Monday, November 24, 2008
MY CHAT WITH OPEN PREACHER
For many decades, many churches had been a place for people to hear the word of God, develop their vocal skills by singing in the choir, and a place to gain spiritual knowledge and healing. Sadly it’s also a place, where many members and Gays have felt judge for not dressing to their standards of wearing fancy and expensive designer suits, and for being attracted to the same sex, while the same members and preachers take part in the actions they strongly and bluntly preach against.
Well Apostle/Reverend Taruius J. Franklin is making a difference and going against the traditions by being true to himself and ministering and people of all genders and backgrounds without being selective of one’s outer appearance and orientation.
Born in California, Franklin grew up with a strong spiritual background, courtesy of his parents and Grandfather being Bishops and Preachers, who taught him the bible and importance of serving God. He was even ordained a pastor during his teen years, but like many people raised in the church, he ignored his calling due to battles with his sexuality and hypocritical non-loving behavior of many of the members, and opted to chose a career as a singer and later ran an adult entertainment company and escort service, where led to engaging in sex and drugs that led him to his death bed. God and his late father saw that he had the opportunity to make a difference in the world, so he surrendered to God and chose to be open about his sexuality on BET Live with Travis Smiley in 2000 and forming his own ministry The Agape Community Center in Atlanta Georgia, a church that is open to people regardless of race, creed and sexual orientation.
“This is not a Gay Church” he says.
“It’s a church for everybody. You’re gonna see people with suits, and you’re gonna see people in du-rags, sagging jeans, white tee’s and ice.”
I met Franklin on Black Gay Chat, and after he accepted my request to be a friend, he posted a comment about his church, and after I learned he was the pastor, I peeped the church’s site and was surprised to learn that not only was he the pastor, he’s also a great singer with a seven octave range who can sing his butt off and rocks fitted caps, du-rags, baggy jeans and timbs. After I requested an interview with him we spoke the following day, and I was captivated by his love of God, his realness, sense of humor, inner strength and business-like manner and we agreed to conduct the interview which was unexpectedly delayed due to me passing out from exhaustion and the heat in my apartment, which is a blessing to have at times. We were able to reschedule the interview for the following week, where Franklin spoke about God, music, his love of urban attire, and what types of person tickles his fancy.
Q: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO FORM YOUR OWN CHURCH
A: First of all, I had a calling to that. I ran from that call for years until this year and it’s affirming, meaning that regardless of one’s sexual orientation, we’re also radically inclusive, including everybody who has a jaded past. Also, we’re not a traditional church, meaning you don’t have to come with a suit and tie. If you come with a suit and tie, than that’s fine, but me myself, I wear timberlands, jeans and white Tees. It’s just simply a church for people regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The bible says that those who worship him, must worship him in truth, so you’ll have to be real with yourself and who you are, and once you understand that, you’ll be God’s child. No matter what anybody says about you. There were two different experiences I had when I was six. I was six years old and I had went to Love Center Church and I remember took me; it was me and my mother, and I it was a Black Transgender woman; she sat down next to me and I knew that wasn’t a dude because she didn’t look real soft. She was hard looking. We had got up during the middle of the service and left. My mother was really uncomfortable and she never went back even though I joined when I was eighteen, I went back. Another episode when I was six years old, the singer Sylvester, God rest his soul. There was a church in Oakland California; a very known church back them and Andre Crouch was real big back then, and Shirley Caesar was coming for a concert at the church and their flight was delayed, and they (the concert promoters and audience) to prolong the concert. Well Sylvester went up to the podium and said “Praise the Lord” and what I do remember is that everybody talked about him and I knew he was a man dressed like a woman. He went to hug the pastor and she would not hug him and everybody said something about it. Even at six years old, I knew that was wrong and that everybody should have been embraced. You don’t reject anybody in church! That was always imprinted in my mind and I said ‘when I get older and get a church of my own, it would be a church where everybody will be accepted. It would be affirming and inclusive; at six years old I knew it was wrong. The bible says whoever will let them come. It doesn’t say with the exception of you can’t come. That I can’t come. It says whoever; the gay people are so whoever can come. The Lesbians, Black White, Straight, Bisexual, non-sexual. That’s what God says. Not what Man says. Not what your Bishop says. Nor what Pastor so and so who don’t like certain people and certain group says. It upset me as a six year old little boy; I didn’t know what Gay meant; all I know was that this man was dressed as a woman and he went up to the pulpit to say words and they talked about him so bad and the pastor wouldn’t hug him and I didn’t know who Sylvester was until I became a teenager and shortly he died.
Q: I KNOW THAT YOU HAVE A STRONG SPIRITUAL BACKGROUND AND FOUNDATION. WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?
A: I was always raised in the church since I was little. My father was an Arch-Bishop. My mother is a Pastor. My grandfather was a Bishop. That’s how I was raised. The bible says train the child the way they should go and when they’re older they won’t depart from it. It’s always been in me. I love the Lord with all my fiber. I don’t compromise my love for God or my spirituality. I’m not a religious person. I’m a spiritual person.
