LOS ANGELES -- When veteran human rights activists Jesse Jackson and Troy Perry held a joint rally and press conference in Los Angeles, it turned into more than a public statement against hate crimes.
It launched a national movement.
During Thursday's standing-room only rally in West Hollywood, the Rev. Troy Perry, Founder and Moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, announced the formation of a national campaign, "200,000 by 2000."
"The shock and pain we have felt around Matthew Shepard's murder must be translated beyond words into action," said Perry, a delegate to President Clinton's White House Conference on Hate Crimes. "The "200,000 by 2000 Campaign" is a positive step in this direction. The campaign is gathering signatures and endorsements of 200,000 American religious leaders calling for full enactment of federal hate crimes legislation by the Year 2000."
Perry, who attended funeral services for Matt Shepard and who led the Community Memorial Service in Wyoming, knows something about hate crimes. More than 20 congregations of the predominantly gay Metropolitan Community Churches have been victimized by the hate crimes of arson and firebombing, and numerous others have been targets of desecration and vandalism.
A broad coalition of religious leaders has endorsed the "200,000 by 2000 Campaign," including Bishop Melvin Talbert, Resident Bishop of San Francisco for the United Methodist Church; Rabbi Brad Artson, Vice President of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California; the Rev. Dr. Paul Sherry, President of the United Church of Christ; Bishop Carl Bean, Presiding Bishop of Unity Fellowship of Churches Movement; and the Rev. John Buehrens, President of the Unitarian Universalists Association.
The Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, Senior Pastor of MCC LA which hosted the rally, commented, "Who would have dreamed that a predominantly gay organization would be helping to set the pace for passage of hate crimes protections by religious leaders from across a broad diversity of America's faith communities?"
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, President of Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and previous candidate for President of the United States, echoed the call, noting, "We are in a struggle between dreams and dream busters. Our challenge is to turn pain into power."
During his Los Angeles appearance at the Metropolitan Community of Los Angeles, Jackson expressed strong support for passage of the Federal Hate Crimes Protection Act and his solidarity with the gay and lesbian community.
Other speakers at the rally includes Rabbi Steven Jacob, Rabbi of Kol Tikvah of Woodland Hills and the Rev. Leonard Jackson, Associate Pastor of First AME Church of Los Angeles and a Board Member of the Interfaith Alliance. The Rev. Dawn Wilder, Director of UFMCC's youth ministry, shared her moving personal experiences of providing spiritual support to high school and college students in Wyoming this past week and of her visit to the fence where Matt Shepard died.
The rally was unusual by the large amount of press coverage it received from wire services, newspapers, television stations, TV news magazines and documentary makers. "The media attention is another indication of how deeply Matt Shepard's life and death have touched every segment of our society," said Perry.
According to Perry, religious leaders will present the 200,000 signatures to Congress on April 30, 2000 as part of the Millennium March on Washington for Equality.