Rabbi Joshua Lesser, who is gay, was among the speakers at today’s televised Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Lesser is a social justice activist and leader of Congregation Bet Haverim, a gay-founded Reconstructionist synagogue in Atlanta. He may be the first openly gay speaker at the Ebenezer service, according to friend Glen Paul Freedman, also a longtime gay activist in Atlanta.
This year marks 25 years of the King Day national holiday. Ebenezer Baptist Church was King’s congregation, and the annual commemorative service routinely draws national and state political leaders.
Gay rabbi joins televised MLK Commemorative Service in Atlanta
Lesser described his experience in real time on his Facebook page, noting that he stood next to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), hugged Rev. Bernice King, and greeted Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican who was inaugurated last week.
“’Our lives begin to end the day that we become silent about things that matter,’” Lesser wrote on his Facebook page, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Today I have the honor of participating at the MLK Jr. Day service at Ebenezer Baptist church. Let’s pray for the soul of our country,” Lesser wrote.
Political leaders speaking at this year’s MLK service include U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Sen Johnny Isakson, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Gov. Nathan Deal.
The keynote speaker at the 2011 service is Martin Luther King III, King’s son. Lesser’s participation is a far cry from 2009, when the keynote speaker was Rev. Rick Warren, a mega-church pastor who supported Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that banned gay marriage in California.
LGBT activists protested outside that service, which took place the day before Warren gave a prayer at President Barack Obama’s inauguration that also angered many gay rights supporters.