center Park and starts off with a free concert and festivities everyone can enjoy.
5800 Topanga Canyon Blvd
It goes from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
The fireworks show is 15 minutes long.
valleycultural.org

Lancaster
The July Fourth extravaganza is at the Antelope Valley Fair & Event Center and will feature live entertainment, summer games and competitions.
2551 W Ave H
cityoflancasterca.org

Riverside County

Corona – Santana Park
The city of Corona invites the community to the Main Street USA Independence Day Parade. Corona’s Main Street USA Independence Day Parade is a non-competitive parade which provides entertainment, community spirit and fun for all to enjoy. Drawing 4,000+ families, friends, and neighbors, the parade takes place on Main Street from Ontario Avenue to Olive Street.
Parade begins at 9 a.m.
Live entertainment starts at 5 p.m. at Santana Park.
The fireworks celebration will occur at sundown.
coronaca.gov

Riverside
The city of Riverside Pparks
The city’s free event displays an array of fireworks at two separate locations which include La Sierra Park (5215 La Sierra Ave.) and Ryan Bonaminio Park (5000 Tequesquite Ave). Participants are encouraged to bring their own blankets and refreshments. Access will not be permitted in La Sierra and Carlson Dog Park all day on Sunday, July 4 after 7 a.m.
Show begins at 9 p.m.
riversideca.gov

Orange County

Huntington Beach
The city of Huntington Beach welcomes back the 118th Annual 4th of July parade after two years of the event not taking place due to COVID regulations.
The parade starts at 10 a.m.
Closing out the festivities will be a fireworks show at the Huntington Beach Pier.
The show starts at 9 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit hb4thofjuly.org

City of Orange
Grijalva Park, 368 North Prospect St., hosts a family event on Sunday July 3.
The event starts at 4 p.m., and there will be plenty of interactive activities for kids.
Local nonprofits host food trucks. Around 8 p.m. the Orange Community Master Chorale performs with the grand finale patriotic fireworks happening around 8:45 p.m.
cityoforange.org

Newport Beach
Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort, 1131 Back Bay Drive, hosts family events from July 1 to July 4.
Family-friendly events on July 1-3 begin at 10:00 a.m. while July 4’s events begin at 12:00 p.m.
Monday’s firework show begins at 9:00 p.m.
newportdunes.com/event

Los Alamitos
The cities of Los Alamitos and Seal Beach will host the 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base.
This year, bring your lawn chairs and your blankets for the traditional event setup.
Gates will open at 4 p.m. and close at 8:45 p.m.
The fireworks show will begin at 9 p.m.
cityoflosalamitos.org

Mission Viejo
The Mission Viejo Activities Committee will hold the Annual Street Faire and Fireworks Spectacular on Olympiad between Marguerite and Melinda.
Festivities start at noon, with plenty of food, activities for kids and live entertainment.
Admission is free with tickets being sold for games and rides.
Parking will be available around surrounding streets but the Marty Russo Youth Athletic Field parking lot is closed will be closed to the public on the 4th of July
The show begins at 9 p.m.
mvactivities.com

San Bernardino County

Big Bear Lake
Fireworks spectacular at Big Bear Lake.
Show time begins between 8:45-9:15 PM, runs approximately 30-40 mins, and is free to spectators.
For more information check here:
bigbear.com

City of Upland
Light up the Night fireworks show on Monday July 4.
Gates open at 5:30 p.m.
Show begins at 9 p.m.
Tickets are on sale now and are $12 at the gate.uplandca.gov

City of Victorville
The city of Victorville will host the annual fireworks show on Monday, July 4.
The event will be located at the Victorville Fairgrounds.
Gates open at 4 p.m. and the fireworks show is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. For further information, call Hook Community Center at (760) 245-5551.victorvilleca.gov

Lake Arrowhead
The Arrowhead Lake Association’s 2022 Lake Arrowhead Fireworks show will be on Sunday, July 3.
Show begins at 9 p.m.
lakearrowheadchamber.com

Apple Valley Fireworks
Lenny Brewster Sports Center, 21024 Otoe Rd.
Festivities from 2 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Show begins at 9 p.m.
applevalley.org

Fontana
Fontana’s Fourth of July Celebration
Miller Park Amphitheater, 17004 Arrow Rd
There will be music, food, novelty vendors and of course, fireworks.
fontana.org

Ventura County

Thousand Oaks
The 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular takes place on the hill behind the Hillcrest Center of the Arts in Thousand Oaks.
Fireworks start at 9 p.m.
conejovalleyguide.com

Westlake Village
The city of Westlake Village presents its 6th Annual Fireworks Spectacular Show from the Westlake Village Golf Course.
4812 Lakeview Canyon Road
There will be family-friendly activities.
Event begins at 5 p.m.
Show will be at 9:10 p.m.
wlv.org

Moorpark
3rd of July Fireworks Extravaganza is going to be at Arroyo Vista Community Park.
Fireworks show starts at 9 p.m.
Tickets are on sale now.
moorparkca.gov

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California

California ends loitering for prostitution law

This repeals “loitering with intent to engage in prostitution” law, which results in profiling of sex workers particularly trans women

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California Governor Gavin Newsom (Blade file photo)

SACRAMENTO – Senate Bill 357, the Safer Streets for All Act, authored by Out state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday. 

“As trans people are being criminalized across the country, Governor Gavin Newsom has once again shown that California stands with the LGBTQ community and communities of color,” said Wiener. “Everyone – no matter their race, gender or how they make a living – deserves to feel safe on our streets. Thank you, especially, to our coalition of former and current sex workers and LGBTQ advocates who made this day a reality. Your leadership is inspiring.”

