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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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NBC Universal cancels Golden Globe awards broadcast for 2022

NBC Universal announced the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes awards ceremony

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Screenshot NBC coverage of the Golden Globes from previous years on YouTube

BURBANK – In the wake of an in-depth investigation into the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organization responsible for the Golden Globes by the Los Angeles Times, which revealed a lack of racial diversity among its voting members and various other ethical concerns, NBC Universal announced Monday the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes ceremony.

This past February ahead of the HFPA’s 78th Annual Golden Globes ceremony, HFPA board chair Meher Tatna told Variety magazine that the organization that the organization of international journalists which covers the film, television, and entertainment industry has not had any Black members in at least 20 years.

Actor Sterling K. Brown,  a Golden Globe winner and two-time nominee, posted to Instagram; 

Criticism of the HFPA, which puts on the Globes and has been denounced for a lack of diversity and for ethical impropriates, reached such a pitch this week that actor and superstar celebrity Tom Cruise returned his three Globes to the press association’s headquarters, according to a person who was granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the decision, the Associated Press reported.

“We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform. However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right,” a spokesperson for NBC said in a statement.

“As such, NBC will not air the 2022 Golden Globes,” the spokesperson added. “Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

NBC’s decision comes as Vogue reported that the backlash to the HFPA came swiftly and decisively. Some of Hollywood’s biggest studios, including Netflix, Amazon, and WarnerMedia, announced they were severing ties with the organization until efforts were made to increase diversity and stamp out corruption, while a group of more than 100 of the industry’s biggest PR firms released a statement in March in which they pledged to boycott the ceremony for the foreseeable future. 

The HFPA did not immediately respond to inquiries by media outlets requesting comment about NBC’s decision.

In February, the organization said it was “fully committed to ensuring our membership is reflective of the communities around the world who love film, TV, and the artists inspiring and educating them.”

“We understand that we need to bring in Black members as well as members from other underrepresented backgrounds, and we will immediately work to implement an action plan to achieve these goals as soon as possible,” it said.

HFPA also announced a full timetable through this summer for implementing promised reform initiatives in response to NBC’s decision.

“Regardless of the next air date of the Golden Globes, implementing transformational changes as quickly — and as thoughtfully — as possible remains the top priority,” the HFPA board said in a statement. “We invite our partners in the industry to the table to work with us on the systemic reform that is long overdue, both in our organization as well as within the industry at large.”

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Coronavirus

LA County expected to hit herd immunity by mid summer

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County could reach COVID-19 herd immunity among adults and the older teenagers by mid- to late July, public health officials announced Monday. Over the weekend LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that appointments are no longer needed for Angelenos to get COVID-19 vaccinations at any site run by the city.

Garcetti’s move is intended to give people who don’t have the time or technological resources to navigate online booking platforms a chance to get the shot.

The percentage of the population the County needs to vaccinate to achieve community immunity is unknown, however Public Health officials estimate it’s probably around 80%. Currently, 400,000 shots each week are getting into the arms of L.A. County residents, and there are over 2 million more first doses to go before 80% of all L.A. County residents 16 and older have received at least one shot.

At this rate, Public Health expects the County will reach this level of community immunity in mid- to late July and that assumes the County continues to at least have 400,000 people vaccinated each week. That would include both first doses that people need as well as their second doses.

This news came as Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced that attendance numbers at all grade levels in the District have been considerably lower than expected as extensive safety measures have failed to lure back the vast majority of families in the final weeks of school.

Only 7% of high school students, about 30% of elementary school children and 12% of middle school students have returned to campuses.

As of May 7, more than 8,492,810 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to people across Los Angeles County. Of these, 5,146,142 were first doses and 3,346,668 were second doses.

On Monday the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years of age. The Pfizer vaccine is already authorized for people 16 years old and older.

Pfizer’s testing in adolescents “met our rigorous standards,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “Having a vaccine authorized for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a statement released Monday by the White House, President Joe Biden the FDA’s decision marked another important step in the nation’s march back to regular life.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is growing, and today it got a little brighter,” Biden said.

