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Tears, anger fill Temple Beth Moshe in North Miami as conservative pastor meets LGBT activists

Jamesly Louis, a 21-year-old gay Haitian-American man, broke down in tears during a town hall meeting with LGBT activists and religious leaders from South Florida.

"From 14 when I came here to 18, that’s when I was going to murder myself," Louis had said shortly before. "For 18 years, I was always searching for a way to change me. Believe me when I tell you that I went to a lot of places to try to cure me. The last places I went, and I went to God in person to hear me because I did not want to cause my mother any pain. Even now she’s still in Haiti and she’s still in pain. I’m sorry. You see the color of my skin? I did not choose that. If I could change to be straight, I would choose to be straight because I do not like the pain I am causing my parents."

Conservative North Miami Pastor Jack Hakimian, who preaches that homosexuality is a sin and urges gay people to “repent,” jumped from his seat to try to comfort Louis, youth council president of Pridelines Youth Services in Miami Shores.

A crowd of about 75 — mostly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists and supporters — heckled Hakimian.

“I didn’t get my official invitation until a few days before the event. … That doesn't give people enough time to be there,” Hakimian said Thursday. “It makes me question whether they really wanted a fair and balanced program. A lot of people have said to me they think I was set up. I don’t personally feel set up — I think they were disorganized — but others feel that way.”

The town hall meeting Wednesday night was moderated by Temple Beth Moshe Rabbi Jory Lang. Other panelists: Hakimian’s wife Jhael; Joshua Dunkelman of SAVE Dade; Lisa La Monica of Safe Schools South Florida; Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, senior pastor at Sunshine Cathedral MCC in Fort Lauderdale; North Miami Councilman Scott Galvin; Tobias Packer of Equality Florida; and Father Patrick O’Neill of the Archdiocese of Miami.

Much of the discussion focused on marriage equality for gays and lesbians.

Another dramatic moment: Former CBS news reporter Aleen Sirgany publicly came out as a lesbian and introduced her longtime partner, Andrea Deeb, who is fighting stage 3 breast cancer.

"I never spoke out, ever, ever, ever," Sirgany said. "But it’s really the death rate of these kids that’s so troubling to me. I could sit in the comfort of our home and read The Herald and rant or see what’s going on and say, ’This is terrible.’ But shame on me for not saying something sooner.

"These kids are getting bullied to death and it starts with a message like the pastor has: ’You’re a sinner.’ That message is really spreading like cancer with very little empathy to what these kids are going through. And not just kids. Adults, too. But if the pastor is saying it’s OK, and the kids go to school and those other kids say he’s right, they get bullied. The parents say it’s OK, the pastor said it. Shame on the pastor and shame on me for not having the courage to speak up sooner."

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