In Appreciation: Archbishop Carl Bean, 1944-2021
By Ricki Rosales & Stephen David Simon
Archbishop Carl Bean will be remembered for his voice, his advocacy, and his unwavering commitment to those pushed to live on the margins of society.
As a theologian, he was called to found the Unity Fellowship Church of Christ at the start of the AIDS epidemic, and he co-founded the Minority AIDS Project in 1985. These organizations are a testament to his commitment to the principles of liberation theology.
As a minister, he provided comfort and spiritual care to Black gay men who were shunned by churches and the broader society. He called for a response from the faith community to provide aid to this new iteration of “the poor and oppressed” consistent with their Christian teachings.
History has rarely shown us such a figure: an Archbishop who also served as a gospel and disco singer, who gave our communities an anthem that truly celebrated who we are. He pushed back against negative stereotypes and narratives during a time of heightened homophobia in response to the bourgeoning Gay Liberation Movement.
In 1977 he released a cover of Chris Spierer and Bunny Jones’ “I Was Born This Way” for Motown Records which went to number 15 on Billboard’s Dance Club Chart. He proudly sang:
I’m happy – I’m carefree and I’m gay
You’re Calling Me Strange ’cause
You Don’t Understand;
God’s Role for Me in Life’s Overall Plan;
I’ve Learned to Hold My Head Up High;
Not in Scorn nor Disgrace
Lady Gaga later credited his work as the inspiration for her song and album “Born This Way.”
Archbishop Bean’s life work lives on, offering hope and pride to LGBTQ+ communities. His theology and life mission were rooted in love for all people, teaching that God loves all of us, without judgment. STORIES: The AIDS Monument honors his legacy of compassion and dignity for all.
Ricki Rosales is the AIDS Coordinator, City of Los Angeles. Stephen David Simon is a FAM Board Member and former AIDS Coordinator, City of Los Angeles.