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Harlem’s most gay-hating church could soon be filled with homeless black LGBTI kids

Harlem’s most gay-hating church could soon be filled with homeless black LGBTI kids

Pastor James David Manning had anti-gay message outside his church.

Gentrification of neighborhoods always disrupts existing communities within them.

In the past several years, Harlem’s empty lots and burned-out buildings have sprung up luxury condos, upscale restaurants, boutique shops, hotels, B&Bs in an area the city had long forgotten.

Some of Harlem’s residents have targeted their resentment at this gentrification not at the property developers but at their LGBTI neighbors – both new arrivals and life-long locals.

‘Look out black woman. A white homo may take your man,’ read a towering sign which hung for months outside of ATLAH World Missionary Church on West 123rd and Lenox.

The pastor of ATLAH, Rev James David Manning opposes the gentrification going on in Harlem and has implored its residents and his congregants to boycott the new luxury condos, upscale restaurants, boutique shops, and hotels.

According to Manning, the boycott would maim the ‘white homo’ where it hurts him the most – his pockets.

He explained why in a video:

‘He’s usually got money – a white homo usually has an American Express card. He usually has an opportunity at the theater – homos love the theater. They love to go out to dinners, parties, they love that kind of a thing…’

Next month Manning’s church is scheduled for a public foreclosure auction due to over $1million (€895,000) in debt.

Naturally, I don’t mourn Manning’s departure.

But it is tragic to see life-long residents of Harlem and the congregants of his church forced to leave. They are being driven from their neighborhood and the unique culture, lifestyle and worship space they created.

Many Harlem residents want to know why their neighborhood – long forgotten and completely disinvested from both public and private real estate interest – is suddenly a hot land grab?

Urban developers and city planners today believe the way to revitalize a decaying city and get rid of its urban plight is to create gayborhoods. New studies confirm these enclaves have overall positive economic and cultural effects.

‘Gays have often been at the forefront of gentrification in New York City and elsewhere in the nation,’ said Charles Kaiser, author of The Gay Metropolis, a History of Gay Life in New York, quoted in Harlem Journal: Gay White Pioneers, on New Ground.

But white gay men are not the culprits gentrifying Harlem, although the number of whites in Harlem in the last decade has nearly doubled from 9.9% to 16.6%.

There is also a new, and increasingly visible, black LGBTI face emerging in Harlem in the last decade.

When rents became prohibitive, especially in Greenwich Village – NYC’s gay mecca – many Manhattan LGBTIs took either a bridge over to Brooklyn or a train up to Harlem.

These new LGBTI residents in predominately poor communities and communities of color have brought unimaginable improved services to the area the city has long forgotten, like police protection, Starbucks, Wholefoods, and boutique shops, to name a few.

The community is in transition. In June 2010, it celebrated its first pride.

But the new arrivals presence has also created great resentment by those who were forced to relocate from these communities and those left to see the uncomfortable changes.

The result is an open queer-hot-spot alongside closeted LGBTIs still fearing hatred from their own neighbors. Harlem’s transgender community wrestles more than any of us LGBs with the borough’s attitudes.

Many life-long residents wonder what will become of Manning’s imposing edifice that’s been in the community since 1957 as one of the revered Harlem churches in its day.

Some of Harlem’s land grab, however, can render not only good outcomes but also redemptive ones.

The last thing Manning would ever fathom for the church space is it becoming NYC’s, largest homeless shelter and resource center for LGBTI African American youth. And the Ali Forney Center (AFC) has launched a fundraising drive to grab the space.

Ali Forney, who the center is named after, was African American who identified as both gay and transgender and was murdered in December 1997.

Needless to say, Rev Manning will be outraged should the Ali Forney Center win its bid.

But I’m reminded of the prayer Forney recited – and no black pastor heard – before his death.

‘I believe that one day, the Lord will come back to get me. Hallelujah! All my trials and tribulations, they will all be over. I won’t have to worry about crying and suffering no more, because my God, hallelujah is coming back for me.’

Many black churches, especially in Harlem like Manning’s, continue to both unapologetically and unabashedly close their doors to their LGBTI populations. And despite the fact these kids looked to the church for help, these youth have neither a chance nor a prayer for assistance.

The Ali Forney Center would be their answer.