Religion: Hope for the Homosexual

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On Sunday morning, the movie theater on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood is packed. The front rows are filled with a red-robed choir of men and women. Hymnals are distributed; an organ plays. By Hollywood standards, the congregation is run-of-the-mill: middle-aged businessmen, a few boys in rainbow-hued bellbottoms, muscular types in T shirts, women in assorted styles of pants or skirts, a few motorcycle boys in mustaches and black leather. Whites, blacks, Orientals, Chicanos. Prayers are read. From a chair at the side, a husky 30-year-old man in vestments abruptly rises, steps swiftly out in front of the makeshift altar, and, flashing a beguiling, boyish smile, booms out: "If you love the Lord this morning, say 'Amen!' " "Amen!" roar the 700 worshipers —nearly all of whom are homosexuals. Another service of the Metropolitan Community Church is under way.

The founder and inspiration of the M.C.C. is the Rev. Troy Perry, a homosexual who admits it without embarrassment or shame. Perry preached his first sermon when he was 13, and became a licensed Baptist minister at 15 (a year later he switched to Pentacostalism because he found its kinetic services more to his liking). Though he had his first homosexual experience at nine, he did not accept his sexual orientation until he was 23. By then he was married, the father of two sons and pastor of the Church of God of Prophecy in Santa Ana, Calif. When he finally faced his problem, the district elder to whom he spoke pronounced him demon-possessed and advised him to pray. "I told him I'd prayed till I was blue in the face, but it didn't do any good," says Perry.

Finding a Calling. Separated from both his wife and his church, he moved to Hollywood after a hitch in the Army. There, one summer night in 1968, Perry bailed a fellow homosexual out of jail and tried to calm him. "It's no use," sobbed the young man. "No one cares for us homosexuals."

"God cares," said Perry.

"No, not even God cares," came the answer. At that moment, Perry found his calling.

His church was launched on a tiny ad in the Advocate, a local gay newspaper. Nine friends and three strangers turned up. "It was a mess and a mass," Perry recalls. "But the Lord really moved that day. People were weeping." The church was peripatetic at first, forced to move time after time as landlords discovered the nature of Perry's parishioners and indignantly evicted them. Finally Hollywood's Encore Theater donated its building for Sunday services.

The M.C.C. obviously fulfills a genuine need. With rare exceptions, other denominations either do not want the homosexual or else condemn him. Perry's church does not confine its services to Sunday. It also helps in job placement, offers psychological counseling, discussion and study groups. A 24-hour "hot line" is kept open for any possible emergency. There are even groups to advise "straight" family members who are trying to understand a homophile relative.

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