March 2, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Church’s rental of E Street Cinema prompts boycott talk

Bishop Harry Jackson (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

A Maryland-based church whose pastor is leading efforts to overturn D.C.’s same-sex marriage law is holding Sunday morning services at the E Street Cinema in downtown Washington, prompting some activists to call for a boycott of the theater.

In a little-noticed development, Hope Christian Church of Beltsville, Md., recently began holding weekly worship services at the theater at 8:30 a.m. A church employee told DC Agenda on Tuesday that its pastor, Bishop Harry Jackson, leads the weekly services at the theater, which is located at 11th and E streets, N.W.

The church’s web site says that it holds at least three additional Sunday morning services at its main facility on Ammendale Road in Beltsville.

Landmark Theaters, owners of E Street Cinema, told DC Agenda that it could not “refuse service” to the church and was obligated in this instance to rent space to Hope Christian Church.

“Landmark Theatres rents our auditoriums out to many different types of organizations and we do not have the right to refuse service to anyone based on their religious beliefs,” an unidentified spokesperson wrote Monday in an e-mail to DC Agenda.

Timothy Daniels, a gay D.C. resident, has called the statement unacceptable and created a Facebook group promoting the boycott of E Street Cinema.

In past years, E Street Cinema has served as one of the venues for Reel Affirmations, D.C.’s annual LGBT film festival. It remains known as a showcase for LGBT films and documentaries.

“Hope Christian Church is headed by Bishop Harry Jackson, a vehemently vocal opponent of the D.C. LGBT community,” Daniels says in his Facebook message.

Jackson has repeatedly attempted to overturn the same-sex marriage law that the D.C. City Council passed and Mayor Adrian Fenty signed. His attempts have been unsuccessful, and the marriage law is scheduled to take effect March 3, when Congress completes its review of the statute.

The city’s Board of Elections & Ethics has ruled three times that Jackson’s request for a ballot measure to put the law to voters cannot be held because, if approved, it would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act. The board’s decisions have been upheld by at least three D.C. Superior Court judges that have turned down Jackson’s appeals of the board’s rulings.

“[Jackson] continues to spread lies and falsehoods about gay marriage rights in the District,” Daniels says in his Facebook message. “We urge all of you that live in D.C. who regularly attend movies at E Street Cinema to cease patronizing their business, and instead [move to] contacting Landmark Theatres and expressing your strong disappointment at this blatant hypocrisy.”

But Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance, said it would be a mistake to boycott or penalize E Street Cinema for renting space to Jackson’s church. He noted that he and other activists would likely speak out against a boycott.

“The E Street Cinema is a public accommodation and cannot discriminate on the basis of religion,” Rosendall said. “The same Human Rights Act that protects us protects Bishop Jackson and his followers.”

He said the strategy employed by GLAA and a coalition of other LGBT groups to oppose Jackson through legal and political channels has succeeded.

“We and our allies have consistently defeated Bishop Jackson in the polls, in the D.C. Council, at the Board of Elections & Ethics, in Superior Court, and most recently in the Court of Appeals,” he said. “That doesn’t justify complacency, but it should give us pause before yielding to an impulse to return intolerance for intolerance.”

Daniels said about 200 people have joined his Facebook group calling for a boycott of the theater and the group would discuss whether to go ahead with a boycott or take other measures, such as a letter-writing campaign urging Landmark Theatres to find a way to stop renting space to Jackson’s church.

“In my opinion, there comes a point where you can only get slapped in the face so many times before you slap back,” he said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

27 Comments
  • Why punish the theater for obeying the laws of our great city.

    How about everyone show up one Sunday for a service, of course in our gayest finery to be noticed.

    And the people by the river said, “Amen.”

    • Excellent idea Frankie. It would be great to have more of our community show up than his hate mongering parishioners.

    • I would go if I thought I could refrain from vomiting on the seats from listening to the hate.

      The one thing I would request from all anti-Jackson attendees is that you put no money in the collection plate. And if they have a coffee hour after their hate meeting you go and consume everything in site all the while asking them why they want to promote the hate against us that christians promoted against thme.

  • Is the Regal Theatres chain owner still a homophobe as well?

