By Jaguar Bennett | firstname.lastname@example.org
Try to imagine the Tower District without LGBTQIA+ people and their contributions. Without gay people, the Tower District would be missing many of its residents, clubs, restaurants, and other businesses. It would also be missing much of its art, theater, culture, and the spirit of inclusion, acceptance, and diversity that defines the neighborhood. A Tower District without gay and gender non-conforming people would be a neighborhood without its soul and vitality.
Erasing the gay from the Tower District is the mission of Adventure Church – the conservative, homophobic church currently illegally occupying the Tower Theatre. Adventure Church’s purpose in attempting to buy the Tower Theatre is to plant an outpost of anti-gay values in the heart of a gay neighborhood.
Anti-gay confrontation is Adventure Church’s purpose.
Of all the many questions surrounding Adventure Church’s purchase of the Tower Theatre, the question at the top of my mind is, “What on earth were they thinking?” What idiot got the bright idea of planting a conservative, fundamentalist church in Fresno’s most free-thinking, gay-friendly neighborhood? Surely any person of ordinary intelligence would anticipate that trying to change the character of a community overnight, against the wishes of the vast majority of its residents, would provoke the backlash we have seen over the past six months?
One would think that a church seeking a long-term home for its congregation would want to cultivate good relations with its neighbors, not provoke confrontation. Likewise, one would think that a church moving into a new neighborhood would want to be a part of the existing community.
So why is Adventure Church so determined to plant itself in a gay community? The confrontation is the point. The purpose is to demonstrate that a conservative evangelical church can destroy a gay neighborhood.
The politics of gay erasure
Ever since protests erupted against their takeover of the Tower Theatre, Adventure Church has tried to portray itself as a victim. A powerless evangelical congregation just trying to buy a $6.5 million building in rebellion against the all-powerful Homosexual Conspiracy that controls Fresno city government.
But when Adventure first came into the Tower District, they had a lot more swagger. Adventure Church pastor Anthony Flores, a man not noted for his saint-like humility, genuinely seemed to be under the impression that buying a building made him the unelected leader of the Tower District community.
Back then, Flores said many cocky words about how his church would bring a “redemptive lift” and “clean up” the neighborhood. However, it was soon reported that members of Adventure Church were harassing gay youth and bar patrons, giving all of us a sneak preview of what Adventure Church’s idea of redemption looks like — a sterilized neighborhood cleansed of bars, fun, and, most crucially, queer people.
Don’t be deceived by Adventure’s superficially friendly talk about how gays are “welcome to attend” their church. Adventure Church directly discriminates against gay people. The doctrinal statements of their denomination prohibit gay marriage, gay people in leadership, or even baptizing gay people.
For conservative churches like Adventure, the rights and safety of gay people are a zero-sum game. There’s a code word that religious conservatives use that you should pay attention to: “religious liberty.” The way religious conservatives use it, “religious liberty,” is the freedom of conservative churches to exclude gay people, to discriminate against gay employees at churches and religious schools, to loudly proclaim anti-gay bigotry, and to renormalize anti-gay bias.
For the advocates of “religious liberty,” any advance in rights and protections for gay people is a direct threat to the right of churches to discriminate and exclude. Conservative churches’ greatest fear is that churches that exclude gays will be treated like churches that exclude people of color. They fear that as support for gay people increases, churches that discriminate against gays will no longer be considered respectable or worthy of legal protection.
Adventure Church’s intrusion into a gay neighborhood is just one battlefield in a national war against gay rights. The church’s invasion in the heart of the gay community is meant to be a test of strength, to prove that religious conservatives can invade gay spaces and make them their own.
What’s at stake
The Tower District is the one safe space in the entire San Joaquin Valley for LGBTQIA+ people. Throughout Pride Month in June, the Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee devoted time at our demonstrations for leaders of gay organizations to speak on what the Tower District means to the LGBTQIA+ community. All emphasized that the loss of the Tower District as a safe space would be a disaster to queer people throughout the Valley. Especially for LGBTQIA+ youth, the Tower District is a place to find community, belonging, resources, and a refuge from intolerant communities, churches, and families.
Adventure Church’s “redemptive lift” goal is to transform the Tower District into a safe space for homophobia and, in the process, destroy the neighborhood as a safe space for gay people. When Anthony Flores and his colleagues ask, “Why can’t the neighborhood accept us?” what they’re asking for is acceptance of their anti-gay agenda.
We won’t tolerate intolerance in the Tower District, and I ask you to join us in resisting Adventure Church’s policies of gay erasure. Please join our weekly demonstrations every Sunday on the corner of Olive and Wishon from 8 am – 11 am. And write letters to the mayor and every member of the City Council.
You can find more information on the Facebook page of the Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee, facebook.com/SavetheTowerDemonstrationCommittee.