“Poetic justice” is a phrase rarely used to describe unpaid bills, foreclosure or youth homelessness. However, in recent weeks in Harlem, the phrase has been repeated in everything from prominent blogs to local news coverage as an LGBTQ youth support center attempts to expand into a nearby church.
On January 28, DNAinfo New York released the news that the Harlem-based ATLAH World Missionary Church will be placed on public foreclosure auction after amassing unpaid bills of more than $1.02 million. Led by Pastor James Manning, the church has made headlines in the past for Manning’s extreme anti-gay comments, which include his assertion that gay Americans will “become cannibals” in 2016.
The next day, LGBTQ blogger Joe Jervis of the Joe. My. God. blog broke the news that the nearby Ali Forney Center (AFC) will attempt to raise money to purchase the ATLAH Church space at the upcoming auction. The AFC is the nation’s largest agency dedicated to homeless LGBTQ youth, serving more than 1,400 youth per year across 10 housing sites and a 24-hour drop-in center. Focusing on more than simply housing, AFC also provides supportive services like medical and mental health care, job training, education and a city-wide outreach program. In 2012, President Obama named AFC founder and executive director Carl Siciliano a White House Champion for Change for his work to empower homeless LGBTQ youth.
The AFC’s drop-in center is located mere blocks from ATLAH, which has a street-facing message board out front featuring proclamations such as “Jesus would stone homos.” Should AFC acquire the church, they would use the site to provide housing for an additional 18-20 homeless LGBTQ youth. AFC currently has a waiting list of over 200 individuals seeking housing.
In the past week, the potential sale has attracted media attention from outlets like LGBTQ Nation, Huffington Post, Slate, CBS New York, Buzzfeed and The Guardian, as well as the popular podcast The Savage Lovecast.
Stacy Parker Le Melle, of the Harlem Against Hate campaign launched in response to the situation, referred to these efforts as potentially “poetic justice” for Harlem’s LGBTQ youth, and her words have been echoed by other advocates. According to a 2012 Williams Institute study, 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Of these, 46 percent left home because of family rejection and 43 percent were forced out by their parents because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In Le Melle’s experience, much of this rejection has its roots in family religious beliefs.
Siciliano released a statement that highlights precisely what this sale would mean to the center.
“The biggest reason our youths are driven from their homes is because of homophobic and transphobic religious beliefs of their parents. 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. It has meant the world to us that so many Harlem residents have stood up to support our young people, and are now urging us to provide urgently needed care at the site of so much hatred. If we are able to obtain the space it would truly be a triumph of love over hatred.”
The AFC hopes to raise at least $200,000 before the auction, which will take place on February 24. If they are unsuccessful in acquiring the building, the funds will be put toward increasing housing and vocational services at another site.
Click here for more information on AFC’s fundraising progress.