By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — After some Harlem pastors criticized Saturday's gay pride celebration in Marcus Garvey Park as "nonsense" and an "abomination," the Harlem Pride event has received overwhelming support from local leaders and elected officials, advocates said.
Community leaders, elected officials, pastors and even Mayor Michael Bloomberg have defended the weekend celebration, said Harlem Pride co-founder Lawrence Rodriguez.
"What was said backfired. It made Harlem Pride known," said Rodriguez, 45, owner of Casa Frela Gallery, who said he received a letter of support from the mayor.
The controversy started when some religious leaders in Harlem said the event did not belong in the park.
"If children start to believe it is OK to be gay, they will think it's OK to be a pedophile or have sex with animals," Dr. Ronald Ferguson, senior pastor at Antioch Church of God on W. 124th St., told the Daily News.
"The park is a family area and the homosexual agenda will do nothing but harm the community," added Pastor Charles Curtis of Mount Olivet Baptist Church.
Neither Ferguson nor Curtis could be reached for comment Friday.
Since their remarks, Rodriguez said the response has been to overwhelmingly rebuke the pastors.
"When the controversy came out, we were overwhelmed with the support from our elected officials, other churches, the Harlem community, and other LGBTQ organizations that called and offered their help and support," he said.
Rodriguez said he didn't want to even "waste [his] time" responding to the criticism from the pastors.
Now, Rodriguez said he is expecting 4,000 participants — more than double the amount of the first Harlem Pride celebration last year. Seven local politicians also plan to speak at Saturday's event.
"What we intend this to be is a family celebration," Rodriguez said.
"This threw us into the spotlight with what's going on with marriage equality," he added of the state Legislature's continuing debate over gay marriage. "We have established relationships with many organizations because of this."
Ironically, Rodriguez said, many other Harlem religious groups have come out in support of Harlem Pride. The Rev. Calvin Butts of Abyssinian Baptist Church has said he supports the group's right to hold the event in the park.
Pastor Joseph Tolton, of Rehoboth Temple Christ Conscious Church on West 139th Street, also plans to hold a service at the park this weekend, Rodriguez noted. Almost all of the church's parishioners identify as LGBTQ.
This weekend's events include a festival in Marcus Garvey Park from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday. A health fair will also be held Saturday, from noon to 4 p.m., at the New York Public Library's Harlem Branch on West 124th between, Fifth Avenue and Mt. Morris Park West.
On Sunday, there will be bowling from 6 to 10 p.m. at Harlem Lanes at 2116 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard at West 126th Street.
"Harlem Pride is another opportunity to stand and say we are here and we are moving forward," Rodriguez added.