Carl Bean, a renowned gay preacher who advocated for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, has died at the age of 77. Bean is also the singer of the pride anthem “I Was Born This Way,” which inspired Lady Gaga’s 2011 hit. The Unity Fellowship Church Movement, which was founded by Bean in 1982, announced the news on Tuesday, describing the preacher as someone who “worked tirelessly for the liberation of the underserved and for LGBTQ people of faith.”
“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,” the church wrote, adding that the advocate died “after a lengthy illness.”
“‘Born This Way’, my song and album, were inspired by Carl Bean, a gay black religious activist who preached, sung and wrote about being ‘Born This Way.’ Notably his early work was in 1975, 11 years before I was born,” the artist wrote. “Thank you for decades of relentless love, bravery, and a reason to sing. So we can all feel joy, because we deserve joy. Because we deserve the right to inspire tolerance, acceptance, and freedom for all.”
🧵More sad news fam…HIV/AIDS activist Archbishop Carl Bean, the founder of Minority AIDS Project and Unity Fellowship Church–often nicknamed the Black gay church for being the country’s 1st Black church affirming of the #LGBTQ community has transitioned and is now an ancestor. pic.twitter.com/r5bOBhyPtj
— Jasmyne Cannick (@Jasmyne) September 7, 2021
The Unity Fellowship Church Movement became recognized as the first Black church for LGBTQ+ people. Three years after opening the church, the archbishop founded the Minority AIDS Project in Los Angeles. The foundation still provides services for HIV/AIDS prevention, as well as treatment and care for low-income Black residents.
Los Angeles honored the advocate in 2019 by designating an intersection named “Archbishop Carl Bean Square.”
Bean told his story in his autobiography, I Was Born This Way. The book highlights the singer’s journey from a foster home in Baltimore to his transition to New York and beyond. According to the autobiography, Bean first performed with the gospel group The Alex Bradford Singers. The singer later emerged as a Motown recording artist when he signed with Berry Gordy and recorded “I Was Born This Way.”