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SPIRITUALITY 2018: Inner city, small town MCC church experiences vastly different

Clergy members say affirming denomination still needed in 2018 and beyond

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Metropolitan Community Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Exterior of the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington. (Photo by Elvert Barnes; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

It’s a much different thing to go to a Metropolitan Community Church in a major city vs. a small town and the denomination itself, founded in the late ‘60s as a Protestant fellowship for LGBT Christians, is in a time of transition as more churches, especially in Christianity’s more liberal branches, have become affirming. Roman Catholics and evangelicals — the two largest groups of U.S. believers — are the biggest holdouts.

As Christianity’s Paschal Triduum culminates with Easter this weekend, we checked in with two regional LGBT MCC clergy to find out how their parishes are doing in 2018. Rev. Deb Coggin is pastor of New Light MCC in Hagerstown, Md. Rev. Cathy Alexander is associate pastor of MCC Washington. They responded via e-mail.

New Light MCC

Rev. Deb Coggin

New Light MCC — Hagerstown, Md.

What year was your church started? 1996

Was it always an MCC church? yes

How many weekend services do you have on a normal week? one

About how many folks walk through your doors on an average Sunday? 20-25

Are you full-time, part-time or volunteer? Part-time – 20 hours a week

What is your annual operating budget? $53,000

How do you feel the needs may be different of MCC believers/members in major cities vs. small towns or suburbs? In a small city, support and safe places for LGBT are fewer. The needs remain the same. All of us need support, a safe place to be and the affirmation that God is with us. This message is part of the DNA of MCC.

Are you doing a Good Friday or Holy Saturday service? Good Friday service is tonight at 7 p.m.

What times are your Easter services? 10:30 a.m.

How is your Easter Sunday morning worship different? We add a few extra readings and special pieces however; the base of the service remains the same.

What was your attendance for Easter 2017? 32

As the mainline churches have become more welcoming, what does MCC offer that they do not in your opinion? MCC is more than welcoming. We celebrate all of who we are as children of God. We are more than affirming. We are inclusive. Everyone is invited to full participation in the life of an MCC community of faith.

Are there many cradle Catholics and/or cradle evangelicals in your pews? As those bodies have dug in their heels against LGBT folks, how does MCC have relevance to those believers? Our congregation has many of both. It is the same for all who have been preached at as if they are evil. We help them heal and discover for themselves what God has to say. We plan services and activities so all feel accepted and comfortable. We honor some traditions of all Christian faiths while creating something new for all.

Are mainline churches in Hagerstown very affirming? In Hagerstown, we have several very affirming churches, however, most churches either tolerate or are outwardly hostile to LGBT people. We offer a safe place for healing from church abuse in all forms. We encourage the full participation in the life of our community. We seek to teach people to live in the questions of faith as opposed to declaring we have all the answers. We offer a positive biblical message about LGBT people as well as refute and explain passages which have been used to abuse LGBT people.

What kind of faith community were you raised in if any? I was 28 before I came into a faith belief with God. I quickly moved from Southern Baptist to Assemblies of God to Pentecostal to MCC. 

What’s a general scripture passage that continues to resonate with you? Romans Chapter 8 resonates with me and particularly verses 37-39: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

What’s your favorite hymn or sacred musical selection? Old hymn would be “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” Contemporary praise would be “We All Bleed The Same.”

Overall how is the MCC needle shifting? Where do you see the fellowship going in the next 10-20 years?  We are being called into accountability for being as fully inclusive as we promote. I believe we will continue to be in the forefront of the fight for justice — LGBT rights, homelessness, poverty, drug addiction, human trafficking, gun control, women’s rights, etc.  Wherever there is injustice in the world, MCC along with others will be in the fight for justice.  

Could you imagine a day where LGBT believers will be so fully integrated that there will be no need for MCC or is that too “pie in the sky” for our lifetime? Our founder, Rev. Elder Troy Perry once believed this was possible. For MCC now, it is not only the LGBT people involved in the life of MCC but heterosexuals as well as children. My wife and I adopted five girls. They are growing up in an MCC church and my hope is they will continue into adulthood with MCC, which is about more than sexuality. We believe in Gods call to help others. I believe there will always be people in need and the need for MCC to be present and active.

Rev. Cathy Alexander

Metropolitan Community Church of Washington

What year was your church started? 1971

Was it always an MCC church? Yes, it has always been under the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) umbrella.

How many weekend services do you have on a normal week? We have two services per Sunday in the sanctuary. We also have a monthly interactive service on the last Sunday of each month led by our Young Adult Ministry. These services are held at various locations throughout the city. The last Sunday reflective service was held at the National Portrait Gallery. We are also re-starting our monthly Spanish speaking prayer service.

