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www.ambiente.us  MAY / MAYO 2008

STANDING UP TO SALLY:
ONE MINISTER’S JOURNEY TO TELL THE GOSPEL TRUTH
by Steve Ralls

Rev. Loyce Newton-Edwards doesn’t, on first impression, seem like the
kind of person who might try to start a revolution right in the middle of
America’s heartland.  An assistant pastor at the Church of the Open Arms
United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, Newton-Edwards is a proud
grandmother, a devoted wife and a long-time community activist.
In recent weeks, however, Newton-Edwards has also become Oklahoma
State Representative Sally Kern’s worst nightmare.

When Kern was caught earlier this year referring to the gay community as
“the greatest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism,� she
likely anticipated the firestorm of controversy her comments would ignite
in the LGBT community.  What she probably did not expect, however, was
the rallying cry her speech would be for Rev. Newton-Edwards, whose
own brother, Toni, was transgender and faced unthinkable prejudice
growing up in the American South during the 1950s.

“My initial reaction to Kern’s hate-filled speech against our beloved LGBT families and friends was
one of shock and disbelief,â€� Newton-Edwards says.  â€œIt also stirred up many feelings of déjà  vu.  Her
words were from the same tradition of racist, sexist and stereotypical words and attacks that have been used
against people of color and women.  They were a classic example of religious bigotry in motion.â€�

And so Newton-Edwards, who also serves as president of the Oklahoma City chapter of Parents, Families
and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) decided to see Kern’s religious interpretation, and raise her
a kern-el of truth . . . or two.  What played out was one of the most talked about political stories in Oklahoma in
years.

In the days immediately following Kern’s remarks, Newton-Edwards began putting together a protest, to
be held in the rotunda of the state capitol, to call on Kern to explain, and apologize for, her remarks.  She
brought together two other members of the clergy, Rev. Dr. Kathy McCallie and retired Rev. Jim Shields, to
help organize the rally which, the trio hoped, would bring at least a few dozen people out to the capitol to
express their opposition to Kern’s remarks.

On March 18, more than 350 people showed up for the rally, and Newton-Edwards became something of a
local heroine, and a national political figure, too.

“I wanted to go to the state capitol, where Kern works,â€� Newton-Edwards told Ambiente.  â€œThe
protest was designed to speak loudly, clearly and unapologetically to Kern.  Our message was clear: Your
words hurt.  See us, hear us and feel the pain you have caused.â€�

The rally, which captured not just local press coverage, but national media attention as well, pitted Kern
against a well-respected member of the clergy, near her district, who was forcefully calling the lawmaker out
on her use of scripture to malign LGBT Oklahomans.

“As a seminary educated and United Church of Christ ordained minister with many years of pastoral care
in ministry, I say unequivocally that Sally Kern’s words, and the words of her merry band of misled,
misread, Biblically unaware followers, are just plain wrong,â€� Newton-Edwards said.  â€œI am sick and
tired of those who have such a narrow understanding of the word of God relentlessly pursuing LGBT people,
and other minorities.  Those of us who know better must respond.â€�

Their response – in the form of both the March 18 rally and an invitation for Kern to sit down with Oklahoma
City PFLAG supporters – paid off.  Kern granted Rev. Newton-Edwards, Rev. Dr. McCallie and Rev. Shields
an in-person meeting to talk about their concerns and explain her position.  On March 27, Kern sat down with
all three and, Newton-Edwards reported later that day, pledged to consider an on-going dialogue with
PFLAG.  Most shockingly, however, was Kern’s insistence that she believed no employee should face job
discrimination simply because of their sexual orientation.  It seemed to be a significant step forward for Kern,
who had sponsored many anti-LGBT bills during her time in the Oklahoma legislature.

“Initially, I felt that the meeting with Kern was both positive and authentic,â€� Newton-Edwards said.  â
€œBut, within the next 24 hours, something clearly happened with Kern.â€�

In fact, Kern accused PFLAG and Newton-Edwards of “spinningâ€� her words.  Kern backed away from
any assertion that she supported employment non-discrimination, and her supporters with the Oklahoma
Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) referred to the three members of the clergy who had met with
Kern as “false prophets� and “phoney clergy.�

“That hurt,â€� Newton-Edwards acknowledges.  â€œI didn’t see it coming, and still don’t
understand why it happened.�

Newton-Edwards had tape recorded the meeting with Kern – with her staff’s permission – and had
clear evidence of Kern’s remarks.  On April 9, PFLAG’s national office in Washington released the full
audio, in which Kern is heard clearly expressing her opposition to employment discrimination at least twice.  
The tape instantly disproved Kern’s attack on the PFLAG supporters.

The next morning, Kern told The Oklahoman newspaper that PFLAG “did not intentionally misrepresent
her statements.�

“We couldn’t be more proud of Rev. Loyce Newton-Edwards and her small but mighty ‘band of
sisters and brothers’ on the ground in Oklahoma,â€� PFLAG executive director Jody M. Huckaby said.  â
€œTogether, we made sure that Representative Kern – and all the other Kerns of the world – will never
doubt the power of PFLAG again.�

Newton-Edwards is barely taking time to look back at her victory in the battle against Kern, and is instead
focusing on what comes next.

“I am a passionate heterosexual ally,� she told Ambiente, “and one of my goals in life is to have a
significant impact on dismantling this angry, destructive giant we call homophobia and replacing it with the
compassionate, life-sustaining giant I call love.�

Already, the small Oklahoma City chapter has doubled in size since the Kern story broke, and the national
PFLAG office in Washington is pointing to the chapter’s work as an example of how allies can effect
change in “red state� America ahead of November’s elections.

“We know, as we head into a crucial election season, that it will take the leadership of our chapters,
members and supporters to educate Americans about why GLBT issues are so important,� Huckaby said
in a message to PFLAG supporters. “And all of us at PFLAG will remember the stellar example of our
Oklahoma City chapter as we continue our voter education work heading into November.  Because when our
country talks about family values, we must insist that they remember our families, too.�

Newton-Edwards returns Huckaby’s admiration, saying the national office played a significant role in
making the Kern response a success.  â€œIndeed, they are my personal heroes and heroines,â€� she
says, “and helped us re-define and re-tell this story so our voices could be heard.�

Now, she will focus on growing her PFLAG chapter and begin work on a documentary surrounding the Kern
controversy and the death of Steven Domer, an Oklahoma City man killed in a hate-motivated crime, in 2007.
“I am proud and grateful for all of our affiliated LGBT advocacy groups,� Newton-Edwards, who was
recently approved for ordination as a UCC minister by a unanimous vote, said. “Working together, we will
accomplish our goals of full civil and human rights for the LGBT community.�

For more information on PFLAG, or to find a chapter near you, visit
www.pflag.org.

-----------------------------------------

ABOUT THE AUTHOR









Steve Ralls is a long-time LGBT activist, and currently serves as director of communications for Parents,
Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).  Steve has been widely quoted on LGBT issues in the
media, including in major daily newspapers such as The New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco
Chronicle and Los Angeles Times. He has appeared on national and local radio programs from coast to
coast, and has also been featured on CNN and in other media outlets across the country. Mr. Ralls also is a
regular contributor to Ambiente Magazine. He currently lives in Washington, D.C.
He can be reached at
sralls@pflag.org.


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