It’s not often that a leading religious figure is also a leading LGBTQ+ activist, but Archbishop Carl Bean was both. Founder of the Los Angeles-based Unity Fellowship Church Movement (UFCM) and singer of the 1977 gay anthem “I Was Born This Way,” Bean died Sept. 7 following a lengthy illness. He was 77.
The liberal protestant denominations teach “liberation theology,” preach that “God is Love, and Love is for Everyone” and attract a mostly Black LGBTQ+ crowd. Today, there are over a dozen UFCM churches across the country. Detroit’s Full Truth Fellowship Church of Christ was a member of the UFCM church community for nearly a decade.
“The death of Archbishop Carl Bean leaves a gaping fissure in the Black LGBTQ community,” Rev. Renee McCoy, founder of Full Truth Fellowship Church of Christ, tells Pride Source. “Through his dedication and tireless commitment to health, to justice and to celebrating God’s unconditional love for all people, lives were transformed from broken to whole.”
Bean’s 1977 version of the disco hit “I Was Born This Way,” a cover of Valentino’s 1975 original, breathed life into Lady Gaga’s 2011 hit. “I always say the lyric found me, and it was very natural,” Bean said in a 2019 NPR interview . “[It] has just been a blessing to my life. And it’s been a blessing, once again, to even another generation’s life through the take that Gaga did on it.”
Bean also founded the Minority AIDS Project (MAP) in 1985. MAP was the first AIDS service provider for people of color in the country.
“[Bean] became a beacon of light to those who needed support and attention at a time when people looked down upon those who had HIV or AIDS and were members of the LGBTQ community,” Najee Ali, a Los Angeles community activist and former MAP employee, told The Los Angeles Times.
“Our greatest tribute to him will be continuing to fight to liberate ourselves and one another from the limitations of fear,” McCoy said. “His power will live on through our diligent joy and radical refusal to settle for nothing less than the best God has declared for all.”
Kafi Adoma, Ghanaian journalist, teacher, philanthropist and director new for the Angel Broadcasting Network, was deeply affected by the loss of Bean. He attended both Full Truth and, later, Unity Fellowship Detroit.
“Getting to know him up close, I was blessed to witness his humor, charm, giftedness, courage, inspiration, and radical love for all,” Adoma said. “He was dedicated to protecting and uplifting LGBTQ people, especially those of African descent and those living with HIV and who were the most disenfranchised and rejected. He had a divine calling to send out the message that God’s love is for everyone with no exceptions.”