Washington Post staff writer Darryl Fears profiles Bishop Rainy Cheeks of Inner Light Ministries in D.C. and the black LGBT community he serves. Many of which have been disowned by their families, rejected by the mainstream black church, and are infected with HIV or live in fear of contracting the disease.
From The Washington Post:
At Inner Light, members say they can be themselves. In the pews on a recent Sunday, a woman adoringly placed an arm around the shoulders of her girlfriend. A man with a linebacker's strong build sat near the front wearing mascara. And condoms sat in a basket near the door in case any worshipers wanted to grab some on their way out.
Safe sex is part of the message Cheeks preaches. Two-thirds of his 100 or so parishioners are gay and lesbian, a congregation that includes the young and the old; the healthy and the sick; those who are open about their sexual orientation and those who are more guarded.
They come to the church to pray for forgiveness and seek redemption. But many also come to share their experience of being black and gay, living and loving in a city where HIV and AIDS lurk in epidemic proportions in nearly every community.
One such person is Ronnie Walker, an HIV positive black man who hadn't previously disclosed his HIV status in public prior to visiting Bishop Cheeks' church.
"If you are HIV-positive, stand up," Cheeks commanded during a morning service at Inner Light in 1999. Walker, who had just moved to the District from New York, remembers fidgeting in his pew. I felt like I was in heaven," said Walker, who always heard homosexuality condemned from the pulpit of other churches he had attended. "The only place I feel safe is in my church."
He credits Cheeks with changing his life. The bishop told him to let God in and stop living in the shadows.
Walker was able to confess a deep secret for which he had long sought forgiveness. On the night of his honeymoon in 1973, he had slipped away from his wife to have sex with his best man. During his seven years of marriage, he betrayed her again and again.
The article continues to a paint a clear picture of the damaging effects of homophobia particularly for black LGBT youth, many of whom are at the greatest risk for HIV infection.
"Most messages . . . to young folk is if you're gay or lesbian, you're going to hell," Cheeks said. "So why take responsibility if you're already condemned?
Watch Bishop Cheeks and other D.C. LGBT leaders discuss the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the District here.
A Sanctuary from Hate Slideshow via The Washington Post