Gay Minister: End Discrimination

A Methodist minister who had been defrocked for being in a lesbian relationship and later was reinstated called for an end to discrimination against gays in a speech to hundreds of supporters.

"Other faith traditions out there have tried to shut us down and tell us we're not worthy," said the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud (search), who spoke Sunday along with the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, at an interfaith service. "I pray for a day when no one will experience discrimination."

Stroud, who was defrocked after she told her Philadelphia (search) congregation that she was in a relationship with another woman, was reinstated by a Methodist court last week. The decision could be overturned if leaders with the United Methodist Church decide to appeal.

She did not mention the controversy directly, but said: "My journey is not over."

Earlier in the day, police estimated between 2,000 and 3,000 gay-rights supporters converged on Independence Hall (search) to celebrate the 40th anniversary of what some have called the first gay rights demonstration.

On July 4, 1965, a group of 40 protesters marched in front of Independence Hall to denounce public policies that labeled gays as mentally ill and a national security risk. The demonstration came four years before the Stonewall Riots in New York City, considered by many to have launched the equal rights movement for gays.

"They were brave. They were defiant and they launched our civil rights movement," said Michael Williams, who heads Philadelphia's Minority Business Enterprise Council.

The rally, organized by Equality Forum, a gay civil rights group, included a tribute to 40 people for challenging social conventions or laws that discriminated against gays and lesbians.

Robinson, whose consecration as bishop in New Hampshire in 2003 has roiled the Episcopal Church, talked about a loving God during his sermon at the historic Christ Church near Independence Hall.

"We hear God's voice and it says you are my beloved," he said. "We have tasted God's liberation and that toothpaste is not going to go back in the tube."

Outside the church, about 25 protesters, including members of the conservative Christian group Repent America, protested Sunday's daylong celebration of gay rights.

Jim Deferio, of Syracuse, New York, said he came to encourage gay rights supporters to turn away from homosexuality and toward God.

"I didn't drive all this way to hate people," Deferio said.

Meanwhile, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, about 500 people protested outside the headquarters of Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group led by James Dobson that has vigorously opposed gay rights and same-sex marriages.

"We are here to say, Jim, we love you enough to stop you from doing the damage you are doing to families across the nation," said Mel White, executive director of Soulforce, a national interfaith organization that supports gay rights.

Many in the crowd held rainbow flags, multicolored balloons and signs reading "God Loves Justice" and "Love Thy Neighbor." An American Indian group played drums and some protesters sang "We Shall Overcome."

Thomas Minnery, the group's director of public policy, denied that Focus delivers a message of hate but reiterated the organization's belief that homosexuality violates Biblical scripture.

"There are thousands of people who have left homosexuality, including some on our staff. To say that one is born that way obviously flies in the face of facts," he said.

Dobson was not at the headquarters Sunday, Minnery said. He is traveling on the East Coast this week and was expected to be in Washington, D.C., for the National Day of Prayer events on Thursday.