The latest actually comes from Osvaldo Del Valle, someone I know and greatly respect, who was actually born and raised in the Humboldt Park area of Chicago and has followed Rev. Wilfredo De Jesús' rise in the neighborhood. He says that I am right to question De Jesús qualifications to serve on the city council or whether he will be able to separate his views on homosexuality from his work as a public servant.
But Osvaldo also argues that De Jesús' homophobic sentiments might not be as detrimental to being able to perform public service as an issue that no one is raising at all: A reported plan by De Jesús to open a "5,000 seat mega church in the neighboring district."
"I am hard pressed to believe that Rev. De Jesús will not blur the lines of his duties to his mega church - which are extensive - and his duties as the alderman for the ward," says Osvaldo [read Osvaldo's full message at the end of this post].
In the meantime, blogger NG (NGblog) points out that I might have erred in making a specific assumption about someone who wrote defending De Jesús record on LGBT issues.
Xavier Luis Burgos, who blogs here, had written to say that he was among those who attended a community meeting between De Jesús and 30 LGBT leaders that was held on June 3rd at a Puerto Rican restaurant called "La Borinqueña." Specifically, he argued that most of the LGBT leaders present at the meeting did not live in the city's 26th Ward and that the criticism lobbied at De Jesús was not only uninformed but also dismissive of his work for the Humboldt Latino LGBT community (for the record, Rev. De Jesús currently also does not reside in the 26th Ward although his ministry is in the area).
His comments seemed to be an indirect response to a damaging article that ran this past Wednesday in Windy City Times, Chicago's leading gay newspaper. According to the paper, participants at the meeting said that it had been a disaster for De Jesús and that advocates had left even more concerned about his views on homosexuality. A member of Amigas Latinas, a local Latina lesbian organization, stated that they would oppose his nomination to the city council (another Latino gay men's organization, Association of Latino Men for Action, had also announced their opposition).
My unconfirmed assumption, according to NG, is that Burgos is a gay or bisexual man (on my last post I introduced his comments as the view of those who might be gay and be supportive of De Jesús). And he is right: Burgos was at the meeting between LGBT advocates and De Jesús but he doesn't say whether he identifies himself as an gay or bisexual (nor does he mention any aspects of his sexual identity over at his blog). He also didn't spell out his specific relationship to De Jesús or his push for the city council seat (was he there at the behest of the Reverend? As a member of a gay rights organization? As someone who would stand up for the Reverend if the questions got too heated?).
Is this a big deal? Not necessarily. Burgos doesn't need to be a gay or bisexual man or be forthcoming about his sexuality to advocate for LGBT issues - or to voucher for the Reverend's alleged openness to the LGBT community. But a straight man speaking on behalf of a preacher who is seeking political office and arguing that he is gay-friendly despite several recorded instances in which the Reverend's own words and actions seem to indicate something completely different seems a bit suspect (I tried going online and seeking information about Burgos's past work on LGBT issues and didn't find anything; although I did find several articles about his work in academia and in the community in preserving aspects of Latino and Puerto Rican culture in the neighborhood, on immigrant rights and on the gentrification of Humboldt).
I also found an article from a bilingual newspaper from Chicago aimed at the Latino community called eXtra on the June 3rd meeting ("The Rev. Wilfredo De Jesús speaks out: Addresses comments on homosexuality and other 26th Ward concerns"). It features the photo above which includes, from left to right, Burgos, Vida/SIDA's Zenaida Lopez, Reverend De Jesús and Juan Calderon, who is described as a gay Puerto Rican activist but not as a Vida/SIDA employee (which he is). So, basically, of 30 people who attended the meeting, only folks that work for Vida/SIDA or are associated with the agency seemed willing to stand behind De Jesús.
In the eXtra article, Calderon defends De Jesús from the reporting of the Windy City Times with the same argument that Burgos made, without directly alluding to the Reverend's past homophobic comments: "The people that were commenting on the Rev. are not even a part of this community," Calderon says, "They are not residents or constituents of this community. They have no say on who should be the next alderman."
De Jesús is also given an opportunity to defend himself without being challenged on his comments: "I am not a homophobic. I am not a bigot. I have people in my church who come that are straight, gay, black, white [and] Hispanic," he says [interestingly, to date, the Reverend has failed to return any calls from the Windy City Times seeking clarification of past comments).
Finally, eXtra quotes the Reverend as having met with representatives of Equality Illinois, Amigas Latinas, Boricua Pride, ALMA and Orgullo En Accion, as a sign of his openness but nowhere does it say that at least three of those organizations have sent clear messages that they oppose his city council bid (Equality Illinois, Amigas Latinas and ALMA).
Still no clear apologies or explanations for the following:
- Just last fall De Jesús Pentecostal church was host to a "former transsexual" who claims, in his speeches, that finding Jesus liberated him from being transsexual and has since become a man again. A parishioner also wrote, on the church's website, that she was delivered from a world of drugs, gang-banging, immorality and homosexual relations when she found God. Does De Jesús believe that someone who is gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgender need to change?
- Just last year De Jesús was quoted in Christianity Today as saying that his paramount priorities were opposing abortion and homosexuality. Have his views changed since then and why?
- Just last year, De Jesús was the lead opponent to opening a school for LGBT students in Chicago. His argument? The threat of gays as sexual predators (he told Pupovac Reports the following: “What about that girl who is a virgin, who is being harassed by lesbians and guys to have sex, and yet you're going to build a gay school? It's not fair”). Does he believe that gays and lesbians are sexual predators lying low until they get the chance to pounce on someone and, in particular, children? If not, what would explain his comments?
- And, finally, from the June 3rd meeting: Do you believe that people turn gay because they fall victims to sexual predators in their youth? If not why would you respond to the question 'What if your daughter told you she was a lesbian?' with "Well, I would want to know who did that to her" as you did during the meeting just last month?
As for Vida/SIDA's support for De Jesús, Osvaldo raises interesting issues in his note. Here are his full comments:
As someone born in Chicago and raised in Humboldt Park, I am still suspect of Rev. De Jesus's motives for wanting this post. I know Rev. De Jesus well. We grew up in the same church (Palestine Christian Temple NKA New Life Covenant). His views on homosexuality are ardent and unyielding, let's be clear of that. He will not be even handed either in issues concerning the LGBT of the district. This is my opinion based on my experience of my former Royal Rangers commander.Previously:
Secondly, unfortunately Andrés what you are not privy to regarding the LGBT activist community of the 26th ward (and I am privy to) is that historically, these gay identified activists have always put their sexual orientation second to the Puerto Rican politics of Puerto Rican Cultural Center (insert Jose Lopez here). I do not know Xavier Luis, but I am certainly not surprised by his comments. It falls in line with the Division Street circle of folks.
Also, what has always worked my nerve about Paseo Boricua is that the district is NOT this one mile long strip along Division street. The 26th ward ward encompasses so much more than that. It is diverse, geographically expansive and varied.
Lastly, in the end, we should not be arguing about Rev. De Jesus's is homophobic or not. We should be asking ourselves how this man will effectively run the 26th Ward as its Alderman, while also being the head of a 4000+ congregation. What hasn't been mentioned in the media is Rev. De Jesus's plan to open a reported 5,000 seat mega church in the neighboring district just to the west of the 26th ward on Chicago Avenue. I am hard pressed to believe that Rev. De Jesus will not blur the lines of his duties to his mega church (which are extensive) and his duties as the alderman for the ward.
I hope this gives some new perspective for you Andrés and for your readers.
- Grumble, grumble - and a mea-culpa (July 10, 2009)
- Homophobic Latino preacher in line to join Chicago's City Council (July 9, 2009)