By CLIFF DUNN
NORTH MIAMI – The City of North Miami Council voted last evening on the fate of a proposed all-nude male strip club, to the backdrop of loud cries of homophobia and anti-LGBT hysteria against Public Broadcasting System (PBS) affiliate WPBTChannel 2.
The furor concerns the proposed location for gay strip bar “Beach Cabaret,” which is to be built on property on Northeast 151st Street that abuts the city’s actual “Sesame Street,” or Northeast 20th Avenue, which is home to the station’s business and operations offices. North Miami LGBT advocates—including City Councilman Scott Galvin—are expressing a range of reactions from disappointed to outraged, because WPBT2 has partnered with Miami-Dade pastor Jack Hakimian in order to keep officials from permitting the club to serve alcohol.
“WPBT2 has aligned themselves with a pastor who has repeatedly preached anti-gay sermons and posted discriminatory statements,” says Galvin. Hakimian, pastor of Impact Miami Church and a former Los Angeles gang-banger who was born in Liberia, West Africa, has a history of homophobic statements. He has preached that Members of Congress should disavow the U.S. Constitution when its provisions for equal protections contradict “Christian ethics,” and compared LGBT rights to granting rights to pedophiles.
He has posted on Facebook, “I want to make clear that I disagree based on the scriptures that you can actively be gay and still call yourself a Christian.” The five members of the North Miami City Council voted on May 22 to consider a motion to lift the city’s prohibition on selling alcohol at bars that feature full nudity. That proposed lifting of the ban coincided with plans by a business group that once operated Thee Dollhouse strip club in Sunny Isles to open a new club at 2050 Northeast 151st Street. WPBT2 immediately announced its opposition to changing the zoning regulations, and helped finance collateral materials to distribute to residents.
The fliers, which carried the station’s logo, also carried the logo for Impact Miami Church. In addition, Hakimian set up a Web site, nostripclub.org, and he called for residents to “take action” against the proposed club. “We have important national, state, and local people in and out of this building all the time,” Rick Schneider, President and CEO of WPBT, told TV station Local 10 WPLG. “We have a major national newscast that comes out of here. We have school groups and kids that come here. In that sense, we are concerned about the aesthetics of the neighborhood. We don’t think it’s appropriate.” “I’ve spoken to Rick Schneider.
He believes that the fact they have aligned themselves with Pastor Jack on this issue does not mean they support his other teachings. I disagree,” said City Councilman Galvin, who supports the club, which he points out is located in an industrial, not residential, area. According to Galvin, “For WPBT2—our public, community resource—to put their logo alongside this church is irresponsible. At best, it’s sloppy politics. At worst, they’ve helped give Pastor Jack a wider audience by presenting his church and his views.” Galvin demanded an apology from WPBT2 and its CEO, Rick Schneider, before Tuesday’s council meeting.
The councilman is also demanding to know why the station aligned with someone who preaches a gospel of hate. “Mr. Schneider told me they did not screen Pastor Jack in any way before they joined forces with him,” Galvin says. “That they did not is no excuse and they should immediately apologize to the [LGBT] community, their donors, and the viewers for lending their name to messengers of hate and bigotry.” In an email obtained by the Florida Agenda, WPBT’s Schneider disavowed any intention to promote or support anti-gay sentiments or activities. “WPBT2 does not condone, endorse, or give a platform to any of the views cited as examples by Councilman Galvin,” Schneider wrote, adding, “WPBT2 has a strong history of championing diversity, tolerance, and free speech in our programming and practices.”
Schneider attempted to explain his “strange bedfellows” relationship with Hakimian. “We were looking for allies in opposing the ordinance change. The pastor spoke at a city council meeting in opposition to the change. We talked about how to raise public awareness, we worked together to produce a flyer, and WPBT2 paid part of the cost to print and mail the flyer.” Galvin says station officials are missing the point. “I totally understand WPBT2’s position on the zoning issue, and stand-by their right to oppose it. I even support Pastor Jack’s right to preach whatever he chooses. But WPBT2 has a deeper obligation to choose their political allies more carefully.
“Public television holds an important place in our society. They also have a responsibility to use their good name, and public donations, in a more-balanced manner,” Galvin added.