Harlem’s Atlah Church has long been infamous for broadcasting homophobic slogans on the sign posted outside its brick facade. For years, residents marveled at the plastic letters arranged to read messages like “Harlem is a homo-free zone,” “Jesus would stone homos,” and “All churches & members that support homos, cursed be thou with cancer.”
But the building that LGBT activists call the “hate church” might soon be changing hands, despite the protests of its controversial pastor, Rev. James Manning.
The Harlem church went up for public auction on Thursday after failing to pay off more than $1 million in debt. Late on Friday, Harlem’s Ali Forney Center, the nation’s largest organization for homeless LGBT youth, announced a fundraiser to buy the church.
“The biggest reason our youths are driven from their homes is because of the homophobic and transphobic religious beliefs of their parents,” Ali Forney Center founder Carl Siciliano said in a statement. “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.”
The center’s crowdfunded donation page has already raised more than $100,000.
In a statement emailed to the Daily Dot on Monday, the group said it planned to combine the crowdfunded dollars with “additional support from local government, major donors and foundations.”
Because the newly empty Atlah Church is being auctioned off, there is no firm guarantee that Ali Forney Center will be able to obtain the building. But the nonprofit plans to use the money to house LGBT youth either way.
The Center currently provides housing for 107 homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people. It runs a 24-hour drop-in center just two blocks west of Atlah Church. Because of its proximity to the church, the group said in a statement, its young clients are “victims of the hateful rhetoric of Reverend Manning and others like him” on a regular basis.
The Ali Forney Center set an initial goal of $200,000. It had raised more than half of that amount in two days.
Update 11:15am CT, Feb. 3: In a video posted Monday to the ATLAHWorldwide YouTube page, Rev. Manning spoke out against the possibility that Ali Forney Center might buy the church.
“This is the Lord’s house,” said Manning in the video. “This ain’t no damn bathhouse. Ain’t no fag house. This is the lord’s house. Before you can ever own this property… men who are fags with testicles will be carrying babies in their testicles and giving birth to them through their anus. That’s how impossible it is for you to get this house… and all you fags can go to hell.”
Photo via Drama Queen (Church of the Pilgrims)/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)