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LGBT History Month: When the saints go marchin’ in – people who have made the leap of faith 1 Christians

January 21, 2016

LOFGareth Marshall, who designed the logo for LGBT History Month 2016, said he was inspired by “the phrase “leap of faith”. I chose this phrase because I believe it is a very powerful and personal message. It is about believing and having faith both in one’s religion, and in oneself. It represents a risk we take for a better outcome and future, a push forward in acceptance and tolerance within and towards to LGBT community, and the strength it can take to come out…”

The accompanying booklet talks of: we need to recognise that most people who belong to a faith group have religion to bring peace and understanding to their lives. We also need to acknowledge that there are some who use – or abuse – religion to justify their own prejudices and bigotry. …….each of the Abrahamic religions has something in its scriptures that can be interpreted to suggest that homosexual relations are sinful. We recognise that religious doctrine has brought harm to many in the LGBT community and that at its worst this has led to despair, suicide, murder and statutory murder; both in the past and the present. …..we also recognise that many in the LGBT community will hold prejudices towards people of faith. …..Religious orthodoxies continue to exclude us …….LGBT people of faith have made great strides to makes their own places of worship inclusive ……brave campaigners who stick their heads above the parapet to challenge …”

AelredAelred (1109-1167) was born in Hexham, Northumbria and became Abbot of Riveaux. “It is no small consolation in this life to have someone you can unite with you in an intimate affection and the embrace of a holy love, someone in whom your spirit can rest, to whom you can pour out your soul, to whose pleasant exchanges, as to soothing songs, you can fly in sorrow… with whose spiritual kisses, as with remedial salves, you may draw out all the weariness of your restless anxieties. A man who can shed tears with you in your worries, be happy with you when things go well, search out with you the answers to your problems, whom with the ties of charity you can lead into the depths of your heart; . . . where the sweetness of the Spirit flows between you, where you so join yourself and cleave to him that soul mingles with soul and two become one.”

Derrick S BDerrick Sherwin Bailey (30 June 1910–9 February 1984) was an English Christian theologian, born at Alcester in Warwickshire, whose 1955 work Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition paved the way for the production of the 1957 Wolfenden report and for the Parliament of the United Kingdom’s decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales a decade later.

“Under the guidance of the Rev. Dr. Derrick Sherwin Bailey (1910-84), a group of clergy, doctors and lawyers studied the existing materials on homosexuality. They then produced a privately printed pamphlet titled The Problem of Homosexuality. This interim report, written by Bailey, signalled the first twentieth-century extended treatment of homosexuality by an ecclesiastical body. Not only did it examine the current medical, psychological, and sociological literature, but it also sought to address the role of the Church of England in the issue of reforming the law. The Moral Welfare Council recognized the role of the State in regulating society, but it also acknowledged that the rights of the homosexual were being violated, and this issue needed to be addressed.

“Bailey’s writings helped the Church of England to respond to the theological issue of homosexuality, to homosexuals themselves, as well as to the laws of England. This 1954-5 period in the Moral Welfare Council provided important conceptual guidelines for subsequent discussions about homosexuality, not only in the Church of England but throughout Christendom.”

While working on the pamphlet, Bailey independently completed Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition. It was criticized for exonerating the Church for persecuting homosexuals, yet it is still considered a landmark work on this topic. He scrutinized both the Bible and subsequent thought, drawing focus to some heretofore ignored issues, such as intertestamental literature, legislation of Christian emperors, the penitentials, and the link between heresy and sodomy.

Bailey testified to the Wolfenden Committee in support of the reform of the laws on homosexuality. The historian Patrick Higgins describes some of Bailey’s other views an “interesting cocktail of beliefs”. Higgins lists Bailey as believing that homosexuality will eventually disappear “because he thought that modern people would create better marriages, which in turn would make better homes, producing children who would naturally follow the right sexual path”. He also proposed that homosexual men should be invited into the homes of married heterosexuals in order so that the heterosexuals could “share some of their joy with them”. While he believes male homosexuality to be pitied rather than criminalised, Higgins reports that he had little sympathy with lesbians: he considered lesbianism “socially more undesirable than male homosexuality”.

In 1962 Bailey became a Canon Residentiary of Wells Cathedral, publishing works on its history and dying in the city of Wells, Somerset.

