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Bully pulpit

Bully pulpit

Billy Porter, actor (Broadway’s Kinky Boots)

On Saturday, July 22, at 8:30 p.m., Broadway star Billy Porter will protest in song outside Focus on the Family as Soulforce completes its 1,000-watt March, Vigil, and Concert, confronting the antigay bigotry of James Dobson. As Porter prepares for the demonstration, he looks back at how Christianity affected his younger self.

There's an old hymn that says, "This little light of mine / I'm going to let it shine / Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!" I used to sing this song in church when I was a little boy armed with the belief that the light inside of me was one that was worth shining. My voice was my direct connection to God, and I sang proudly in my Pentecostal church choir every week with the unwavering impression that God was a loving God and that I was one of his children. I was taught that God's love was unconditional and that anyone could be the recipient of it--as long as they "believed in their hearts and spoke with their mouths."

As early as the age of 7 I remember the adults in my life engaging in conversations behind closed doors, whispering to my mother about how "my light" might be shining just a little too brightly. For you see, my light was not a small simple light, it was opalescent--a rainbow of effulgent light whose colors were synonymous with sin. I didn't know why I felt sinful at the time; I just knew somewhere deep inside that I was. I prayed for deliverance. I prayed for a healing. I prayed for my light to shine an appropriate and subtle white: "Dear Lord, whatever is inside of me that's not pleasing to you--take it out." Then puberty hit, and I realized what all the fuss was about. The whispering and private conversations even became personal attacks from the pulpit. It seemed like not a single service could go by without some passive-aggressive minister or evangelist brandishing Leviticus 18:22 in my face. It became so toxic that I stopped wanting even to go to church since every time I was there I was either being told that I was an abomination and a disgrace or that AIDS was punishment for my homosexual urges. Something I didn't even have control over was causing an international plague. My light was dimming.

The straw that broke the camel's back came at the Believers Convention, where the now-famous televangelist Joyce Meyer was the headlining minister of the evening. The conference was happening in my hometown of Pittsburgh, and I was invited to be the soloist. Something in my spirit told me not to go, but my mother really wanted me to, so I accepted the invitation. My solo was situated in the service directly before Meyer was to bring forth "the word." After finishing my song, I returned to my seat in the congregation, which was about three fourths of the way towards the back of the sanctuary. Meyer rose from her seat in the pulpit to preach, and the first words out of her mouth were, "Brother Porter, I want to talk to you. Won't you stand up for me?"

I stood.

"The Lord spoke to me, and I have a word from Him. He told me to tell you that every time you come into the house of the Lord, you need to sit in the front pew. Because if you sit in the front pew every time you come into the house of the Lord, it'll keep you straight."

There were audible gasps. I took the walk of shame to the front pew as the multiple thousands in the congregation glared in pious silence. Pastor Meyer proceeded to dive into her sermon and skillfully pull out some Bible verse that swirled her public outing of me into some message about living on the "straight and narrow." My light was officially out.

"This little light of mine / I'm going to let it..."

I prayed to be fixed, but He didn't do it. I prayed to be healed, but I was still a homo. I spent a decade rejecting religion. I took my inappropriate light and decided to shine her elsewhere. There was no place for me at the table where the feast of the Lord was going on. I allowed the dogmas and arbiters of the religious right to take my God away. I lurked silently in the shadows of shame while my gay brothers and sisters were dying. And then on September 12, 2001, I woke up and my voice was gone. The only thing that made me want to live was gone. I prayed. I asked the Lord why. And then came Jerry Falwell's blame: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way--all of them who have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"

And there it was again: my sexuality exposed as the cause of all the world's horrors. The Lord spoke to me this time--directly--and I finally listened. "Speak up, and speak out, and I will give you voice." So here I stand. Speaking up, speaking out, and letting my glorious light shine like it should. I recently sat in the New York City hospital room of my dear friend Kevin Aviance after he was savagely beaten on an East Village street for being gay, and I thought to myself, Where are our leaders? Where are the people with influence who will stand up for me and my gay brethren? I am disappointed with our government. I am disappointed with our nation. But I am the most disappointed with my African-American 'Christian' brothers and sisters who stand proudly on their pulpits and use the Bible to regurgitate the very same hate rhetoric that was inflicted on the black community not so long ago.

I never considered myself an activist in the past. I respect that title too much to take it lightly. But with the recent increase in hate-bias attacks directed toward our community, and the struggle for us to gain the simplest of civil rights, I am filled with a raging sense of activism. Our bodies, our health, and our basic civil liberties are at stake. It is time to let the world know: We will not let you take our God away. We will not be ignored! We will not be denied! And if God is going to send us to a burning hell for being the people that He created us to be--we'll see each and every one of you there.

"Shine! Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!"

To find out more about the Soulforce 1,000-watt March, Vigil, and Concert, go to

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