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Money Pours In to Help LGBT Groups Buy Homophobic Church

By Gustavo Solis | February 1, 2016 10:12am
 The Atlah church is going up for auction over unpaid debts.
The Atlah church is going up for auction over unpaid debts.
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DNAinfo/Gustavo Solis

HARLEM — Two LGBT advocacy groups raising money to buy the homophobic Atlah Church building at its foreclosure auction later this month have attracted a flood of donations — racking up more than $100,000 in less than three days.

The LGBT-inclusive church River of Living Waters Ministries and the Ali Forney Center, the country’s largest organization to helping LGBT homeless youth, have independently set up crowdfunding campaigns online.

In the short time between when the campaigns launched on Friday and Monday morning, the groups have raised more than $100,000 — more than $17,000 for Living Waters and more than $96,000 for Ali Forney.

Both fundraising campaigns were launched after DNAinfo New York first reported that Atlah Worldwide Church, known for its  “Jesus would stone homos” on their sign on 123rd Street, owes more than $1 million to creditors and a state judge ordered the building to be sold in a public auction.

“When the ATLAH story broke on Thursday, immediately I heard from neighbors: wouldn't it be amazing if an LGBT group could acquire the property? What if it were the Ali Forney Center?  We all knew that this would be poetic justice," Stacy Parker Le Melle, who has helped the center oppose the Atlah Church under the initiative "Love Not Hate," wrote in the fundraising description.

"The biggest reason our youths are driven from their homes is because of homophobic and transphobic religious beliefs of their parents," added Carl Siciliano, executive director of Forney. "Because of this, it has been horrifying for us to have our youths exposed to Manning's messages inciting hatred and violence against our community.”

Harlem residents have protested the church’s homophobic sign for years, in some cases raising money for the Ali Forney Center as a form of protest.

Currently, more than 100 homeless LGBT youth are housed in Ali Forney facilities, including 24 in Harlem. Their uptown location is just a few blocks away from Atlah and serves more than 1,000 youths each year, according to the center.  

If the Ali Forney Center is not able to buy the building, the group said it will use any funds raised to increase its housing and vocational services for homeless LGBT youth at another site.

The Rivers of Living Water began nine years ago in Harlem but has never had a permanent home. It currently holds services at the basement of the Saint Paul and Saint Andrew United Methodist Church on the Upper West Side.

The church has more than 200 members, most of them gay. It performs same-sex marriages and offers services to youth and seniors.

“Now that the hate spewing anti-LGBT Atlah church is going up for auction, we believe it would be divine justice to replace that church with our radically inclusive and open and affirming ministry,” the church said in a statement.  

The public auction is scheduled for Feb. 24.

James Manning, Atlah's pastor, said he plans to fight the judge's order to sell the building in court by arguing that their tax exempt status means they don't have to pay their creditors.