By PETER BAILEY, email@example.com
Outraged over the ministers' decision to announce their support of Mayor Jim Naugle's crusade against homosexuals on Sept. 4, about 20 gay activists wearing red shirts and AIDS pins condemned the clergymen the next day for not being sympathetic to their cause -- one they say mirrors the African-American struggle.
The ministers did not agree.
''You didn't have to drink from separate fountains. Our struggle is not the same . . . you can't equate race and sexuality,'' O'Neal Dozier, pastor of the Worldwide Christian Center, told one activist. ``Slavery was not a choice.''
''Yours is a message of hate, minister . . . You don't speak on behalf of freedom,'' answered Michael Rajner of the Campaign to End AIDS, a nonprofit group.
Now the debate over gay rights threatens to drive a wedge between members of South Florida's black community. Despite the support that many black ministers showed for Naugle, the local NAACP took a public stand against the mayor, calling his crusade a ``hate campaign.''
''I'm not here to condone or condemn gay sex,'' Marsha Ellison, head of the Broward NAACP, told The Miami Herald. ``This is a hate campaign against gays launched by the mayor.''
She said the branch's position -- adopted after a unanimous vote of its 22-member executive committee as well as branch members -- echoes the national NAACP's position. ''Anytime any group is discriminated against it becomes a civil rights issue,'' she said.
NAACP Chairman Julian Bond made national headlines with his recent endorsement of gay marriage -- a step several prominent black ministers publicly criticized.
While Bond has noted that ''no parallel between movements for rights is exact,'' his position differs with ministers and others who suggest that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. He wrote last year: ``Like race, our sexuality isn't a preference -- it is inborn, and the Constitution protects us all against discrimination based on immutable differences.''
Naugle drew scorn from gay activists nationwide after endorsing an advisory board proposal to spend $250,000 on an automated public restroom on Fort Lauderdale beach. The mayor said it would cut down on men having sex in public facilities.
Initially, the city said only two people had been arrested for sexual activity in a public restroom since 2005. But Naugle recently said that number is at least eight, including a recent arrest at Holiday Park.
Coming to Naugle's support this month was a coalition of ministers who argue that the NAACP's stand is out of step.
''The NAACP is getting away from their mission . . . the organization never got involved with sex sins,'' said Mathis Guice, director of the men's ministry at Koinonia Worship Center and former vice president of the Broward NAACP. ``Homosexuals have masterfully redefined words to suit their cause . . . theirs is not a civil rights issue.''
It's the first time the branch has taken a public stand on behalf of gay rights, said Guice, a member of the branch for more than 20 years and its former vice president. Guice, Dozier and other ministers gathered at a rally with Naugle at City Hall on Sept. 4 to stir what they call a ''spiritual revival'' in hopes to ``transform Fort Lauderdale and Broward County into the Bible Belt of South Florida.''
Some black ministers in Miami-Dade also were disappointed in the NAACP.
''I was very taken back by their position,'' says the Rev. Richard P. Dunn, the head of PULSE, People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality. ``I get offended when they compare gay rights to civil rights.''
The Rev. Victor Curry, who heads the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
For his part, Naugle says the gay rights issue is playing a divisive role in the black community. He told The Miami Herald that Ellison's ``position damages the NAACP and its credibility to the community it serves.''
``On this issue I've gotten the strongest support from the black community . . . from people in Northwest Fort Lauderdale.''
Ellison argues that Naugle, like some white conservative politicians, is appeasing to the black clergy's staunch opposition to gay rights to garner favor among a constituency that hasn't been a power base for conservatives.
''They jump on the gay issue and win every time,'' said Ellison. ``There are ministers that won't even touch the topic because of the stigma attached.''
Ellison and others argue the clergy is ignoring Naugle's questionable track record with blacks.
The mayor drew harsh criticism last April from the city's predominantly black Northwest section when he rallied against an economic revitalization plan along Sistrunk Boulevard spearheaded by Commissioner Carlton Moore. Naugle sparked further anger after siding with police after the November 2006 shooting death of Troy Eddines, 21, -- the fourth police slaying that year.
''It's baffling that those ministers have chosen to stand with Naugle,'' said Ellison. ``He's attacking gays now . . . it'll be blacks next.''
''He's continued to be downright derogatory about various groups of people different from himself, whether they be black, poor or gay,'' said the Rev. Rosalind Osgood, of Mount Olive Baptist Church. ``My faith doesn't allow me to support the practice of homosexuality, but no one should be degraded . . . Jesus loves everybody regardless of their sins or other problems.''
Naugle, for his part, maintains he has a ''great track record'' with the city's black community.
Nevertheless, Osgood says the black clergy's dual roles as leaders of the civil rights movement and biblical scholars puts them in an awkward position with the gay community.
''It puts us as black clergy between a rock and a hard place,'' she said. ``Our faith says we should be inclusive of all people, but it does give us rules on how to live our lives.''