Sunday, July 12, 2009

More reaction to Rev. Wilfredo De Jesús bid for a Chicago City Council Alderman's seat...

My posts on the possibility that a homophobic Latino Pentecostal minister might be selected to serve in Chicago's city council [read this and this] continue to elicit interesting responses from readers.

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?
There is ample evidence here that De Jesús will not be able to separate his homophobic beliefs about homosexuality from his actions even if he wanted (heck! He doesn't even seem to understand how truly awful and offensive his beliefs are to those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. I truly hope that Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley, who has shown leadership in the past on LGBT issues, will take a good look at De Jesús' comments and his refusal or inability to apologize or disown them - and that he selects someone else as the next Alderman of Chicago's 26th District [Daley has until August 1st to decide on a replacement for the vacated seat].

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.

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.


Xavier Luis Burgos said...

Although you do not live in Chicago (which means you do not live nor are a part of the Humboldt Park-Paseo Boricua community) I can see why you are so passionate about discrediting De Jesús and those who support him.

If you were from this community, then you would know the respect people have for the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and Vida/SIDA in breaking down homophobia and transphobia. All those organizations you mentioned do work on LGBTQ issues and this community has worked closely with them, but none of them specifically focus on Humboldt Park, the Puerto Rican community, or Paseo Boricua (its a one-mile strip on Division St and the economic, cultural, political, and educational heart of East Humboldt Park and the Puerto Rican community.). The PRCC does and this is why this organization's stance on this issue is important and not to be taken lightly. Other organizations can oppose De Jesús all they want - they do not have a strong base in this community like his church or the PRCC. As you already saw on my blog, there are key reasons why people should support him. They might be hard for people to understand since they do not live and work in this community.

For the record, yes, I am gay. I am a columnist for the community newspaper (what you see on my blog will be published) and a known, openly gay member of this community (I was also a part of two LGBTQ-focused Puerto Rican/Latina/o organizations in Humboldt Park a few years back - Juventud del Ambiente Boricua (you can probably find it online since that's what you do, lol). Many of this groups members were at this meeting but were not photographed. Their names were listed in La Voz del Paseo Boricua newspaper in support of Pastor Choco. The newspaper has a website, but it might not include this list. You could get a hard copy, but yeah... you are in New York. ;-)

As for Osvaldo Del Valle...never heard of his either. Being born and raised somewhere though does not mean much if he or she is not around to contribute to the growth of a community (my family has lived and worked in Humboldt Park since the late 1940s, lol)

Nonetheless, the work for this community will not happen on blogs but in the real work of opening people's minds and hearts. I hope people reading my comment can see that there are more sides to this issue - and from someone who is living t. :-)

Blabbeando said...

Xavier: I am sure there are many reasons to support De Jesus based on his record of community work and profile in the neighborhood. Even if he is not chosen to the city council, he will probably continue to do so.

But I am certain, as in many other Latino/Puerto Rican communities throughout the United States - including Humboldt's - there are a number of other worthwhile candidates who have contributed just as much to the community and yet have no record of opposing gays and lesbians - or statements that indicate that it would be difficult to separate his beliefs from work in public office.

To date I have not heard any of his backers - nor De Jesus himself - take back or explain his recent comments as reported by media such as the Tribune (instead De Jesus seems intent on affirming that those are his views based on the Bible and to leave offending views about homosexuality on his church's website).

I might not live in Humboldt but I have previous experience with a certain NYC Pentecostal reverend, also from Puerto Rico, who has always claimed he doesn't hate the gays (only their sin). He also was the lead opponent of a local high-school for LGBT youth, used similar arguments about the wealthy white gays not caring about his community to place wedges between communities, and preached against gentrification to rile up people in his community against other communities (I for one don't think being LGBT precludes one from also critisizing indiscriminate gentrification of neighborhoods as your personal work amply demonstrates).

Our own De Jesus is the Reverend Ruben Diaz, Sr., who as a city councilmember opposed the gay games saying that gays would spread AIDS, currently says that there is no such thing as separation of church and state and - if there is - he will always answer the higher call of God first, and - as a Senator - hijacked the State Senate and held it hostage until the majority leader agreed not to bring a marriage equality bill for a vote as a preamble to our local legislative mess.

So, LOL and :) my concerns away and dismiss them because I don't live there. It seems that "you don't live here, so you don't understand" seems to be the recourse that is left to turn a deaf ear to any criticism of De Jesus.

Obviously, we will have to disagree although perhaps if I visit Chicago one of this days, you will still want to sit down and have coffee to mull over these and other things.

Osvaldo Del Valle said...

My point is proven about how some people cannot see past Division Street. For the record solely, I dedicated five years of my life working at Youth Service Project (North Ave & Pulaski) working in the NRC Program that provided clinical counseling to middle school boys and girls at four local area schools (Lowell, Stowe, Casals, Cameron), as well as provide individual clinical services at our center. I was also a member of the City of Chicago's Commission on Human Relations Advisory Council on Gay and Lesbian Issues for two years representing my neighborhood--Humboldt Park.
Lastly, in my undergrad years, I was voted the first openly gay president of the Puerto Rican Student Association at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the PRSA worked with organization in Humboldt Park. Any one can certainly confirm this with my mentee Ruben Feliciano who is still actively involved in the community.

Xavier Luis Burgos said...

I guess Andrés we have to agree to disagree (and I can do that), because I still disagree with many of yours points as you do of mine. New York just is not Chicago - the political dynamics are just different, especially within the Puerto Rican community. That is why when you're ever in Chicago again, I would be more than willing to give you a tour of this community and introduce you to those you probably read about and are involved in the work to build this community (whether it deals with homophobia and transphobia, gentrification, youth issues, education...etc). Osvaldo might think its about not seeing "past Division St" but it is really seeing that without a community to build you do not have a community in which to challenge and engage. Abandon Paseo Boricua and you abandon the Puerto Rican community. Even my good friend Ruben knows that. :-)