Miami LGBT Inclusion Forum Not Very Inclusive

by Gideon Grudo
Friday Aug 17, 2012

A rabbi, an anti-gay pastor, a gay pastor, a transgender activist, an openly gay politician, and a reverend all walk into a synagogue. It starts off like a joke, but it doesn't proceed like one.

"When someone's belief causes someone else's life harm, there's something wrong with that," Jamesly Louis, a 21-year-old LGBT youth activist says toward the end of the night, looking at Pastor Jack Hakimian, widely known in South Florida as anti-gay. "All the hate comes from the Church."

Louis tries to continue telling the pastor how much the church affected him when he was in high school. It's part of the discussion that night - a forum on how religion can co-exist with the LGBT community, and vice versa. But Louis gasps. And then he cries. And he doesn't stop.

Louis tries to speak through his tears, but it's for naught, all he can muster is a whimper. Hakimian acts fast, jumping out of his seat and approaching Louis, taking his hand and cupping it, apologizing on behalf of the pastors who preach hate and oppression.

It isn't long before North Miami Councilman Scott Galvin, a strong voice advocating against Hakimian in the past months, grabs the microphone and says, to everyone's applause, "Pastor Jack, it's your words that brought this young man to tears. He cries real tears for pain that he has felt."

It all took place Wednesday, Aug. 8, masterminded by Galvin. In the past few months, Galvin has publicly attacked Hakimian for his anti-gay views, though Hakimian readily denies being anti-gay. On his Facebook page, the pastor lashed back with detailed explanations of his views, and accused Galvin of hate-mongering. The two went at it until Galvin wanted to sit down publicly and discuss anti-gay issues. He reached out to old friend and rabbi Jory Lang of Temple Beth Moshe in North Miami, and the two got down to strategy. They wanted to hold a panel whose diversity would compensate for different viewpoints about anti-gay pastoralism and religion as it relates to the LGBT community. For a full list of panelists, see the sidebar.

"When I think of the past of biracial marriages and intra-religious marriages, I know that change comes slowly," Rev. Durrell Watkins of the Sunshine Cathedral said about when the nation can expect to see equal marriage rights.

Tobias Packern from Equality Florida, was a bit more enthusiastic, with reservations.

"I sincerely believe that in a period much shorter than 20 years, the state will recognize gay marriage," he said. "LGBT people are winning the culture race - more and more people are supportive of LGBT. But not enough people vote in favor of LGBT equality."

Hakimian's response drew gasps from the crowd.

"I think there is a resurgence of people who are pro-homosexual marriage - President Obama really lit a fire," he said. "Homosexual marriage will eventually be embraced, but from a theological stance, it'll be the demise of culture."

The crowd eventually calmed down, and the conversation turned to whether one can preach against gay marriage and be pro-gay rights at the same time.

"I think that it is possible that someone could say 'I don't want to interfere with someone's rights to live, but don't ask me to bless it,'" Watkins said. "But when you try to legislate your religion, that's when things get complicated."

Councilman Galvin disagreed.

"My strong belief is that you cannot say that you support equality and then set controls on that equality," he said. "You either accept everybody equally or you don't."

Here, Hakimian's wife Jhael chimed in.

"My only concern with the idea that we can't set parameters is that it's a very slippery slope," she said. "At some point, there have to be boundaries and parameters."

Lang took over the conversation again and explained his own views, arguing that discourse should veer from what everyone disagrees about to what everyone agrees about. For example, he doesn't think a preacher or pastor should say things like "In the name of Jesus..." before giving a sermon. Instead, since most religions have some kind of God, he wants to see everyone say things like "In the name of God..." before continuing.

Hakimian disagreed again.

"Everyone is expressing their beliefs, everyone's trying to evangelize, everyone's trying to legislate their beliefs. When it comes to praying in public, tolerance isn't denying me my freedom of speech," Hakimian said in reference to a recent effort to expel his Miami Church from a North Miami high school for his purported preaching of anti-gay and hateful sermons.

The effort failed, Hakimian arguing the whole time that he deserves his freedom of speech.

"Your idea of tolerance, Rabbi, is neutering people," he said. "To neuter public prayer is to work against the founders, what the nation's about. It's not dehumanizing a Jew if I pray in the name of Jesus."

Joshua Dunkelman from SAVE Dade agreed, somewhat, saying, "Like Jack says, we all come from different backgrounds. We live in the USA. Our founding fathers made a very clear separation between church and state," he said. "'My way or the highway' takes us nowhere."

Not surprisingly, Galvin would later tell SFGN that he felt the forum was a success. This may be the first time in 40 years, he said, that both sides sat down together.

Hakimian, who was the only one representing conservative religion on the panel, didn't feel particularly included.

"For most, it was a time to vent and focus all their anger towards the real 'haters' on us. We knew that would happen before we got there, but God's love for the GLBT community helped us overcome the anger and negative comments," he told SFGN. "We don't take it personally. We just want to talk about truth and what is God's will from a Christian perspective and the founders' vision for America from their Christian perspective."

Hakimian also felt that the audience really targeted him and his wife in their commentary. While Lang allowed the audience to ask questions to the panelists, few did - instead, they told the panel (read: Hakimian) what they thought.

"What is ironic is that they were the majority and they still felt a need to be aggressive when surely we came in a peaceful spirit ready to embrace and engage," he said. "Maybe next time I will get a formal invitation at least five days in advance and not two days before, and there will be more organization and balance on the panel from people of differing views."

Jory and Galvin both agreed that the forum could have been run better, and both were happy to have at least made it happen. They plan to sit down with the panel, discuss shortcomings, and devise a better forum for next time.

Yes, they both promised, there will be a next time.

The Panel

August 8, Temple Beth Moshe was host to an inclusion forum for the LGBT community. The panel is below, as they sat from left to right:

Pastor Jack Hakimian - Impact Church

Jhael Hakimian - Impact Church

Joshua Dunkelman - SAVE Dade

Lisa La Monica - Safe Schools South Florida

Rev. Durrell Watkins - Sunshine Cathedral

Councilman Scott Galvin - North Miami

Tobias Packer - Equality Florida

Jamesly Louis - Pridelines

Father Patrick O'Neill - Archdiocese Miami

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