Q: WE KNOW THAT MANY CHURCHES AND LEADERS ALWAYS CONDEM PEOPLE FOR THEIR ORIENTATION, YET THEY PARTICIPATE IN THE SAME THINGS THEY PREACH AGAINST. HOW HARD IT WAS IT FOR YOU TO COPE WITH YOUR SEXUALITY BEING THAT YOU WERE RAISED BY TWO PREACHERS
A: That’s a two-part question. Not just Black churches. Churches period. There’s a contradiction that’s straight across the board, and this is the season of change. Even when Obama takes office in January, it’s equality for everybody now. It’s gonna take some time, but regardless of your race or sexual orientation, there is no excuse for anybody to live underneath your full potential.
Aside from my parents, my father, before he died, we had several conversations, even up until the week of his death; it was very clear about my sexual orientation. My mother has a hard time with it, but she’s still my mama. I have a real stand on bisexuality and on most metro sexual people, because just as heterosexual people who hate on Gay people, there are Gay people who hate on bisexual people because they’re supposedly confused, and what’s really sad is that there’s a lot of Gay people hating on Gay people. You have to come to peace about yourself and it’s not about your momma and your daddy, and it’s no disrespect to your parents, but if your earthly parents don’t support you, the bible says that I will take you up. God has claims to all his children.
Q: I ALSO READ IN YOUR BIO THAT YOU USED TO RUN AN ADULT ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY AND ESCORTING SERVICE. WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO WORK IN THAT FIELD AND HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT NOW?
A: Real simple, When I ran from my call, I was doing everything that I wanted to do; from running an adult entertainment company and escorting service. Selling drugs, using drugs. Having sex with all types of people. That’s the life. Also been in entertainment for 15 years. I’m 35 now. I had partied with and sang with the most and least known celebrities. Sex, drugs and music. That’s the lifestyle of the quote-on-quote entertainment world. I completely left the ministry at 25, and at 30, that’s when I started using drugs; doing all kinds of stuff. I no longer run that now. Just the webpage and agency for singers, models, fashion designers, lip-synch models, writers
Q: WHAT WAS THE TURNING POINT THAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO RENEW YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND BE OPEN ABOUT YOUR SEXUALITY?
A: I came out the closet on B.E.T. Live with Travis Smiley in 2000. Myself, Bishop Randy Cheeks, and Mark Tuggle from G.M.A.D. The topic was ‘Invisible Lives about Black Gay Men’
Even before then in the 90’s, I was still singing at Gay and Straight clubs, doing some panel conferences, to speak on the behalf of the Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Questioning community. The turning point in my life to renew my relationship with God I had a call all my life. There was no way I can preach and bash Gay people on the low which you see everybody do. I’ve always been a blunt and real person who don’t play games and lie.
I was raised in Holiness; there is on grey area. God dealt with me himself and told me to open the church. I’m not renewing my relationship with God. I surrendered myself totally to God. My father’s death last year. I had kidney failure. Here I am in the hospital in Atlanta dying and my father was in the hospital in California dying. My mother and my partner at the time was at my bedside, and my father called me and told me that I needed to surrender and God was going to heal me. I was on dialysis three times a week and God had took me off of dialysis, which is something unheard of.
I did every kind of drugs. Cocaine, Crack, Weed. I tried to take my life over the course of four years. I was hit by a car that was in a police car. God had kept me from death.
Q: I REMEMBERING WATCHING THAT BET EPISODE TWICE. WHAT WAS IT LIKE COMING OUT ON NATIONAL TELEVISION?
A: I was the first masculine thuggish dude if you remember that show-that set a standard. Every time you seen a male or bisexual on T.V., it’s always been a drag queen, a Transgender or a real feminine man. So I take pride in that finally there was somebody who was masculine and out that has high moral standards and integrity about himself. I took it as an honor and we’re gonna put it on You Tube and My Space so the new kids that’s out who never seen the show. That they don’t even know were Homo Thug came from. Me. When shows like “Noah’s Arc“ and “In the Closet” that shows Gays in a positive light, it stands on my shoulders, it stands on Mark Tuggle’s shoulders, Cleo’s shoulders, Bishop Zachary Jones’ and many others to name of few.
Q: I ADMIRE YOUR STRENGHT, ATTIRE, SINGING VOICE-YOU CAN SING YOUR BUTT OFF-AND SENSE OF HUMOR. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU TO BE TRUE TO YOURSELF AS OPPOSED TO SO-CALLED TRADITIONS WHERE PASTORS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE UPPITY, WEARING EXPENSIVE SUITS AND NOT RELATABLE TO URBAN PEOPLE?
A: Cuz I’m true to myself. Like Patti LaBelle said ‘what you see is what you get.’ I stand by that everyday. Humorous, I like to laugh. I like to be happy. I don’t like drama, negativity or extra, you know what I’m saying? Life is too short; you’re gonna have challenges. You can laugh at your challenges. I’ve been singing since I was born and I was told I can sing up to seven octaves, which is unheard of for a male. Me, I can sing baritone to contralto without even blinking.
I’m a very masculine dude and I like urban wear. I like Echo, Sean John. I wear that daily. I wear that when I preach.
