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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 26, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 43
SGN exclusive interview: The Rev. Harriett Walden
Section One
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SGN exclusive interview: The Rev. Harriett Walden

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Harriett Walden is interim pastor of Sojourner Truth Unity Fellowship Church in Seattle, and a co-founder of Mothers for Police Accountability, a group that has challenged Seattle police procedures for more than 20 years. She is also a supporter of equal marriage rights for Gay and Lesbian couples.

As a religious leader and community activist, Walden is uniquely positioned to assess support for Referendum 74 in the African American community. The community is debating the issue, Walden tells SGN.

'There's a divide - if you saw the headlines in the [Seattle] Times today - there's a divide in the African American community,' she said, referring to a story by reporter Lornet Turnbull contrasting pro- and anti-Referendum 74 Black ministers.

DIVISION RUNS DEEP
Walden says the divide goes beyond differing positions on Referendum 74, however.

'People are divided on the Bible,' she said. 'People are divided on spirituality.'

'I always talk about equal protection,' she added. 'People who love each other should be able to get married.'

Walden says that the NAACP's endorsement of marriage equality nationally, and Referendum 74 in Washington state is a 'good thing' but adds that her community will be more influenced by personal experiences than by organizations.

'It's really about how people are living their lives. On a personal level - based on their own experiences - there are so many families who have family members who are Gay, who are loving and living with partners of the same sex,' she said.

'Everybody knew Gay or Lesbian people before Bush II came into office and made it a hot-button issue. It's divisive. We have to come together. This division doesn't help people at all. It doesn't create one job, no bread and butter on the table, no red shoes under the Christmas tree.'

PRAISES CAMPAIGN
Walden gives Washington United for Marriage high marks for reaching out to diverse communities.

'I've gone to some of their events,' she told SGN, 'and I think they've done a good job of outreach to the religious leaders, and to the different communities.

'And they have nice, peaceful commercials with a wide range of people, a wide range of clergy - very tastefully done, very high caliber,' she added, referring to the series of pro-equality TV spots produced by the Approve R-74 campaign.

Walden is now interim pastor of Sojourner Truth Church, founded by Gwen Hall, an influential minister and Lesbian activist. Hall died in 2007.

'It was one of the first Black churches for Gay and Lesbian people,' Walden recalled. 'Gwen stood up for decent treatment for all people who are different. I'm honored to be the interim pastor till they can find someone permanent.'

Asked if she had many discussions with anti-Referendum 74 clergy, Walden replied, 'Most of the people I've talked to are people who support it. When I speak to opponents I speak to the 14th Amendment - people understand what equal protection means.'

REFORMING THE SPD
Walden also talked with SGN about her work with Mothers for Police Accountability, and the recent Department of Justice settlement with the Seattle Police Department.

'Mothers was one of the groups that signed the ACLU's letter to the Justice Department' complaining about the SPD's excessive use of force, Walden noted.

'As soon as the city decides on a monitor [to oversee the terms of the settlement], Seattle has a real opportunity to correct some of the problems with our police force.

'I'm very optimistic - the Justice Department coming to Seattle was a vindication for us, who have been doing this kind of work for so long.'

Asked if there was anything else she wanted SGN readers to know about her or her work, Walden mentioned her son, Hiram Salisbury, who died from complications of AIDS.

'He was my greatest teacher,' she said. 'He taught my family what unconditional love means. Hiram believed in live-and-let-live. 'There's room on the planet for everyone,' that's what he used to say. There's room on the planet for everyone.'

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