Massive March 14 anti-gay demo highlights role of right wing Pentecostal Latino group
Elements of the Christian Right have set their sights on New York State.
This was made clear on Sunday, March 14 as a massive anti-gay banner declaring support for Bush’s constitutional amendment was draped across the façade of the Bronx Courthouse, the home of the Office of Borough President Adolfo Carrion.
Pentecostal Latino clergy mobilized at least 5,000 people for the rally with the assistance of Democratic State Senator Ruben Diaz. But, the real force behind the rally appears to be the National Association of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders––known by it s Spanish acronym CONLAMIC––a group that claims to link thousands of member churches in 31 states.
“The logistical operation behind this rally was clearly quite massive,” said Jessie Kindig, who joined a vocal counter-protest led by Latino gay rights activists. “As we arrived at noon, a powerful sound system was already set up and metal barricades were in place.”
Carrion’s office said it had no involvement in facilitating the demonstration. A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Citywide Administration Services said it passed along the request to use the public space to the borough president’s office in routine fashion.
In an interview last week with Gay City News, Diaz conceded the religious, even ceremonial nature of the event, a fact confirmed by observers opposed to Diaz.
“There were bibles in the air as I arrived,” said Suzie Schwartz, a Columbia University activist. “Bibles, American flags, and even the Israeli flag. It was alarming, but politically I saw it as an alliance of convenience between the religious anti-gay bigots and the nationalist, pro-Zionist right.”
By press time, Bronx City Councilmembers Jose Serrano and Joel Rivera had not yet responded to requests for reactions to the demonstration. But Lower East Side City Councilmember Margarita Lopez raised concerns.
“The separation of church and state has to be respected,” said Lopez, who is Latina and an out lesbian.
When asked about the existence of an Office of Faith Based Initiatives in Carrion’s office, Lopez expressed surprise.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of this,” she said. “If this is about bridging the religious organizations with a government office, then that is a violation of the separation of church and state.”
There seems to be a significant relationship between the Pentecostal evangelical Churches and key Bronx Democratic politicians. Diaz, who is also a Pentecostal, is at the extreme end of the spectrum, but Latino gay activists have argued that he is hardly alone in courting conservative religious forces.
Mark Reyes, of the Bronx Gay and Lesbian Health Consortium, speaking with Gay City News immediately after the rally, said that a number of Bronx Democrats look to conservative churches to turn out voters.
Carrion’s press spokesman’s claim that his office of faith-based initiatives focuses principally on providing social services.
But at least one activist saw an underlying political motivation in maintaining the office: “It doesn’t take rocket science to figure this out. You allow the church to play a role in filling the gap left by chronic underfunding of social services, and you get votes in return on election day.”
The orchestrated anti-gay display on March 14 fits neatly with the overall strategy employed by backers of the Federal Marriage Amendment. Keeanga Yahmatta-Taylor, a leading African American activist in Chicago’s Equal Marriage Now, recently spoke to Gay City News about the right’s cynical effort to put black and Latino clergy at the forefront of the campaign against gay marriage.
“What you have is a cranky clique of conservative black clergy who’ve been politically irrelevant for years,” she said. “But with the amendment on the table, they suddenly have rich white conservatives throwing money at them. Anti-gay black clergy talk about the issue as if black gays don’t exist… They speak from the presumption that gays are rich, middle class, and white.”
But Yahmatta-Taylor also noted that few leading black activists have joined the crusade against gay rights.
“Jesse Jackson did publicly criticize the comparisons being made to the civil rights struggle, but Coretta Scott King has just declared her opposition to Bush’s amendment, and Julian Bond of the NAACP put out a good statement,” she said.
Bond and King have endorsed same-sex marriage speaking for themselves and Bond has also committed the NAACP to opposing the federal constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a man-woman institution.
“There is no color code for access to civil rights,” Bond wrote.
Jackson’s position in opposition to same-sex marriage, while saying he supports full equal rights, may be an echo of the hedge adopted by many leading Democrats on the national scene.
“Jackson’s position is best explained by his longstanding role in rounding up black votes for the Democrats,” argued Sherry Wolf, a veteran of gay rights activism in New York. She criticized Jackson and others for making amendments to state constitutions, like that sought in Massachusetts, more palatable in mainstream politics.
“Democrats are openly creating cover for Bush and the far right,” she said.
Yahmatta-Taylor is also critical of the dodge employed by leading Democrats.
“We understand this to be a class issue for most gay people,” she argued. “This about bread and butter issues, health care, job security, and parental rights. That is the debate that the far right and the bulk of Democrats want to ignore.”
Even as leading mainstream black leaders have split on the question of same-sex marriage, there are other voices in people of color communities––black and Latino––that are more extreme, even on the fringe. CONLAMIC is clearly among them. The group’s president, Reverend Miguel Rivera, played a key role in turning out demonstrators in the Bronx and at other times has consorted with the blatantly homophobic Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). During the two-year struggle, ultimately unsuccessful, by Pres. George W. Bush to seat Miguel Estrada, a strongly conservative, anti-gay Latino, on the federal bench, Rivera stood with TVC’s president, to voice his support.
Yet, even from the fringe, with large scale rallies like that mounted March 14 in the Bronx, groups like CONLAMIC can wield outsized influence on the same-sex marriage debate in people of color communities if other leaders fail to step forward to challenge them.