Jn McNeilleJohn J. McNeill (September 2, 1925 – September 22, 2015) was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1959 and subsequently worked as a psychotherapist and an academic theologian, with a particular reputation within the field of Queer Theology.

Born in Buffalo in 1925, McNeill grew up in up-state New York. He served during World War II, but was captured and transported to a German prisoner-of-war camp near Leukenwald. This had an effect on his spirituality and in 1948 he entered the Society of Jesus; finally being ordained a Jesuit priest in 1959 by Cardinal Spellman of New York.

He obtained a Ph.D. from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 1964. It was there that he fell in love with a man, later saying: “The experience of the joy and peace that comes with that — it was a clear indication to me that homosexual love was in itself a good love and could be a holy love”. He went on to teach at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, NY and Fordham University in NYC. In 1972, he joined the combined Woodstock Jesuit Seminary and Union Theological Seminary faculty as professor of Christian Ethics, specializing in Sexual Ethics. He was a noted peace advocate during the Vietnam War.

In 1969 he played a part in the establishment of Dignity USA, an organization functioning both as a support and social group for LGBT and LGBT-accepting Catholics to worship together – founding a chapter in New York in 1972.

McNeill published his seminal work, “The Church and the Homosexual” in 1976, which challenged the Church’s prohibition of same-sex activity. It was the first extended non-judgmental work about gay Catholics, a subject that had long been taboo in official church discourse. The book was the first attempt by a reputed scholar and theologian to examine and challenge traditional church teachings on sexuality and attitudes toward gay and lesbian Catholics. It argued for a change in Church teaching and that homosexual relationships should be judged by the same standard of heterosexual ones. It argued that a stable, loving same-sex relationship was just as moral, and just as godly, as a heterosexual one and should be acknowledged as such by church leaders. It has been credited with helping to set in motion the re-evaluation of the religious stance toward gay people.

After an extensive review of the manuscript by a panel of theologians, the work received permission from McNeill’s Jesuit superiors prior to printing and the Vatican imprimatur. It was translated into several languages. However, the following year the permission was retracted at the order of the Vatican, and McNeill was ordered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger not to write or speak further publicly about the issue of homosexuality. McNeill responded in a statement highlighting his concern that “gay men most likely to act out their sexual needs in an unsafe, compulsive way, and therefore expose themselves to the HIV virus, are precisely those who have internalised the self-hatred that their religions impose on them.” He nevertheless observed the imposed silence for nine years while continuing his private ministry to gays and lesbian Catholics. Two things eventually led him to speak out. Firstly, seeing the devastating effects of the AIDS epidemic after establishing an AIDS ministry alongside Mychal Judge, serving homeless people in Harlem. Secondly, the 1986 Vatican pastoral letter, “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The document declared that homosexuality was “a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.” McNeill condemned the letter in a statement issued to The New York Times and The National Catholic Reporter.

In 1987, he received yet another order from Ratzinger directing him to give up all ministry to gay persons and remain silent on gay issues or face expulsion. An order, he said, he could not follow in good conscience. He was subsequently expelled from the Jesuit order after 40 years. He remained nominally a priest but was not permitted to say Mass.

Nevertheless, McNeill remained respected among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights Catholics as well as others who looked to his scholarly writings to help them accept their own sexuality and defend themselves against what they viewed to be misguided church teachings. In 1987, he was the grand marshal of the New York City gay pride parade. He continued to speak out against official Catholic teachings on matters of sexuality and in particular the harsh and “homophobic” teachings coming out of the Vatican. McNeill himself was openly gay.

In 1998 he published his memoir, “Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair: My Spiritual Journey.” In 2012, a documentary entitled ‘Taking A Chance On God’ was directed and produced by Brendan Fay about his life. He spoke about having tried “with the help of the Holy Spirit to free gay Christians from the lies of a pathologically homophobic religion.”

McNeill died at a hospice in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on September 22, 2015 at the age of 90 with his partner of 46 years, Charlie Chiarelli, at his bedside. The two men married in Toronto in 2008.

“John McNeill is one of the most important voices in the history of the L.G.B.T. civil rights movement,” Brendan Fay, the director of “Taking a Chance on God,” a 2011 documentary film about Father McNeill, said in a telephone interview on Friday. “ ‘The Church and the Homosexual’ became the primary text that is still considered the key in transforming the conversation on religion and homosexuality.”