About how many folks walk through your doors on an average Sunday? We worship about 130-150 each Sunday on site and an additional 50-60 via live streaming of our services. Also an additional 40-60 views of the videos of the service. The message of love and acceptance is getting out there. MCC-D.C. is blessed to be one of the most diverse congregations in MCC on a variety of levels.

Do you have your own building? Yes

Are you full-time, part-time or volunteer? I am full time and the Senior Pastor Rev. Elder Dwayne Johnson is full time.

What is your annual operating budget? (declines to answer)

How do you feel the needs may be different of MCC believers/members in major cities vs. small towns or suburbs? The need for shelter, food, spiritual guidance, safe streets and community are consistent and driving forces for our neighbors no matter the geography. Where people congregate in a given location may differ, the ability to get around from place to place quickly may be different, and proximity to church may be a challenge. Many times in a suburban environment, the closest MCC may be hours away. This proves to be a challenge to establishing community. In an urban environment, the unpredictability of traffic is an issue in on-site attendance. It encourages us to seek different ways to reach out to and spiritually touch people (like livestream, remote campuses and other ways to make it easier for people to connect).

Are you doing a Good Friday or Holy Saturday service? One is planned for Good Friday, yes. We also held a Maundy Thursday service.

What times are your Easter services? 9 and 11 a.m.

How is your Easter Sunday morning worship different? We usually welcome more people to our services on Easter (Christmas Eve too). We have several ministries in our worship arts ministry (9 a.m. choir, 11 a.m. choir, First Sunday Choir, Moving Spirit Dance Ministry, Eclectic Praise Band, Drama Ministry, sound board, audio/visual) who minister on different Sundays throughout any given month. Most of our ministries will offer their gifts together during our Easter Sunday Services.

What was your attendance for Easter 2017? About 300 throughout Holy Week last year.

As the mainline churches have become more welcoming, what does MCC offer that they do not in your opinion? I don’t think it is so much a matter of what one offers against the other. I believe there is enough hurt and spiritual violence in the world that requires that all of our spiritual organizations reach into the communities in which they serve to help as much as possible to counteract messages of hate, violence and harm. Is there a place and a need for MCC into the future? I would say absolutely yes, without a question or doubt in my mind.  Many of our congregants have let us know that they appreciate going to church where many in the church have similar perspectives and challenges as they do. They can come as their entire selves and the affinity communities in which they are a part — leather, drag and a variety of others.

Are there many cradle catholics and/or cradle evangelicals in your pews? As those bodies have dug in their heels against LGBT folks, how does MCC have relevance to those believers? We understand (mostly from membership class) the faith background of those who regularly attend our services. About 20-30 percent come from a Catholic background and 10 percent from evangelical traditions, 60 percent from other protestant faith traditions and a small number of those from the Jewish and Buddhist traditions. One thing that is difficult to do is to paint the denominations and the people in them with the same broad brush. There have been hurtful, spiritually violent and life threatening damage done as a result of some of these institutions. I think it is important to remain open to inviting conversation and common cause. There are things we can agree on and perhaps we can be the agents of change to enter in to conversation to impact hearts and minds. This is done on a personal level primarily and not necessarily on a denominational one.

What kind of faith community were you raised in if any? I was raised in a Christian tradition: Baptist and Catholic. 

What’s a kernel or verse in the gospel resurrection narrative that especially resonates with you or that you may be preaching on Easter Sunday? For me, the progressive message of the Jesus who defied the oppressive Roman government forces provided a new way to be in relationship with God and each other. Our theme this year is Rising Strong, influenced by Brene Brown’s book. We are encouraged to rise strong to be our authentic and truest selves.

What’s a general scripture passage that continues to resonate with you? I’m partial to the Psalms as they sing the songs of the human condition — love, joy, connection to the Divine, lament and hope.

What’s your favorite hymn or sacred musical selection? I love all kinds of music. I particularly like “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood and “My Help” by Jackie Gouche Farris (Psalm 121)

Overall how is the MCC needle shifting? Where do you see the fellowship going in the next 10-20 years? I see MCC continue to speak out for justice, and to live out Micah 6:8 “He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.”

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Real Estate

Finding your footing in fall housing market

Act quickly before winter arrives when selling

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Fall can be a good time to sell, but act fast before winter sets in.

Though it may not feel quite like fall weather quite yet in some parts of the country, as students return to school, we know that it means fall is right around the corner. Without question, fall is usually a wonderful season – it is the perfect time to enjoy beautiful weather, and plenty of festivals and fun. The return to school also means, for many, a return to routine – to getting organized and beginning again to check things off the to-do list after the lazy days of summer are over. 

