By Dan Heching
If you happened to be in southern Harlem in the last two years, you may have been accosted by the sign in front of ATLAH World Ministries Church on 123rd St. and Lenox Avenue. It has said such things as "Obama has released the homo demons on the black man, look out black woman, a white homo may take your man" and "Jesus would stone homos...Harlem is a homo free zone."
The sign is obviously shocking, and can invariably draw a chuckle or two since it seems so outrageous and out of place. But the pastor behind it, reverend James Manning, continues to spew hateful rhetoric under the precarious guise of "delivering the word of god." The ideology he represents is troubling to say the least.
In reality, Harlem is no stranger to anti-LGBT violence, as Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center—which is the county's largest organization in service of homeless LGBT youth—can attest. “Ali Forney, who inspired the founding of the organization, was murdered in Harlem in 1997, only 12 blocks from ATLAH. In 2013 Islan Nettles was beaten to death in Harlem only one mile from ATLAH," he said.
Good news: due to failure to pay the city delinquent funds upwards of $1 million, ATLAH Church is currently in the foreclosure process and the property is being put up for public auction on February 24. The most interested potential buyer? The Ali Forney Center, who has a drop-in center for its homeless youth only three blocks away. "Could there be a more just outcome to the ATLAH foreclosure than that the young LGBT people most endangered by the hatred and contempt Manning promotes would take over his building?” asked Siciliano.
Since news of the foreclosure broke, Siciliano has spearheaded a campaign called #HarlemNoHate, along with the help of neighbors and community members who are also offended by the church's public hate speech. Their initial goal of $200,000 was reached this morning, but they still have a long way to go.
"Given the real estate market in Harlem we anticipate the bidding will go significantly higher than the $1.02M owed and we are in discussion with potential developers and investors to acquire the building," said Siciliano. "We will continue fundraising through the #HarlemNoHate campaign and make every effort to be in as strong a position as possible to acquire the building.”
Stacy Parker Le Melle is one of many neighbors in support of this cause, as she lives just across the street from the church. When Manning started posting the hate-filled signs, she eventually founded a group called Harlem Against Violence, Homophobia and Transphobia (HAVHT) in response. Now she is working to pool her resources to help AFC acquire the site.
Anyone who feels that they want to support this cause can fund the campaign and ensure that this bastion of homophobia and hatred be replaced by transitional housing for "the kids who've had to walk down the street and see this kind of hate messaging,” as Parker Le Melle put it.