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Celebrating Bold and Courageous Faith Leaders Who Stood Up for LGBTQ Pride Before It Was Cool

Unless you live under a huge rock, you know that June is LGBTQ Pride month. Everyone's talking and writing about it, so I guess I'm no different--except I have a spiritual take inspired by my own journey. I want to recognize and celebrate those faith or spiritual leaders who were bold and courageous enough to speak out when it wasn't easy or convenient like it is now and who paved the way for me to live so freely today. Part of this I delivered just this morning in our hospital chaplains' morning report. My audience included several brand-new chaplain interns who I hadn't yet met. Well, now they know I'm a gay chaplain, and I'm curious whether there were any conservative Christians in the bunch. If so--ha, welcome to clinical pastoral education!

The first faith leader I recognize is the Rev. Troy Perry, who was involved in the first gay pride parades in Los Angeles in 1970 and who founded the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). Think about it--the very first gay pride parade and one without all the welcoming church groups or corporate sponsors we take for granted today. That took a lot of guts. It also took boldness and courage for Rev. Perry to create a fully welcoming LGBTQ church when most religious folks wouldn't get anywhere near us. St. Mary's MCC in Greensboro NC played a major role in my coming out and my ability to reconcile my sexuality with my spirituality. It was led by the bold and courageous Rev. Christine Oscar. She did pioneering work for the LGBTQ community when so many would not. Although Rev. Oscar has died and St. Mary's MCC has shut its doors, I owe so much of my spiritual well-being and growth to her and to St. Mary's.

The next bold and courageous faith leader I recognize is the Rev. Jesse Jackson. In his 2 campaigns for US President (1984 and 1988), he advocated for LGBTQ rights and for more federal funding for AIDS research and education. This took place at the height of the AIDS crisis and when it was still incredibly risky to voice support for LGBTQ folks. Ironically, I wasn't even out at the time, but there was something that attracted me about Rev. Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, and I'm proud to have volunteered briefly for his '88 campaign on my college campus.

Last but not last, I celebrate the bold and courageous Rev. Michael Usey of Greensboro NC. He first came to my attention when he spoke at a vigil for Matthew Shepard, the gay student who was brutally murdered in 1998. Rev. Usey took some heat for his pro-LGBTQ stance, and I was impressed because Usey is pastor of College Park Church, then a Southern Baptist congregation. Having grown up within a Southern Baptist culture, I knew well how homophobic they could be and still are. Well, within about a year, my late partner and I had joined the church, and I eventually served as a deacon. Usey and his congregation provided a wonderful and loving spiritual home (College Park soon left the SBC).

Yes, we've come a long way since the Stonewall Inn uprising that launched LGBTQ Pride. I've come a long way, too--from a closeted Southern Baptist kid to an openly gay Pagan Vodouisant. I hope I can be just as bold and courageous as these folks I've mentioned in my own service to Spirit. Happy Pride!

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