  • I think Frank’s suggestion is definitely worth noting. The LGBT Community should show up at each one of this hate mongers services and outnumber the patrons of his bigoted church. They can then voice their disapproval with this horse’s rear action’s in the hateful church’s congregation. Since it is a public accomodation, he can’t turn our community away, and as a result, he and the other bigots will soon grow tired and realize it isn’t worth it anymore. Basically, its a good way to send this clown packing back to Maryland.

  • EStreet needs the income. If EStreet becomes The Loaves and Fishes Straight-laced Picture Show then we can complain.

    I think it’s excellent that Jackson’s churchgoers pass the collection plate…only to support queer and independent cinema.

  • Why don’t you just let them do their church service and you can choose to not go. Then when you do your LGBT film fest, they will choose to not go. It’s obvious that there is a difference in opinion here.
    What’s going to happen, no matter what, is that you’ll advocate for equal rights and they will advocate against them and when the heavy hand of the law decides who is right (a decision that has essentially already been made and is to take effect later this week), there will be a winner and a loser.

    • Why do all these “faith believers” and “Christian” blog anonymously?

      Anon – if choosing not to participate was that simply this conversation would not be happening. You say, “…let them do their church service…” if it were only that simple BHJ would stay out of DC politics.

      My love affair and decison to marry does not and will not change yours.

      There really is no winner or loser when you debate hate.

      • i agree with you Frankie James, Hate Mongers don’t know how to debate, they just hate, “i think they even hate themselves”. And also nobody has the right to debate one’s civil rights. How would that black pastor feel if we debated to take away his & his fellow black people’s civil rights? He would be sitting in the back of the bus again without a doubt!

  • What is interesting is that I remember that a church tried to rent out the Uptown for services and the city found that church services weren’t in compliance with the zoning regulations for a movie theater. Wonder how the good Bishop’s church can do this.

    Instead of showing up at his church, I would reccomend that the lgbtq community support the original church for our community, MCC-DC. We have a fantastic new pastor and exciting things are happening there.

  • Though I agree Bishop Harry Jackson and his ilk are hate-mongering, it would seem odd to boycott E Street purely because they follow the law. I think its counter-productive. People should just go there and picket the event.

  • It is absurd to punish E Street for obeying the law, and just plain ignorant to declare that the law can’t mean that because you don’t like it. Impulsive, ill-informed activism can do more harm than good. The target of people’s ire should be Bishop Jackson and his followers, in the form of peaceful protest, not E Street for obeying the D.C. Human Rights Law that protects LGBT people as well.

    • Mr. Rosendall,

      You are incorrect that E Street is merely obeying the law. It is true that Title II of the Civil Rights Act prevents religious discrimination in places of public accommodation (such as E Street). But denying Bishop Jackson the space would not constitute discrimination on the basis of religion; it would be discrimination based on his political activity. Such political viewpoint discrimination would be unconstitutional were it the government doing the discriminating, but E Street is a private business. And there is no provision of the Civil Rights Act that applies political speech restrictions to private businesses, including places of public accommodation. Because of this, the law simply does not require that E Street rent this space to Bishop Jackson. That they nevertheless do so means they either haven’t consulted their lawyer or they know denying Bishop Jackson the space wouldn’t be a problem but they choose to do so anyway. Either way, they deserve this boycott.

  • The proof that Harry Jackson’s god is man-made is that his god conveniently hates the same people that he does.

  • As the originator of the Facebook group intended to raise awareness of this issue, I’ve found that many opinions have formed around this…some being of the “let’s boycott the theater” viewpoint, others being of the “let’s wait and see” approach. My intention of this Facebook group was to evoke passion in addressing this issue, and also raising awareness of the fact that Bishop Jackson now has a foothold in the District, and is able to spread his message of fear and intolerance.

    I, as well as many others from the Facebook group, have written letters to Landmark Theatres, and have received a “canned” response from them. Since that time, we have drafted a formal letter to Landmark, asking that they reaffirm…in the public space of E Street Cinema…their commitment to diversity and inclusion of all people, no matter their race, sexuality, denomination, etc. We have also requested to meet with representatives of Landmark and E Street to express our concerns, and to find a mutually agreeable way forward. We are awaiting a response.