After he fell in love with another man, he wrote: “The experience of the joy and peace that comes with that — it was a clear indication to me that homosexual love was in itself a good love and could be a holy love,”

In Sex as God Intended It: “It has always been the prophetic role of lesbians and gay men to lead the Church and Western culture toward embracing embodiment, a sense of identity with the body and its sensuousness,”

In the Church and the Homosexual: “I now believe the most serious sexual sin is alienation from and suppression of God’s good gift of sexuality. I am inclined to agree with Norman Pittenger that there are only three kinds of sexual activity between consenting adults: ‘good, better, and best sex.'”

According to Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights by Heather R. White: Many clergy and religious leaders around the United States who, in the 1940s and 1950s, when persecution of homosexuals was at its height, supported nascent homophile organizations (as they were then known). She tells stories that conclusively document their political and pastoral work, contradicting the commonly held idea that religion is by definition anti-gay.

The organized fight for gay rights was going on well before Stonewall. Just like Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus could never have happened if a movement for civil rights wasn’t already in place, White reminds us not only that there was already a movement that included an “Annual Reminder” *on July 4 at Independence Hall but also that there was a strong religious presence in that movement.

* The Annual Reminders were a series of early pickets organized by homophile organizations. The Reminder took place each July 4 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia beginning in 1965 and were among the earliest LGBT demonstrations in the United States. The events were designed to inform and remind the American people that LGBT people did not enjoy basic civil rights protections.

Craig RodwellActivist Craig Rodwell (who was a Christian Scientist who took up the ‘reading room’ practice by encouraging consciousness-raising – gay people should read about their issues and struggles) conceived of the event following a picket at the White House on April 17, 1965, by members of the New York City and Washington, D.C., chapters of the Mattachine Society, Philadelphia’s Janus Society and the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis. The groups operated under the collective name East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO). The name of the event was selected to remind the American people that a substantial number of American citizens were denied the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” enumerated in the United States Declaration of Independence. Enthused by Rodwell’s idea, ECHO put together the first Reminder picket in just over two months. Thirty-nine people attended the first picket, including veteran activists Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin. Kameny insisted on a strict dress code for participants, including jackets and ties for the men and dresses for the women. Kameny’s goal was to represent homosexuals as “presentable and ’employable'”. Picketers carried signs with such slogans as “HOMOSEXUAL BILL OF RIGHTS” and “15 MILLION HOMOSEXUAL AMERICANS ASK FOR EQUALITY, OPPORTUNITY, DIGNITY”. The picket ran from 3:30 until 5:00 PM. Press coverage was sparse, although Confidential magazine ran a large feature about the Reminder and other homophile pickets in its October 1965 issue under the headline “Homos On The March”.

Bay area clergy.jpgIn 1965 two dozen Bay Area Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal and United Church of Christ clergy and gay activists had formed the Council on Religion and the Homosexual to promote the “need for a better understanding of human sexuality” and its “broad variations and manifestations.”

Clergy and lawyers for the group had negotiated with police — who had a habit of shutting down LGBT events — to let the dance go forward. But according to contemporary newspaper articles, police still showed up that night, taking pictures of those entering as an intimidation tactic. When the cops demanded to get inside, the lawyers reportedly blocked them. Six people ended up in jail for interfering with the police and disorderly conduct.

The clergy fought back with a press conference the next day. “Angry Ministers Rip Police,” said a front-page headline in the San Francisco Chronicle below a picture of men in clerical collars. The clash mobilized both the city’s gay community and the pastors. The American Civil Liberties Union brought a lawsuit over the arrests — the first time the ACLU had joined a legal battle over gay rights, according to the LGBT Religious Archives Network.

The CRH was formed in 1964 by Glide Memorial Methodist Church, as well as Daughters of Bilitis founders Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin. It included representatives of Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, and United Church of Christ denominations.

In the early 1960s, as social change accelerated across the U.S., progressive clergymen increasingly took to the streets to minister to marginalized persons. The Rev. Ted McIlvenna, who worked for the Glide Urban Center, a private Methodist foundation in downtown San Francisco, witnessed the oppression and violence homosexuals faced, and to improve the situation sought a dialogue between clergy and homosexuals.