You may have heard that housing inventory and activity is often lower in the fall than in the popular spring and summer seasons – and this is true. On the other side of the coin, however, fall buyers are often more serious about buying. They may be eager to buy quickly to get children enrolled in school, because of a job relocation, or due to a change in their family situation. Often, fall buyers are eager to find a home they love quickly, and to take action once they find it.

The good news is that if you plan to list your home for sale in the fall, there are a few tips and things you can add to your to-do list that will help you market your home in the best way possible and maximize your chances of a quick and successful sale. These include:

Act quickly: Depending upon the area of the country that you live in, beautiful, crisp, colorful fall weather might quickly give way to less desirable winter weather. It’s often far easier to sell a home in the fall than it is to sell in December, January, or February when bad weather might make traveling difficult, and potential buyers less likely to want to leave their homes. Once you’ve decided you’re ready to sell, it’s best to make every effort to list your home quickly to take advantage of good weather and buyers on the market.

Photograph the property as soon as possible: In many parts of the country, fall is a truly beautiful season of the year. Fall typically also offers plenty of beautiful, natural light. Take advantage of those ideal conditions by taking pictures of your property early. Don’t wait until the leaves begin to fall and the skies turn gray. Get your pictures early and use them to attract potential buyers to the unique beauty, both indoors and out, that can be enjoyed in your home.

Feature some fall curb appeal: You may not have spring flowers in the fall, but there’s abundant natural beauty to enjoy nevertheless. If you have falling leaves, make sure to regularly rake and bag them. Mow the lawn, perhaps add some new mulch, or consider adding some fall flowers. These steps don’t take long or cost much money, but they can go a long way toward catching the eye of potential buyers. 

Leave the lights on: In fall, the sun begins to set early. As a result, it’s important to keep your home as bright and inviting as possible. Clean your windows, open the curtains or blinds, and encourage as much natural light to come in as possible. If you have very dark paint colors, consider having a few rooms repainted to lighter shades. This will maximize light, and make your home appear more open and airy. Finally, if the showing is later in the day, be sure to leave plenty of lights on within the home. This will not only increase your curb appeal as potential buyers approach the home by making it look warm and inviting – it will also help buyers feel more comfortable inside your home as they envision themselves in that space. 

While these tips are intended to be helpful, it’s important to remember that one of the best steps you can take to truly increase your chances of a successful home sale is to hire a real estate agent who knows and loves the community and can help you truly tailor the marketing and pricing of your home to potential buyers in your area. Finding and connecting with an agent that can help you do exactly that is essential. At GayRealEstate.com, we’re here to help. 

At GayRealEstate.com, we aren’t just passionate about real estate. We’re passionate about real estate with a purpose. Our mission is to connect LGBTQ home buyers and sellers all over the country with knowledgeable, talented, and experienced LGBTQ-friendly realtors who know their communities well and are dedicated to helping clients every step of the way. Wherever you are in the real estate process, and whatever your goals, we’re here for you, and we’re ready to help. If you’re ready to get started, connect with us today. 

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526 or [email protected].

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Living

Late summer must-haves for gay beach lovers

Sunglasses, beach chairs, and more to keep you stylish in the sand

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Finish the dog days of summer in style with these beach-ready requisites to enhance your fun in the sun.


Helinox Beach Chair

Standard camp chairs don’t hold a candle to Helinox’s high-back, splayed-leg beach seats that offer more than just stability in the sand: Sturdy aluminum construction allows for up to 320 pounds of weight while mesh ventilation panels, side pockets for small essentials, and an adjustable headrest for pillow placement provide comfort while you cruise the coastline. $170


Welly Bottle

Triple-walled vacuum insulation, a comfortable loop cap and slip-proof base contribute to the practical aspects of Welly Bottle, but it’s the sexy minimalist design that’ll turn more heads than your teeny-weeny polka-dot bikini. $40


Nomadix Original Towel

Super-absorbent, quick-drying MicroTerry fabric keep Nomadix’s lightweight Original Towels resistant to sand and lingering odor, slip-resistant when activated by moisture, and uber-stylish since the post-consumer recycled material lends itself to more than 30 dye-less prints that won’t fade like your farmer’s tan. $40


Feisedy Sunglasses

Even though “Zack Morris Is Trash” – according to Dashiell Driscoll and Jason Flower’s 50-ep strong “Funny or Die” series – he’s still the quintessential ’90s himbo, and you can channel his too-cool-for-school energy in Feisedy’s oversized mirror-shield sport sunglasses with lightning bolt temples that keep pointed gazes concealed on the beach and beyond. $26


