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Activists Condemn 'Lesbians' Sermon

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By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 16, 2005

One of Washington's prominent black ministers has set off a firestorm among the city's gay community with a recent sermon in which he denounced lesbianism in unusually graphic language, warned that it is about "to take over our community" and asserted that one reason women become lesbians is because "lot of the sisters making more money than brothers."

The Rev. Willie F. Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington, said during a recorded July 3 sermon: "You got to be careful when you say you don't need no man. 'I can make it by myself.' Well, if you don't need a man, what's left?"

Wilson's remarks, first reported yesterday by the Washington Blade, stunned local gay leaders. Several said they were inappropriate because of Wilson's role as national executive director of the 10-year commemoration of the Million Man March in October.

Wilson, a former mayoral candidate, did not respond to phone messages left at his church and home yesterday seeking comment.

His sermons usually are recorded and then sold. The Washington Post obtained a CD of this sermon from Philip Pannell of Southeast, who served in 2000 as Mayor Anthony A. Williams's liaison for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender affairs.

Pannell said he was "stunned" by the remarks. "He has every right to say what he wants from his pulpit," Pannell said. "However, in his role as national director of the [October march] it does not make the gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual African American community seem welcome when these attitudes are expressed publicly."

Longtime gay civil rights activist Carlene Cheatam of Northeast said Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan, principal leader of the first Million Man March, "needs to denounce those words from . . . Wilson." Farrakhan's office referred a reporter to the Chicago office of the Million Man March. Officials there did not respond to a message seeking comment.

"How do you go from women making money and then that having an impact on your sexual orientation?" Cheatam asked. "There are too many strong African American women who are advancing in this society that he is insulting."

Pannell said the comments seem to explain why Wilson had not attended meetings organized by gay and lesbian activists to plan for the upcoming commemoration. "It's clear they don't want us to be part of this [event], except showing up and boosting the numbers on the Mall that day," Pannell said. "That's not empowering at all."

Some members of the gay community said they were especially shocked because the remarks ran counter to Wilson's relationship with the community in the past. He was the first influential black preacher in the District to open his church for a forum in 1999 on discrimination against homosexuals in the black church.

The pastor's comments on lesbians came in the middle of a rambling sermon.

After decrying rising prices, he said: "I ain't against women working, but it's become a necessity that they work now. Was a time when a man could get a job in a factory and do all right.

"We live in a time now brothers have been so put down, can't get a job. Lot of the sisters making more money than brothers, and it's created problems in families. That's one of the reasons our families [are] breaking up and that's one of the reasons many of our women are becoming lesbians," he said.

Lesbianism is about "to take over our community. I'm talking about young girls. My son in high school last year. Tried to go to the prom. He said, 'Dad, I ain't got nobody to take to the prom because all the girls in my class are gay. Ain't but two of 'em straight, and both of them ugly," Wilson recounted.

The pastor, who said he was not homophobic, then described a gay sexual encounter in explicit and derogatory terms.

The Rev. Candace R. Shultis, pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, a gay congregation, said "it was unbelievable that someone would . . . use that kind of language from the pulpit." The graphic detail, she said, "tells me he doesn't know a whole lot about the gay lifestyle."


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