Los Angeles County will offer the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms the FDA recommendation, which can happen as early as Wednesday. All adolescents 12-17 will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to get vaccinated.

To find a vaccination site near you, to make an appointment at vaccination sites, and much more, visit: www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) and www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish). If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that unvaccinated people — including children — should continue taking precautions such as wearing masks indoors and keeping their distance from other unvaccinated people outside of their households.

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Health

HHS takes steps to reverse Anti-LGBTQ+ healthcare policy

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule”

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HHS the Hubert H. Humphrey Building (Photo: GSA)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday morning that the Biden-Harris Administration will interpret and enforce Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Title IX’s prohibitions on discrimination based on sex to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in BAGLY v. HHS, Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule.”

The Trump-era policy undermines the ACA’s nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sex — including pregnancy, gender identity and sex stereotyping — as well as protections for patients with limited-English proficiency and those living with chronic illnesses, including HIV. Because the issues in BAGLY v. HHS are broader than what the Administration announced today, the Court scheduled a hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss for June 3rd at 2:30 PM EST.

In reaction to the HHS announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Monday:

“Today, the Biden Administration has taken essential and potentially life-saving action to affirm that all people in America have the right to quality, affordable health care – no matter who they are or whom they love.  During this time of pandemic and always, it is vital that the most vulnerable have access to care, including LGBTQ Americans, who have long suffered injustice and discrimination that has left them dangerously exposed to health risks.
 
“The Trump Administration’s decision to greenlight anti-LGBTQ discrimination in health care in the middle of a pandemic was an act of senseless and staggering cruelty, made in blatant defiance of our values and a Supreme Court ruling made just a month prior.  
 
“Congressional Democrats together with the Biden Administration are proud to uphold the equal right of every American to access the care that they need to pursue a life of dignity and health.  We must now build on this progress and enact the House-passed Equality Act to fully ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our nation.”

In addition to Equality California, co-plaintiffs in BAGLY v. HHS include Darren Lazor, The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY), Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Campaign for Southern Equality, Equality California, Fenway Health, and Transgender Emergency Fund.

Lazor is a transgender man near Cleveland, Ohio, who experienced numerous counts of discrimination from healthcare providers on the basis of his gender identity from 2012 to 2017. He is a member of Equality California. Plaintiffs are represented by National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the Transgender Law Center (TLC), the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) of Harvard Law School and law firm Hogan Lovells.

The lawsuit asserts that the new rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act by being contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Notably, it was published on June 19,  just days after the June 15, 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that it is unlawful sex discrimination to fire employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The lawsuit also asserts that the new rule will embolden discrimination and harm LGBTQ+ patients and people seeking reproductive health care, further stigmatize abortion and other pregnancy-related care, harm patients with limited-English proficiency, especially immigrants, and harm people with chronic illnesses, including those living with HIV. The rule will also create confusion about the scope of protections against discrimination under federal law. 

Trans people, like plaintiff Darren Lazor, already face disproportionate discrimination in health care settings, including mistreatment by insurers and humiliation and harassment by doctors – problems that are exacerbated for trans people of color and trans people living in rural regions and the U.S. South. In seeking to deny trans people access to the healthcare they need, the Trump Administration had placed trans people, and especially Black trans women, in danger through deliberately harmful governmental action.

“We are thrilled by the news that the Biden-Harris Administration will take initial steps to reverse President Trump’s dangerous, discriminatory Rollback Rule, which undermined healthcare nondiscrimination protections critical to the LGBTQ+ community, and trans people in particular,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur.

“As the world recovers from a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever that every American have access to quality, affordable healthcare without fear of harassment and discrimination. We remain hopeful that under Secretary Becerra and Assistant Secretary Levine’s leadership, HHS will continue to take further steps to rescind the Trump-era regulation and address the harms that it has caused,” he added.

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