With the support of the Methodist church, McIlvenna convened the Mill Valley Conference from May 31 to June 2, 1964, at which sixteen Methodist, Protestant Episcopal, United Church of Christ, and Lutheran clergymen met with thirteen leaders of the homosexual community.

Following the initial meeting, the participants began plans for a new organization that would educate religious communities about gay and lesbian issues as well as enlist religious leaders to advocate for homosexual concerns. In July 1964, the participants, along with several other clergymen and homosexual activists, met and formed the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH), which was incorporated in December of that year. The CRH was the first group in the U.S. to use the word “homosexual” in its name.

On January 1, 1965, CRH held a costume party at California Hall at 625 Polk Street in San Francisco to raise money for the new organization. When the ministers informed the San Francisco Police Department of their intentions, the SFPD attempted to force the rented hall’s owners to cancel the event. After a further meeting between the ministers and police, which resulted in an agreement not to interfere with the dance, guests arrived to find police snapping pictures of each of them as they entered and left, in a blatant attempt to intimidate.

When police demanded entry into the hall, three CRH-employed lawyers explained to them that under California law, the event was a private party and they could not enter unless they bought tickets. The lawyers were then arrested, as was a ticket-taker, on charges of obstructing an officer.

Seven of the ministers who were in attendance that night held a press conference the following morning, where they described the pre-event negotiations with police and accused them of “intimidation, broken promises and obvious hostility.” One minister compared the SFPD to the Gestapo.

When the arrested lawyers came to trial, they were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which saw the lawyers’ arrest as an attempt to “intimidate attorneys who represent unpopular groups.”[2] Charges were dropped before the Defense had presented its case.

In 1965, CRH held an event where local politicians could be questioned about issues concerning gay and lesbian people, including police intimidation. The event marks the first known instance of “the gay vote” being sought, which led lesbian activist Barbara Gittings to say “It was remarkable. That was something that [gay] people in San Francisco were way ahead of the rest of the country in doing.”

“That was years before the 1969 Stonewall riots, which is popularly considered the beginning of the gay rights movement,” said Heather White, a visiting assistant professor of religion at the New College of Florida who has spent years combing through LGBT archives for her book. “And that’s just one of the best-known stories. There were Councils on Religion and Homosexuality and similar groups in D.C., Pennsylvania, Ottawa, Hawaii.”

Yet no matter how many LGBT historians have tried to dislodge the Stonewall story from its primacy, it won’t go away. White accepts that this “lie” will not die, and cleverly argues, like the good religious historian she is, that it has its place (like the Exodus narrative in the Bible) as the foundational myth that will continue to be commemorate

M Boyd.jpgRev. Malcolm Boyd

Boyd was born in 1923 in Buffalo, New York, the son of Beatrice Lowrie, a fashion model, and Melville Boyd, a financier and investment banker whose own father (also named Malcolm) was an Episcopal priest. Boyd was raised as an Episcopalian (his maternal grandfather was Jewish).

In the early 1930s Boyd’s parents divorced; his mother retained custody of him. Boyd moved with his mother to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and then to Denver. During his time in college, despite early spiritual interests, he decided he was an atheist. In the 1940s Boyd moved to California and eventually became a Hollywood junior producer. He began moving up in the Hollywood world, eventually founding PRB, a production company, with Mary Pickford. At the same time, amidst all the abundance, he found himself looking for meaning in different places, including churches.

In 1951 Boyd began studying to become a priest at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. He graduated in 1954 and was ordained a deacon. In 1955 he continued his studies abroad in England and Switzerland and returned to Los Angeles for ordination as a priest. During 1956 and 1957, Boyd studied further at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York and wrote his first book, Crisis in Communication In 1959 Boyd became Episcopal Chaplain at Colorado State University. In the 1960s Boyd became known as “the Espresso Priest” for his religiously themed poetry-reading sessions at the Hungry i nightclub in San Francisco, at the time of the San Francisco Renaissance poetry movement.

Boyd went on to become a minister in the American Civil Rights Movement, promoting integration and voting rights. He participated as one of the Freedom riders in 1961. Later that year he became the Episcopal Chaplain at Wayne State University in Detroit. He held a weekly meeting about civil rights, influencing Viola Liuzzo. Three years later she went to Selma, Alabama, to participate in the voting rights marches organized by SCLC and SNCC. She was murdered by the Klan while transporting marchers from Montgomery back to Selma following the successful march ending on March 25.