My strength comes from life, God. Just life. No way you can live 35 years been through what I’ve been through and be a weak person. A lot of times, it intimidates people. I have a job to do; don’t trip on that. I have a job to do. I take that very humbly and very seriously. The bible says whoever so will let them come. You’re gonna see people with suits. You’re gonna see people in du-rags, and hats in the church. You’re gonna see sagging jeans, white tees and ice.
Suits and ties are cool. If that’s how you were raised, but respect urban wear.
Q: I ALSO ADMIRE THE WORK YOU DO IN THE AIDS COMMUNITY. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU TO BRING COMFORT TO THOSE WHO ARE INFECTED AND AFFECTED BY THIS DISEASE?
A: There are people in my membership who are HIV positive. There are people who have full-blown A.I.D.S. These are still God’s people.
Q: YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU’RE FORMING YOUR OWN RECORD LABEL. DO U PLAN ON SIGNING TALENTED OPENLY GAY ARTISTS AS WELL AS HETEROS?
A: Everybody. Signing everybody who has true talent. Pure talent. Pure talent is something that’s not learned. That’s nice, but there’s some people like myself that can just come out effortless, stand and deliver and blow you off the seat, under the seat, under the carpet, under the floor. Pure talent you have to be teachable. No Divas. No Prima Donnas. You’ve got to put your time in.
Q: YOU’VE ALSO MENTIONED ABOUT GOING THROUGH MANY CHALLENGING TIMES. DO YOU PLAN ON WRITING A BOOK ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES AND IF YOUR BOOK WAS TO BE MADE INTO A MOVIE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY YOU?
A: I have personally talked to E. Lynn Harris quite a lot. There’s a gentleman who was in Atlanta, but we spoke a few weeks ago; he’s in New York. His name is Jerry Headley. Several times, I started writing my book and stopped, but with the help of therapy, it will be an ongoing and I think it will be healthy for everybody and as far as who could play me, I think about that everyday who would play me has to be real. The movie is gonna be in your face. Whoever he is has to be a real flexible actor. Flexable meaning to cover every aspect of my life from birth until that point and has to be believable. I really like for it to be a Broadway play the way they did “The Color Purple.”
Q: WITH ALL THE FITTED CAPS AND DU-RAGS YOU WEAR, HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO HAVE QUALITY TIME WITH YOURSELF, CHILDREN AND SOCIAL LIFE? WHAT KIND OF GUYS CAPTURES YOUR ATTENTION AND HOW DOES FEMALES REACT WHEN THEY LEARN YOU’RE GAY?
A: Actually, I’m metro-sexual. Metro-sexual meaning I’m attracted to whoever I’m attracted too. So I’m not just gay. My quality time, I have a Godson; his name is Jonathan Mitchell. He’s 22 going on 23 and he’s been very successful. He has his own web page design and he’s he is a Gay activist like his dad. Time with myself, I’m a You Tube freak. I like to chill at the crib and I’m a spontaneous dude. Never boring. Sometimes God has me to myself to study and pray which with me being from California, I meet God is the water and the ocean. There’s no beaches or Oceans in Atlanta. When I go to South Beach, I actually used to live there for a short period of time. The type of person I’m attracted to as far as males are thuggish redbone, pretty, pretty boys. Females, you have on point, point, point, point, point (both laugh). I met Halle Berry and I was in awe. I’ve been around a lot of celebrities, and it’s rare. The only other person I’ve been in awe with was Patti LaBelle; I met her in person and kissed her hand at her book signing for “Don’t Stop the Blessing.”
I just like a person who has to be spiritual and have to love God. The first thing that comes out my mouth is what church you go to and do you believe in God? As for the females, they do trip. I have females who like me; Lesbians who like me. A lot of different people. It’s a trip when they see me rock the baggy jeans.
There are a lot of celebrities and females who are tying to make me straight. I done poked enough female couchie and dude couchie (I laugh) to last me a life time. I’m good with myself and I’m cool with my life. As for my private life, I’m a private person. Event though I’m a public person, I like to have my privacy. I get a lot of dudes saying they wanna be the first husband and the first lady. This is not a gay church/ This is a church for everybody and when I get married for real, the whole world is gonna know. I am single, period.
Q: HOW DO YOU FEEL YOU’RE MAKING AN IMPACT ON THE GAY AND CHURCH COMMUNITY?
A: As I said earlier, I just mentioned all those people who are standing on our shoulders. The fight continues. Pray for our leaders. We need your prayers. We need your prayers. I appreciate your prayers. We need support from both the Gay and straight community.
Q: IF YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO RECORD AN ALBUM WITH ANY ARITIST, WHO IT WOULD BE?
A: Patti LaBelle, Rachelle, Ferrell, Chaka Khan, Vicki Winans, my Godfather Daryl Cooley. I love that singing fool, I love him very much. Pastor Rantz Allen, Tweet, Bilal, Prince. Just various artists.
Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEBODY WHO WANTS TO SERVE GOD, BUT HAS ISSUES WITH THEIR SEXUALITY?
A: Love God. Love yourself. Stop judging yourself. God never Judges. Be true with who you are.
That’s the greatest commandment. To love thy neighbor as thy self. Live by that daily.