Out gay Archbishop Carl Bean, the multi-hyphenate Motown recording artist known for the queer disco hit “I Was Born This Way,” died on September 7. He was 77.
Bean’s song, “I Was Born This Way,” was released in 1977 and eventually inspired a remake by pop star icon Lady Gaga in 2011. In a statement, the late archbishop’s church, Unity Fellowship Church Movement in California, serving the Black LGBTQ community, said he made the “transition to eternal life” after battling “a lengthy illness.”
“Archbishop Bean worked tirelessly for the liberation of the underserved and for LGBTQ people of faith and, in doing so, helped many around the world find their way back to spirituality and religion,” Unity Fellowship Church Movement said in a written statement. “Our hearts go out to all as we mourn the loss of this trailblazing leader and legend in the worlds of activism, advocacy, AIDS, community outreach, faith, liberation theology, and so much more will live on for several lifetimes.”
Bean, a longtime HIV/AIDS advocate, started the Minority AIDS Project in 1985, one of the first HIV/AIDS organizations for people of color living with HIV in the US.
Bean was kicked out of his home as a child after he came out and accused a friend of the family of sexually abusing him, according to Vice. That took a toll on him and he ended up in a hospital, where he was treated with electroshock therapy. He eventually met a German doctor who was understanding of his sexuality and helped him embrace his identity.
When he was 16, Bean said he took a Greyhound bus from his home in Baltimore to New York, where he joined a church and met other gay male singers. His music career blossomed from there.
In a statement, Michael Weinstein, the AIDS Health Foundation (AHF) president, recalled Bean as a pioneer in the fight against HIV stigma and discrimination.
“Archbishop Carl Bean was my brother in the struggle for the last 35 years. We marched through the fire together during the height of the pain and the dying. Regardless of the pressures that could have divided us, we were always there for each other,” Weinstein said in a written statement. “An irreplaceable part of our history is retired with his death. However, a small piece of his legacy of service lives on at the Carl Bean House, which started as a hospice and still serves today as sacred ground and a place of healing. Rest in the peace you richly earned, dear friend and comrade.”
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