PureBreeze Personal Fan

Martha and the Vandellas waxed melodic about a heat wave in the early 1960s, but it probably didn’t compare to today’s record-smashing scorchers that require reinforcements, like PureBreeze’s rechargeable personal fan featuring three speeds and an optional aromatherapy diffuser for enhanced R&R. $25


JBL Clip 3

Jury’s still out on 2022’s song of the summer (and with heavy hitters like Beyonce, Harry Styles and Lizzo vying for the title, deliberation ain’t easy), but you can cast your vote by pumping up the volume through the waterproof, so-light JBL Clip 3, which makes transporting superior sound quality from the parking lot to your sunning spot a real breeze. $40


Body Glove Water Shoes

Body Glove’s 3T Cinch water shoes protect your pads from jagged rocks, slimy seaweed, and the occasional crab picking at your piggies so you can sing wee-wee-wee all the way home. $38


Quicksilver Straw Hat

Leave it to venerated beach brand Quiksilver to design an outdoor hat that’s not only functional but fashionable: the straw-constructed Outsider Waterman provides UV protection on your head and face while its McConaughey vibe will keep you feelin’ alright, alight, alright.  $28-$34


The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels

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Business

Fla. ‘Pride Leadership’ firm survives pandemic to face anti-LGBTQ legislation

‘Are gay leaders better? Of course we are!’

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Dr. Steven Yacovelli has spent more than 25 years delivering diversity training and developing LGBTQ leaders.

(Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a multi-part summer series of stories taking a closer look at how a group of diverse LGBTQ entrepreneurs survived and thrived during the pandemic. The series is sponsored by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. All installments in the series are available on our website.)

Dr. Steven Yacovelli has spent more than 25 years delivering diversity training and developing LGBTQ leaders, but after surviving a nearly half-million-dollar loss during the pandemic, the “Pride Leadership” author and Top Dog Learning Group co-founder now fears legal repercussions from Florida’s “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.”

“I can go to a Florida-based client and potentially both the company and an employee could now sue me as the deliverer of the diversity training,” Yacovelli told the Blade. “That training is now potentially illegal because of the Act.”

Top Dog Learning Group is a diversity and inclusion consulting firm based in Orlando and has been delivering training, to include leadership development for the LGBTQ community since 2002, initially as Yacovelli’s “side hustle” while a corporate executive.

At the height of the pandemic’s economic crisis in 2020, Yacovelli said he lost nearly half of his business earnings in two weeks. They were able to survive and recover mostly due to his previous experience with Zoom and other virtual platforms.

But while they could increase their instructional capacity by going virtual, and grow through the crisis, the current impact of Florida’s anti-LGBTQ legislation now threatens his small business.

In April, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), whom conservative voters in a 2024 presidential election straw poll chose over former President Donald Trump for the second year in a row, signed the new law he dubbed the “Stop Wrongs Against our Kids and Employees Act.” It took effect July 1, despite First Amendment legal challenges.  

The Florida law, though targeting the alleged teaching of critical race theory in public schools, also prohibits instruction that “compels” employees or students to believe privilege or oppression “is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, sex, or national origin.”

This legislation, and the popularly known “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed earlier, have served to decrease Florida’s score on Out Leadership’s 2022 State Level Business Climate Index, published amid a cascade of anti-LGBTQ measures pursued across state legislatures.

New York’s LGBTQ business climate ranked No. 1 for the second year in a row, earning 93.67 out of 100 points, while South Carolina scored last with 33.63 points.

Florida, ranked 31, and Oklahoma, ranked 49, lost points for their “Don’t Say Gay” bills among other anti-LGBTQ legislation.

“LGBTQ-friendly environments are business-friendly environments,” Todd Sears, Out Leadership founder, told Axios in June.

Florida’s “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” also vaguely states that an individual shouldn’t feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” as a result of the training experience due to their “race, color, sex, or national origin.”

This “discomfort” ban worries Yacovelli as he facilitates difficult conversations in a currently accepting community.

“I look at this as a taxpayer and as a human who lives here,” he said. “But the good news is I live in a very inclusive community because of the Pulse [shooting] and for other reasons. We’ve got each others’ back.”

Yacovelli said his local government and representatives have been very supportive, “but it’s hard.”

The problem of capital

When he was between jobs in 2008, after having been terminated from an executive position without explanation (Florida is an “at-will” state meaning an employer can fire an employee without cause), he followed his friend and co-founder, Ruth Bond, to Paris where he had an epiphany.