In 1963 Boyd attended an interfaith conference for racial integration in Chicago. Malcolm X referred to Boyd at the conference in his 1963 speech, “The Old Negro and the New Negro.” Malcolm X said, “Rev. Boyd believes that the conference might have accomplished much good if the speakers had included a white supremacist and a Negro race leader, preferably a top man in the American Black Muslim movement.” He quotes Boyd:

A debate between them (meaning this white racist and a Black Muslim) would undoubtedly be bitter, but it would accomplish one thing: it would get some of the real issues out into the open. In this conference we have not done that. The money spent to bring these people here has been wasted. We have done nothing to solve the race problem either in our churches or in our communities.

Boyd was also active in the anti-Vietnam War movement, marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.

In 1977 Boyd came out of the closet, becoming the most prominent openly homosexual ordained minister of the era. In the 1980s Boyd met Mark Thompson, an author and homosexual activist. They became long-time partners. They lived in Los Angeles, California. Boyd served on the Advisory Board of White Crane Institute. He was a frequent contributor to the homosexual wisdom and culture magazine White Crane.

Boyd was the author of over 30 books, including a bestselling collection of prayers, Are You Running with Me, Jesus? (1965). It was re-issued in a 40th-anniversary edition. Until his death he wrote a column for The Huffington Post He served as a poet/writer in residence for the Diocese of Los Angeles. Boyd died of complications from pneumonia at the age of 91 in a Los Angeles on February 27, 2015.

RustinBayard Rustin was the chief organizer of the March on Washington. A Quaker activist who not only mentored Dr. King in the principles of non-violent, non cooperation, he also helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Because Rustin was openly gay, he had to remain behind the scenes in the Civil Rights movement, as his sexuality was the target of attacks by anti Civil Rights antagonists. His activism began when he was a teen. He called for black and white players to be housed together when his high school football team traveled. He was also arrested for refusing to leave the white section of a movie theatre. Then in 1953, Rustin was arrested during a casual homosexual encounter.

Robt WoodThe Reverend Robert W. Wood b. May 21, 1923 is the first member of the clergy to picket for gay rights. He wrote the first book in the United States on Christianity and homosexuality and was the first to call for church-sanctioned gay marriage.

Wood began his undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in September 1941, three months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He enlisted in the Army soon after and was severely wounded during the invasion of Italy. He received an honorable discharge, a Combat Infantry Badge, a Purple Heart, two battle stars and a Bronze Star for heroic achievement in combat. A chapter of the book “We Went to War: New Hampshire Remembers” recounts his story.

With the help of the G.I. Bill, Wood graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and then the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology. In 1951 he was ordained at the Congregational Church in Fair Haven, Vermont. He spent 35 years as a parish pastor.

In 1956 Wood wrote “Spiritual Exercises,” an article for a gay physique magazine that featured a photo of him in his clerical collar. It was his way of coming out. After meeting Edward Sagarin, who wrote the groundbreaking book “The Homosexual in America” (using the pen name Donald Webster Cory), Wood was inspired to write “Christ and the Homosexual” (1960) under his own name. In the book, Wood called for the Christian Church not only to welcome homosexuals, but also to recognize same-sex marriage, which he had performed long before it was legal. In 1960 The Mattachine Society and The Prosperos honored Wood with Awards of Merit.

From 1965 to 1969, Wood bravely protested in his clerical collar at the Annual Reminders, the first public demonstrations specifically demanding gay and lesbian equality. Held each Fourth of July in front of Independence Hall, the Annual Reminders launched the LGBT civil rights movement and paved the way for the Stonewall riot. At the first Annual Reminder, 40 gay and lesbian activists from New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia participated. By 1965 their numbers had more than tripled.

In 1962 Wood met Hugh M. Coulter—an artist, a cowboy and a fellow World War II veteran—in a gay leather bar in Manhattan. A month before the first Annual Reminder, the couple marched in the nation’s first gay picket line in Washington, D.C., with 18 other gay men and 7 lesbians.