    Now, to address Mr. Rosendall’s posting, which calls this “impulsive and ill-informed activism”. If people so choose to no longer go to E Street Cinema, that is their choice. No one is twisting anyone’s arms here, and no one is picketing the theater. Joining a Facebook group, Mr. Rosendall, is not a “contract” for people to follow in their subsequent actions. Raising awareness, and passing along the information to others, is NOT “impulsive and ill-informed” activism. It is what we all need to do, across our community, to bring attention to occurrences like this that apparently flew under GLAA’s radar.

    While you are entitled to your opinion, Mr. Rosendall, labeling “ignorant” a group of people who do not take the same approach as you to activism is irresponsible, misleading, and counter-productive.

    In the end, we all want the same things: acceptance and the ability to leave without fear. And if it takes a small Facebook group to raise issues that either larger organizations miss, or don’t deem important enough to bring attention to, then so be it.

    • Tim, if you refuse to pay attention you are harming our cause. Your resolute refusal to care whether the D.C. Human Rights Act does in fact forbid E Street from discriminating against Bishop Jackson displays ignorance and now, rather clearly, recklessness. Pardon me for not being more diplomatic, but you are simply wrong here, and I am getting sick of people who refuse to do their homework before launching proposed actions and then using their passion to justify it. It is a popular but misguided notion that First Amendment and Human Rights Act protections do not extend to offensive speech. They darn well do. Not knowing what you are talking about is bad enough; not caring is worse. Call me arrogant all you like, but you are wrong and counterproductive on this. Once again, folks: our community is defeating Bishop Jackson and we DON’T have to demand illegal discrimination against him in order to win. Please decide that you don’t want to win the wrong way. Jackson has lost with the D.C. Council, the Mayor, the Board of Elections and Ethics, the Superior Court, the Court of Appeals, U.S. District Court, and even the Chief Justice of the United States. But go ahead and dismiss me, because what do I know? Keep insisting that your passion justifies everything and anything, even if it plays into Jackson’s hands by letting him play the victim. Sure.

      • Peter the Saint

        I agree with you, but, the interesting thing here is: what if we were NOT winning? What if we were LOSING all those battles? Somehow I think that our human nature would then be to say F&*k ‘em, and pull out all the stops and protest and boycott etc. I think it’s good to at least consider this because right now in VA, what if the Gov DOES win at repealing LGBT rights? What if they DO get colleges to delete sexual orientation etc from hiring and admissions? What are people gonna do about it?

        Won’t passion be a necessary component to get anything done?

    • Don’t take Rosendall so seriously. He has a habit of berating and demeaning lgbt activists only to take credit for their work when they’ve won. Criticism from Rosendall is a sure sign that you are doing exactly what you should be doing.

  • Peter the Saint

    Harry Jackson also lies to unknowing folks about L, G, B & T people and their everyday lives, not just about marriage. From a position of “authority”, elaborating on portions of biblical texts, he continues to infer that gay people are an abomination to God, and quite a bit (or mostly) like thieves, like child molesters etc etc etc. Pretty disgusting.

    And he seems to do it quite often, because he has current Laws to fight or change (or make). I want to know how much he is getting for it, how much cash, how much in “donations”, from Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council etc. Because that would be quite an incentive, Christianist Social Lobbyists dangling financial carrots in front of people.

    • Please note that the D.C. offices of FOTF, Wordlnet News Daily, and other dominionist groups are a short walk from the theater. This could be a great venue fo the Final Showdown.

  • Of course people are free to patronize or not patronize any establishment of their choice. But it IS the case that what we want for ourselves, we should not deny to others.

    However, there is no reason why the E Street Cinema, not to be confused with the Christianist C Street House, cannot run a special film series on Sundays at, say, 11 a.m. My suggestions for initial screenings include Elmer Gantry, Inherit the Wind, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, A Patch of Blue, Cage aux Folles, Jesus Camp, Religulous, Unforgiven …

  • If I still lived in DC, I would boycott E Street Cinema for sure. It is reprehensible for businesses to do business with homophobic hate groups, religious or otherwise.

  • Fausto Fernandez

    Rick Rosendall is completely right. Folks, let’s stop being fascist about this.

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