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REVEREND ALTAGRACIA PÉREZ
Reverend Altagracia Pérez arrived in L.A. in 1995 and immediately shook up the churchgoers at South-Central's St. Philip's Episcopal church. Pérez had made a national reputation for herself in Chicago for her work educating black and Latino youths about AIDS. At first, St. Philip's Episcopalian congregants weren't sure what to make of this half Puerto Rican, half Dominican clergywoman from the South Bronx. It took a while for them to get used to her frank sermons on racism, sexism, masturbation, birth control and homosexuality. Pérez understood their reluctance. She herself had been raised in a strict fundamentalist home, and it wasn't until she took a class from a minister at New York Universtity that she learned that there were alternatives to her own religious experience. "It was shocking," she says. "He was involved in streetwalker ministry and had very progressive ideas about sexuality. I just never knew Christians had anything but a very literal interpretation of scripture." Since coming to St. Philip's, Pérez has protested in support of food and housing workers at USC, getting herself arrested twice. She's a leader of Coalition L.A., and she chairs the hotel-organizing-project committee for the L.A.-based Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. "The time that I spend with God is incredibly nurturing to me," she says. "When I get frustrated that things aren't happening fast enough, I'm reminded that this is an eternal agenda."
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