Wood and Coulter spent 27 years together and wore matching gold wedding rings. Coulter died in 1989. “Is it proper for two of the same sex to enter the institution of marriage? To which I must reply, ‘Yes.’ ”

Wood appeared in “Gay Pioneers,” a documentary about the Annual Reminders co-produced by WHYY/PBS and Equality Forum.In 2001 the Christian Association at the University of Pennsylvania honored him as a gay pioneer, and in 2004 the United Church of Christ Coalition of LGBT Concern presented him with its pioneer award.

Wood is retired and living in New Hampshire. At 92, his health prevents him from participating in the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the LGBT Civil Rights Movement, which honours him and the other Gay Pioneers for their courageous seminal efforts.

RamseyMichael Ramsey Archbishop of Canterbury who persuaded the House of Lords to decriminalise homosexuality. A report by the Wolfenden Committee recommended this ten years beforehand but it wasn’t until 1967 that Ramsey argued for its implementation.

William R. Johnson entered the Pacific School of Religion in September, 1968. A clean-cut, devout Texan who had completed pre-theological studies at Elmhurst College, Johnson appeared to Wm Johnsonbe on the fast track to ministry. He immersed himself in seminary studies and work as youth minister at San Carlos Community Church, repressing his homosexuality of which he had long been aware. There was little affirmation for same-gender-loving in churches and seminaries in those days.

When Bill returned for his final seminary year in September, 1970, he saw notice of a gay seminarians group being convened by Jim Sorrells, professor at Starr King School for the Ministry, and others. Bill recalls some surprise in the room as he walked into the first meeting. The group wanted to open dialogue on homosexuality in the Berkeley seminaries so a forum was planned for November 11, 1970. Four hundred people showed up. Although not intending to be visible there, Bill found himself responding angrily to a speaker’s comments dismissing thequalifications of homosexuals to serve in parish ministry, which he had already done with distinction. He rose and came out to the assembled seminary students and faculty, church leaders from throughout the Bay Area, and LGBT community members.

Johnson continued his studies toward his goal to be a parish minister. Another gay seminarian, Nick Benton, also was on an ordination track in the Golden Gate Association (GGA) of the United Church of Christ. However, Benton withdrew his candidacy. In February, 1971, Bill received a call to serve with a new house church ministry designed by the Rev. John M. Rogers, Association Conference Minister of the Southern California Conference UCC. The call meant Bill could formally apply to be ordained.

Bill received unanimous support from the deacons at Community Church in San Carlos to sponsor his request for ordination by the GGA. In March he met with the judicatory’s Church and Ministry Committee which turned down his request by a 5-4 vote. The deacons at the San Carlos Church reaffirmed their support and, as was their right, requested that the Association convene an Ecclesiastical Council comprised all clergy and lay delegates from each congregation so “the people” could decide whether or not to ordain Bill for ministry. With Bill’s consent, the GGA agreed to convene this council after allowing a year for education.

A large turnout for the ecclesiastical council on April 30, 1972, heard Bill’s ordination paper and engaged in vigorous questioning and debate. Finally, after four hours, the delegates voted to approve his ordination by a 62 to 34 vote. William R. Johnson was ordained at the San Carlos Community Church on June 25, 1972.

Troy PerryTroy Perry is the eldest of five brothers born to “the biggest bootleggers in Northern Florida,” Troy Perry and Edith Allen. As early as he can remember, Perry felt called to preach, labelling himself as a “religious fanatic”. He was influenced by his aunts, who held street services in his hometown, and who hosted Perry giving sermons from their home. Perry’s father died fleeing the police when his son was eleven years old, cementing Troy’s resolve to become involved in the church as much as possible. After his mother remarried and moved the family to Daytona Beach, Perry was abused by his stepfather and he ran away from home, to return after she divorced him.

His fanaticism increasing, Perry dropped out of high school, but was a licensed Baptist preacher by the age of 15 years. He married a preacher’s daughter named Pearl Pinion in 1959, remembering, “I was always interested in pastor’s daughters because I thought they would make good preacher’s wives. I didn’t love her when I married her, but I did love her after our first year.” They had two sons and were relocated to Illinois where Perry attended Midwest Bible College and Moody Bible Institute. Perry was the preacher at a small Church of God, and sometimes had sexual relationships with other men, but considered it just youthful exploration. When he was 19 years old, however, church administrators told him one of the men he had been with had told them what they had done. He was forced to leave the church immediately.

