Concert concludes justice march from Denver to Colorado Springs to peacefully confront the anti-gay bigotry of Focus on the Family
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: July 23, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Richard Lindsay, Interim Media Director
(Colorado Springs, CO) — The 1000 Watt March, Vigil and Concert ended last night with a celebration of family in song. Billy Porter wowed the audience gathered in front of Focus on the Family headquarters with a mix of gospel, soul and Broadway. Between songs, Porter told the audience how much the work of Soulforce had meant to him in his personal spiritual journey and his family’s acceptance of his sexual orientation. He related an all-too-familiar story to the audience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their families, of being brought up in a highly religious family and being told he could not reconcile being gay and being Christian. After many battles with God, Porter said he had lost his voice five years ago to health problems and felt God was telling him he had to start using his voice to speak out about his spiritual journey as a gay man. His voice returned to nearly full strength, and he went on to write a critically acclaimed one-man show, Ghetto Superstar, and record a sizzling sophomore album, On the Corner of Broadway and Soul. More importantly, his strict Pentecostal mother, with whom he had been estranged, came to accept him as a gay man, in part through reading Soulforce founder Mel White’s book, Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America. The audience teared up with Porter as he told them that his mother, who always prays with him when they end their phone conversations, recently prayed for the first time for Billy and his partner.
Prior to the concert, several hundred people joined in a two-mile justice march from Rampart Park to the Focus on the Family headquarters, led by Judy Shepard and actor Chad Allen. Members of the crowd, which came from all over Colorado — and all over the nation — carried rainbow flags and American flags, and signs with slogans like: "Separate church and hate." The marchers split into two lines and wound around both sides of the Focus on the Family campus, eventually meeting up on the other side. They joined hands forming a line across the entire front of the massive complex of buildings and stood in silent protest of Focus on the Family teachings that denigrate and demean LGBT people.
Speaking to the parents of LGBT children, Judy Shepard, mother of slain gay college student Matthew Shepard said, "The men who killed my son have families who care about them and worry about them. There are some parents who throw their children out because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Are you telling me that your child being gay is worse than being a murderer?" Shepard added, "You have to love them, they’re your kids."
Openly gay actor Chad Allen said about the LGBT community, "This is my family and I am proud of my family. It’s a colorful family and I love it. I am proud of how we have overcome all kinds of oppression." He quoted a scripture verse that says you can judge a tree by its fruit, and suggested that the spiritual fruit born from the struggles of the LGBT community have proved its value to the human family.
After addressing the audience, Shepard invited all parents of LGBT children to join her in presenting a gift to Focus on the Family. The diminutive mom then marched down the center aisle of chairs set up for the concert with a red album with "Family" written across it in script. The book included photos and brief bios of all the families that had taken part in the 65-mile march from Denver to Colorado Springs. Several dozen family members of LGBT people followed Shepard up to the gates of Focus on the Family bathed in the light of news cameras. As they approached the line, Chad Allen called out to Focus on the Family staffers who had gathered to comment on the event to the media. A security guard approached as the assembled family members held their breath to see if Focus on the Family would accept Soulforce’s gift of the stories of the lives of LGBT families. The security guard agreed, and the audience cheered as Shepard handed over the red album, engulfing her in hugs and thanking her for her powerful witness as a mom who loved and accepted her gay son even when the world did not.
After a night of singing, dancing and marching for justice, executive director Jeff Lutes addressed the audience at the end of Billy Porter’s stellar performance. Lutes said, "When you go home this evening, hug your kids or your parents, tell your partner or your friends you love them, and know that God loves you and your family exactly as you are." It was a fitting benediction for a week spent celebrating and fighting for the real meaning of ‘family.’
To find out more about the Soulforce 1000 Watt March, Vigil and Concert, please see: www.soulforce.org/1000wattmarch.
Consistent with the first step in the principles of nonviolence taught by Gandhi and King, Soulforce researched and documented false claims by Focus on the Family about LGBT people, couples and families. That research is compiled in a booklet, entitled "A False Focus on My Family" and a DVD, entitled, "Dear Dr. Dobson." This powerful and eye-opening booklet is available free online at www.soulforce.org/article/false-focus-family and the DVD is available free to press upon request.
Soulforce’s purpose is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.