For the queer Internet, the Atlah World Missionary Church has been something of a dark joke since it first made headlines in 2014 for its hateful street-facing sign, which often features Christian messages like “Jesus Would Stone the Homos.” But for residents of Harlem like me, the church and its congregation—led by the Right Rev. James D. Manning—has felt more like an immediate threat. Just recently, I was walking up Malcolm X Boulevard with a friend, and while he paused to get a photo of the crazy residing at 123rd St., I found myself almost unconsciously hurrying a half-block ahead for fear of drawing the wrong kind of attention. Religious groups are allowed their theology, of course, but when they threaten actual violence, that’s something the surrounding community does not need.
Lucky for us, it appears the “hate church” is not long for this sinful world. Last week, DNAinfo revealed that the church owes more than $1 million to various creditors, and a state judge has ordered that the property be sold at a public foreclosure auction on Feb. 24. Manning is protesting the nine federal tax liens and unpaid utility bills, saying the church is exempt from such concerns—but the courts disagree. Barring some legal stop-gap, Atlah will come to an end later this month.
But the good news doesn’t end there. The Ali Forney Center, a wonderful nonprofit dedicated to fighting LGBTQ youth homelessness, has mounted a fundraising campaign with the goal of buying the church and converting it into housing and a base for a youth-run catering business. This expansion would enhance AFC’s presence in Harlem, which currently comprises a nearby drop-in center and housing for 24 local clients. Carl Siciliano, the founder and executive director of the AFC, characterized the Atlah sale as a golden opportunity for social justice in a statement from the organization:
The biggest reason our youths are driven from their homes is because of homophobic and transphobic religious beliefs of their parents. Because of this, it has been horrifying for us to have our youths exposed to Manning’s messages inciting hatred and violence against our community. It has meant the world to us that so many Harlem residents have stood up to support our young people, and are now urging us to provide urgently needed care at the site of so much hatred. If we are able to obtain the space it would truly be a triumph of love over hatred.
The campaign, which only began over the weekend, had raised half of its $200,000 goal at the time of writing. According to AFC, this initial amount will be used “to obtain additional support from local government, major donors and foundations.” And of course, if for whatever reason the planned purchase cannot be completed, the organization has pledged to “increase its housing and vocational services for homeless LGBT youth in another site.”
If you’re into the beauty of a little poetic justice, you can donate to the effort over at the AFC’s site.