Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., in 2011 began to notice more same-sex couples were joining his 8,000 member congregation in Prince George’s County.
He scheduled a meeting with a lesbian couple from D.C. who had just moved to Maryland, but they cancelled because one of the women had become sick. They eventually sat down with Coates and revealed one of them did not have health insurance because she and her daughter could not get added to the working partner’s policy.
“It just seemed unfair in our society that some would have rights and benefits that others didn’t have,” Coates told the Washington Blade during a Feb. 15 interview. “I reached a point where I felt like gays and lesbians shouldn’t have to wait for people of faith to debate certain passages of the Bible to determine whether they are tested equally under the law.”
Coates emerged as one of Maryland’s most prominent marriage equality supporters after testifying last February in support of a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to legally marry in the state.
He appeared in a television ad in support of the marriage law that Gov. Martin O’Malley signed last March ahead of the Nov. 6 referendum on it. Coates also joined Revs. Al Sharpton, S. Todd Yeary of Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore, Christine Wiley of Covenant Baptist Church in D.C. and other prominent black clergy who urged Marylanders to vote for the law during a September press conference at the National Press Club in the nation’s capital.
“I thought it was important for me to take a stand,” Coates said.
‘It was important to raise my voice’
Coates told the Blade it was important for him to “really change the narrative” about where “all black megachurch pastors” stand on gay rights.
“I didn’t want my silence to be interpreted as consent,” Coates said. “I just thought it was important for me to raise my voice on this issue, to really shift the narrative around where the black church is on gay rights.”
Polls in the months leading up to the referendum indicated slightly more than half of black Marylanders backed the same-sex marriage law. An Anzalone Liszt Grove Research poll the Respect for Marriage Coalition released on Tuesday found 51 percent of black respondents support nuptials for gays and lesbians, versus 41 percent who oppose it.
Question 6 passed in predominantly black Baltimore City by a 57-43 percent margin. It lost in Prince George’s County by less than 4,000 votes.
Coates said members of his congregation were “overwhelmingly supportive” of his same-sex marriage advocacy, even though they first found out about it in the Washington Post and New York Times.
He noted roughly 1,000 people joined the church in 2012, which he described as the best year in its history. Fewer than 10 people left the congregation over his support of the issue.
“The people in the pews understood it,” Coates said. “They understood that the foundation of this country is built upon liberty and justice for all.”
Marriage opponents target Coates
Bishop Angel Nuñez of Bilingual Christian Church in Baltimore, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and others who oppose nuptials for gays and lesbians frequently questioned whether the same-sex marriage law protects religious freedom in the weeks leading up to the referendum. Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville was among those who specifically criticized Coates and Rev. Donté Hickman of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore for supporting the law.
“We wanted to make sure the legislation beefed up language that protected individual clergy and churches that did not affirm, acknowledge or perform same-sex marriages if it was against their religious beliefs and practices,” Coates said in response to the aforementioned criticisms. “I found this response to be a distraction, a red herring from the real issue.”
Coates and Hickman also joined same-sex marriage opponents who criticized the suspension of a senior Gallaudet University administrator who signed the petition that prompted the referendum on the law that allowed gays and lesbians to tie the knot.
“I affirm people’s right to have a different personal, theological or political view,” Coates said. “I have never forced my view on anyone.”
Tide is ‘shifting very quickly’
Coates spoke to the Blade a day after the Illinois Senate approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to marry in the state.
A same-sex marriage measure passed by a significant margin last month in the Rhode Island House of Representatives. Lawmakers in Delaware, Minnesota and New Jersey are expected to consider the issue in the coming weeks and months.
Coates said one of the things he thinks surprised observers is the fact the referendum passed in a state where 30 percent of the voters are black. He further noted the religious community remains “strong” in Maryland.
“There’s this presupposition that people of faith and African-American people of faith are, in some way, narrow minded and dogmatic and anti-intellectual,” Coates said. “What we’ve seen in Maryland is we should give the electorate the benefit of the doubt.”
He added he feels more pastors and other people of faith with whom he speaks increasingly understand “what’s at stake.”
“The tide is shifting very quickly,” Coates said. “People understand if we’re going to become a more perfect union, we have to be on the side of equal treatment under the law for every person.”
Comings & Goings
Nathanson takes role at Outright Action
The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected]
The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success.
Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.
“I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.”
Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.
Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe.
SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31
Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January
Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.
In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.
“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.
“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.
“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”
The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.
“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.
It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.
“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.
Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’
Virtual celebration to take place on Dec. 9
D.C.’s Rainbow History Project says it will honor and recognize 12 individuals and one organization by designating them as Community Pioneers “for their diverse contributions to the Washington-area LGBTQ community” at a Dec. 9 virtual celebration.
“Rainbow History Project is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing the LGBT history of metropolitan Washington, D.C.,” the group says in a statement announcing the event. “The Pioneers awards recognize diverse community leaders for their roles as organizational founders, innovators, advocates and volunteers,” the statement says.
“The Pioneers celebration will be held virtually and is designed with special features that reproduce the feeling of attending in-person, such as live streaming and video chatting with other attendees and Pioneers before and after the core awards programing,” according to the statement.
“Celebrating our Community Pioneers has been a cherished tradition since Rainbow History Project’s founding 21 years ago,” said Rob Berger, the organization’s chairperson. “It’s always an inspiring event, and we are happy that our virtual platform will still allow participants to meet and talk with the Pioneers,” Berger said in the statement.
The virtual event is free and open to the public, the statement says. Organizers released this link for those interested in attending, saying a short registration process may require registering in advance.
Following is the list of Community Pioneers scheduled to be honored at the Dec. 9 event as released by Rainbow History Project along with the project’s description of their backgrounds.
– Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a local group that since its founding has addressed equal rights issues for LGBTQ Virginians from a state and local perspective.
– Eboné F. Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and Tagg Communication LLC.
– Bart Forbes, founding member of “Gay Fairfax,” a pioneering television newsmagazine program in Northern Virginia.
– Ellen Kahan, youth and family advocate, president of Rainbow Families, former director of the Lesbian Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health, and currently senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
– Theodore Kirkland (deceased), a co-founder of D.C. Black Pride in 1991, member of the Gay Liberation Front and Skyline Faggots, active community health volunteer and advocate.
– Paul Marengo, community leader through LGBTQ organizations including Reel Affirmations, Cherry Fund, and Pride celebrations for youth, Latino, Black and Transgender communities.
– David Mariner, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, and former executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.
– Mark Meinke founder longtime chair, Rainbow History Project, and co-founder of Rainbow Heritage Network, a national organization for the recognition and preservation of sites, history and heritage associated with sexual and gender minorities.
– Michael “Micci” Sainte Andress, artist, health educator and advocate and an early leader in bringing African Americans into HIV/AIDS clinical trials.
– Boden Sandstrom, founder and owner of Woman Sound (later City Sound), the first all-woman sound company, which makes LGBTQ rights rallies and the women’s music scene possible.
– Casse Culver (deceased), nationally acclaimed D.C. lesbian feminist singer-songwriter, and partner of Boden Sandstrom, whose followers said her love songs and feminist lyrics moved audiences from foot stomping to silent reflection.
– Alan Sharpe, playwright, director and co-founder of the African American Collective Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1976, which now focuses on LGBTQ life and culture in the Black community.
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