SB 357 repeals a provision of California law criminalizing “loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution.” This criminal provision — arrests for which are based on an officer’s subjective perception of whether a person is “acting like” or “looks like” they intend to engage in sex work — results in the disproportionate criminalization of trans, Black and Brown women, and perpetuates violence toward sex workers.

SB 357 is sponsored by a large coalition made up of former and current sex workers, LGTBQ groups like Equality California and Transgender Gender-variant and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), and civil rights groups like the ACLU. The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST LA) is supporting the legislation.

SB 357 does not decriminalize soliciting or engaging in sex work. Rather, it simply eliminates an loitering offense that leads to harmful treatment of people for simply “appearing” to be a sex worker.

This crime is so subjective and inherently profiling that it allows a police officer to arrest someone purely based on how they are dressed, whether they’re wearing high heels and certain kinds of make-up, how they’re wearing their hair, and the like. This criminal provision is inherently discriminatory and targets people not for any action but simply based on how they look. People who engage in sex work deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Criminalizing sex work does not make sex workers or communities safer. Most criminal penalties for sex workers, loitering laws included, do nothing to stop sex crimes against sex workers and human trafficking. In fact, loitering laws make it harder to identify trafficking victims; trafficking victims are often afraid to come forward in fear of being arrested or incarcerated. 

In February of 2021, a similar piece of legislation to repeal this type of loitering ban became law in New York. SB 357 is part of the movement to end discrimination against and violence toward sex workers, especially the most targeted communities — trans, Black, and Brown people. SB 357 is co-sponsored by Positive Women’s Network – USA, St. James Infirmary, SWOP LA, Trans [email protected] Coalition, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Equality California and ACLU California Action. 

Under current law, it is a crime to loiter in a public place with the “intent” to commit a sex work-related offense. But this law can be broadly interpreted, and thus allows for discriminatory application against the LGBTQ community and people of color.

Law enforcement can use a non-exhaustive list of circumstances to subjectively determine if someone “intends” to engage in sex work, including factors such as speaking with other pedestrians, being in an area where sex work has occurred before, wearing revealing clothing, or moving in a certain way.

Because current law regarding loitering is highly subjective and vague, law enforcement officers disproportionately profile and target Black and Brown transgender women by stopping and arresting people for discriminatory and inappropriate reasons.

This is how Black and Brown transgender women get arrested and cited for simply walking on the street. It also gives law enforcement the ability to more easily target and arrest sex workers.

People in the LGBTQ, Black, and Brown communities report high rates of police misconduct throughout the United States and are disproportionately affected by police violence.

Transgender people who have done street-based sex work are more than twice as likely to report physical assault by police officers and four times as likely to report sexual assault by police.

A Black person is 3.5 times more likely to be shot by police than a white person. These statistics are a daily reality that transgender, Black and Brown people face and lead to mistrust of law enforcement.

SB 357 will repeal a discriminatory law that makes it a crime to loiter with the intent to engage in sex work, given that it fails to prevent street-based sex work and disproportionately results in the criminalization of transgender people and communities of color.

“For far too long, California law has been used to profile, harass and arrest transgender and gender-nonconforming people simply for existing in public spaces,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. “We all deserve to live in public peacefully without fear of arrest. Thanks to Governor Newsom and Senator Wiener’s leadership, California boldly stands on the side of justice. This law will make our communities safer for all Californians. We are immensely proud to be in this fight as part of a coalition that has been trans led since the beginning.”

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California

Proud Boys disrupting a California Pride drag show get pepper sprayed

“There was an altercation, obviously people are here & are upset about the bar having their Pride event,” said the deputy police chief

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Woodland police officers after Proud Boys disrupt drag show (Screenshot KCRA 3 News)

WOODLAND, Ca. – An end of Pride month drag show in this suburban city Northwest of Sacramento was disrupted by Proud Boys at the The Mojo Lounge bar and restaurant in the downtown business district.

As the group attempted to gain access to the establishment, a now viral video by local ABC10 television reporter Luke Cleary showed them and the near-by police officers getting pepper-sprayed by an unseen person inside the bar.

Screams of pain erupted along with one Proud Boy who can be heard shouting “fuck you paedophile motherfuckers,” after being sprayed. Woodland police officers can also be seen retreating wiping their eyes from the effects of the irritant self-defensive spray weapon.

Another reporter, Lee Anne Denyer from NBC News Sacramento affiliate KCRA 3 noted that the event, which was initially advertised as an an all-ages Drag Show by the bar was at first postponed and then scaled back.

Denyer posted video that showed the heavy law enforcement presence after the Proud Boys attempted to storm the restaurant demanding to know how many children were in attendance at the show.

“There was kind of rumors that things were brewing on main street but there was obviously a presence by the Woodland Police Department so that made us feel more comfortable. Then it escalated, it escalated pretty quickly,” Julie Ramos, who attended the event, told KCRA. “This really was a positive event and everyone was having a great time. So I think most people were angry but I would say resilient.”

Woodland Police Department, Woodland, California

“There was an altercation, obviously people are here and are upset about the bar having their Pride event,” Anthony Cucchi, the deputy chief of the Woodland Police Department told KCRA. “We tried to intervene as quickly as we could, it was a pretty chaotic scene. Our main priority was to get a safe scene and then make sure anybody that needed help got the help that they needed. We will work on the investigation.”

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