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Activists Create Signs to Protest Harlem Church's Homophobic Messages

By Gustavo Solis | August 25, 2014 5:40pm
  Liz Jackson began the guerilla sign campaign with a fundraiser for the Ali Forney Center hosted at Harlem Shake. She hopes to see the new signs on storefronts and windows around town.
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HARLEM — Opposition to Atlah Worldwide Church's homophobic messages on its signboard is growing.

For three years Liz Jackson, an advocate for the handicapped and gay and lesbian issues, has passed by church signs inscribed with phrases like “Jesus would stone homos,” on her way to the subway station. She decided to do something about it by asking people to write their own signs.

Jackson created a mockup of a blank Atlah signboard for the public to print out and fill out with their own messages.

Jackson began the guerilla sign campaign with a fundraiser for the Ali Forney Center, a center from homeless LGBT youth, hosted at Harlem Shake — right across the street from the controversial church.

The goal is to start seeing positive, inclusive signs around the neighborhood in storefronts and windows.

She has been photographing the signs and posting them online with the hashtag #HarlemLove.

“One of them said ‘Love is all you need…and gay sex,’” said Jackson said.

Local stores like Harlem Haberdashery have started handing them out, she added.

To make sure it’s a community effort, Jackson invited opponents who have been fighting the sign for years. She invited Michael Henry Adams, who has been trying to get the Landmarks Preservation Commission to take down the sign, to the protest.

Despite the groundswell against the church, pastor James David Manning of Atlah does not plan to change the way he preaches, he said, whether people agree with it or not.

“The word [that] God teaches is about love, but it is not about loving evil,” he said.

The contents of the sign are protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution, he added.

Adams has reached out to elected officials in his bid to take down the sign, but they are reluctant to step in, he said.

State Senator Bill Perkins said he has walked by that sign many times. The church even called him out for supporting gay-rights legislation a few years back. But he said Atlah and Pastor Manning are protected under the First Amendment.

"It's a liberty that can be abused, it can be inhumane," he said.

Councilwoman Inez Dickens agreed.

"It's kind of hard to put a stop to it because technically speaking he has a right to say whatever he wants," a spokeswoman for the councilwoman said.

Because of that protection there isn't much Perkins said he can do, but he said he supports people speaking out against it.

"Public pressure can make a difference," he said. "We encourage people to speak against it."

Representative Charles Rangel did not respond to calls seeking comment on the protests.

Jackson hopes her sign campaign replace hate with love and acceptance, she said.

She signed up for the Miss Harlem Shake contest pageant to put pressure on Atlah by having an “out and proud lesbian,” be crowned winner and decided to step up her efforts against the church thanks to the community’s support, she said.

“Everybody was so enthusiastic, a lot of people ended up taking the signs home,” she said. “I was really thrilled.”