Activist Tommie Lee Watkins Jr. Featured During CU's Black Awareness Month Feb. 4

Published: Jan. 15, 2002

Reverend Tommie Lee Watkins, Jr., a gay activist and ordained minister, will be the guest speaker for a Black Awareness Month event at the University of Colorado at Boulder on Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. in the Eaton Humanities Building, room 1B50.

Watkins, 26, was a U.S. Naval Academy midshipman who was discharged under the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy in 1997. Following the dismissal he defeated a lawsuit filed by the academy to recover his $90,000 scholarship.

His parents publicly rebuffed him and he was barred from preaching at his Baptist church in Alabama because of the publicity caused by the USNA incident.

Watkins moved to Florida and joined the AIDS Ministry at the Greater Miami Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, after his teaching contract at a Catholic High School was not renewed because of his sexual orientation. At Greater Bethel he developed the Ministry of Reconciliation, a support service for the gay community and people living with AIDS, the first of its kind among more than 1,000 AME congregations worldwide.

Last year the AME Board of Examiners turned down his request for ordination as a deacon without explanation. The Ministry of Reconciliation was terminated shortly thereafter and Watkins was subsequently fired from his position with the AIDS Ministry, allegedly as a result of media attention surrounding his outspokenness about his sexual orientation.

"Watkins' efforts to fight heterosexism and homophobia in the military and the black church demonstrate the challenges the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community faces in addressing issues of equality for our community," said Bruce Smail, director of CU-Boulder's GLBT Resource Center.

"Watkins is a young activist, and I hope his struggle inspires others to challenge systems that continue to discriminate against the GLBT community," said Smail.

A reception will follow the presentation and both are free and open to the public. Additional information on Watkins' experiences can be found on the center's Web site at http://www.Colorado.EDU/GLBTRC/events/.

Watkins' visit is sponsored by the GLBT Resource Center, Counseling and Psychological Services: A Multicultural Center, the Cultural Unity Center, the LBG Alumni Association, United Ministries in Higher Education, the department of housing and the Women's Resource Center.

The center provides information, referral services, programming and advocacy for the GLBT communities at CU-Boulder. For more information, call (303) 492-1377 or visit the Web site at http://www.colorado.edu/GLBTRC.