They moved to Southern California, pastoring at a Church of God of Prophecy. Perry’s wife found his copy of The Homosexual in America by Donald Webster Cory, that he kept hidden under the mattress and their marriage quickly dissolved. After being directed to pray about being led astray by his homosexual feelings, Perry’s bishop told him to renounce himself in the pulpit and resign. Perry worked in a department store, and was drafted for the army in 1965 where he served two years in Germany.

In 1968, after a suicide attempt following a failed love affair, and witnessing a close friend being arrested by the police at the Black Cat Tavern, a Los Angeles gay bar, Perry felt called to return to his faith and to offer a place for gay people to worship God freely. Perry put an advertisement in The Advocate announcing a worship service designed for gays in Los Angeles. Twelve people turned up on October 6, 1968 for the first service, and “Nine were my friends who came to console me and to laugh, and three came as a result of the ad.” After six weeks of services in his living room, the congregation shifted to a women’s club, an auditorium, a church, and finally to a theater that could hold 600 within several months. In 1971, their own building was dedicated with over a thousand members in attendance.

Being outspoken has caused several MCC buildings to be targeted for arson, including the original Mother Church in Los Angeles. Perry’s theology has been described as conservative, but social action was a high priority from the beginning of the establishment of the denomination. Perry performed same sex unions as early as 1970 and ordained women as pastors as early as 1972.

MCC has over 300 congregations in 18 countries. The 2007 documentary film titled Call Me Troy is the story of his life and legacy, including the founding of MCC and his struggles as a civil rights leader in the gay community.

Perry’s activism has taken many turns, including positions on a number of boards of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender organizations. He held a seat on the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations in 1973. Perry worked in political arenas to oppose Anita Bryant in the Save the Children campaign in 1977, that sought to overturn an anti-discrimination ordinance passed by the city of Miami. Unsuccessful in Miami, he also worked to oppose the Briggs Initiative in California that was written to ensure gay and lesbian teachers would be fired or prohibited from working in California public schools. The Briggs Initiative was soundly defeated in 1978, due in large part to grass-roots organizing, which Perry participated in.[11] Perry also planned the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979 with Robin Tyler.]

In 1978 he was honoured by the American Civil Liberties Union Lesbian and Gay Rights Chapter with its Humanitarian Award. He holds honorary doctorates from Episcopal Divinity School in Boston, Samaritan College (Los Angeles), and La Sierra University in Santa Monica, California for his work in civil rights, and was recently lauded by the Gay Press Association with its Humanitarian Award. Rev. Perry was invited to the White House in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter to discuss gay and lesbian civil rights, and by President Bill Clinton in 1995 for the first White House Conference on HIV/AIDS. In 1997 he was invited to the first White House Conference on Hate Crimes. Perry was also a guest of the President that same year for breakfast in the state dining room in the White House, to be honored with 90 other clergy for their work in American society.

On Valentine’s Day 2004 he spoke to a crowd of gay newlyweds at the Marriage Equality Rally at the California State Capitol. He retired as Moderator of the MCC in 2005, and the Reverend Elder Nancy Wilson succeeded him at an installation service on 29 October 2005.[14] He remains active in public speaking and writing.

In addition to his work as a gay religious leader and human rights activist, Perry has written an autobiography, The Lord is My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay. He has written a sequel to this book, titled Don’t Be Afraid Anymore, published by St. Martin’s Press and Profiles in Gay and Lesbian Courage also published by St. Martin’s. He is a contributing editor for the book Is Gay Good? and the subject of another book, Our God Too. In 2003, he completed 10 Spiritual Truths For Gays and Lesbians* (*and everyone else!).

Perry’s mother became the first heterosexual member of the Metropolitan Community Church and supported her son until she died in 1993. He was reunited with his younger son, Michael, and performed the marriage uniting him and his daughter-in-law, but remains estranged from his elder son, Troy Perry, Jr.

Perry lives in Los Angeles with his long term partner, Phillip Ray De Blieck, whom he married under Canadian law at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto. They sued the State of California upon their return home after their Toronto wedding for recognition of their marriage and won. The state appealed and the ruling was overturned.

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