In a Paris cafe, he saw a simple yet elegant logo for a French telecommunications company and decided it was time to design a similar, simple logo for his side-hustle and move it into full-time reality.  

Years later, he now sees the comforting spirit of his “fur-daughter” Ella, a mini-Labradoodle who died from cancer last summer, in the friendly dog visitors encounter on the company’s website.

“2008 wasn’t a good time to start a business,” Yacovelli said. “But there’s never going to be a good time. You’ll always find an excuse not to do this, but put that aside. Whether it’s the economy, or your own limited finances – just put that all aside and just do it.”

Access to startup capital has been a historic problem for minority business owners. The Federal Reserve Banks reported in 2018 that limited access to credit was a “compounding factor that hurts the underlying health of minority-owned small businesses.”

Many, like Yacovelli, turn to personal funds to get their dream off the ground.

“I was self-funded,” Yacovelli said. “But on the advice of a friend, I took out one small business loan. And thank goodness I did, because I had an established relationship with a bank when COVID hit.”

During the height of the pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program was administered through banks, limiting access to the survival funding, according to a Brookings Institute report in 2020.

Brookings also pointed out that closing the financial and other disparities could add millions more new small businesses to the U.S. economy and with them more jobs.

The National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce states LGBTQ-owned businesses contribute more than $1 trillion to the U.S. economy, and in 2015 more than 900 certified LGBTQ-owned businesses created more than 33,000 jobs across the country.

But pandemic challenges continue.

“In the years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, LGBTQ+ businesses have faced severe financial challenges and many are at risk of permanently closing,” Zack Hasychak, Director of Membership Outreach at the Human Rights Campaign, told the Blade.

To help LGBTQ businesses, HRC teamed up with Showtime to start their “Queer to Stay” initiative. For two years the partnership awarded funds to 30 LGBTQ-owned businesses across the country and has committed to supporting at least 25 businesses this round.

Applications are accepted via their website until Aug. 31.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is also shining a spotlight on LGBTQ-owned small businesses.

SBA Deputy Press Director Cecelia Taylor told the Blade about the Elevating Small Business webinar series in June that celebrated LGBTQ small businesses across the country while focusing on financial wellness and the importance of equity and opportunity.

“Equity is a top priority for me and for the Biden-Harris administration, and we believe all of America’s entrepreneurs deserve a level playing field, regardless of zip code, race, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation” said SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman in a Pride month statement.

“During COVID, we’ve learned how critical equitable access is to surviving and thriving, and at the SBA we are working to build better connections to and for the 1.4 million LGBTQ+ owned businesses in communities across this country,” Guzman said.

Still, Yacovelli emphasized the need for the federal government to step up and make the process of procuring contracts easier.

“The federal government is the largest opportunity for contracts,” he said. “Yet, the process to get them is insanely hard. That’s a missed opportunity.”

Yacovelli said it took a week away from his business to complete a “dissertation-type application” only to have it “go into a black hole” without any feedback.

“It was for diversity training for 911 operators,” he said, stunned by why he didn’t hear back about his application. “Coach me so I can make the application better. It took us a week to get this packet done, and that’s a week I didn’t work on any client proposals.”

But despite challenges, Top Dog grew to exceed its pre-pandemic levels, making 2021 its best year to date.

“Are gay leaders better?” asked Yacovelli who literally wrote the book on “Pride Leadership,” which has been widely praised as influential by multiple business and political leaders. “Of course we are! We’re fabulous. I looked at my queer siblings in leadership roles and moving our community forward in areas of equality and justice. They exercise competencies all leaders could use.”

“You play with a lot of leaders in my business,” Yacovelli, a.k.a “The Gay Leadership Dude,” told the Blade. “You start to see patterns of behaviors for leaders that are crushing it and those that are crashing and burning.”

In his book “Pride Leadership,” Yacovelli combines academic insights gained though his doctorate in education and his years as a corporate leader to identify six leadership traits: being authentic, leading with courage, having empathy, effective communication, building relationships, and influencing organizational culture.

Yacovelli pointed out that the LGBTQ coming out process also involves using these leadership skills to navigate that tough line between being authentic and respecting the feelings and experiences of others.

“You have those difficult conversations. You’re having empathy for yourself and for the person receiving the news for the first time,” he said. “That one experience can be translated into leadership courage, and those traits are the foundation for a really effective leader.”

He stated that for trans siblings to live their lives authentically is powerful, and to channel that energy into a leadership role is using their “rainbow superpowers.”

“And we freakin’ need it now more than ever,” he added.

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