Carl Bean, singer, clergyman and queer rights activist, dead at 77

Bishop Carl Bean. Via Unity Church Fellowship.

Gospel singer, minister and queer rights advocate Carl Bean has died. He was 77 years old.

Bean first rose to fame in the early 1960s as a soul singer in New York and Los Angeles, founding the Motown group Carl Bean and Universal Love. His profile continued to rise into the 1970s, and he hit a new level of fame in 1975 with the disco hit “I Was Born This Way.” As the title might suggest, Bean lived his life as a proud gay man throughout his career.

As a queer man, Bean claimed he’d been rejected by his family and his church. He, therefore, founded the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, a congregation aimed at LGBTQ African-Americans in 1982. Bean intended the church, which now has 17 individual locations worldwide, to “proclaim the ‘sacredness of all life’ thus focusing on empowering those who have been oppressed and made to feel shame.” Bean would also go on to found his own AIDS charity in 1985, the Minority Aids Project.

Related: Lady Gaga reveals Black, gay activist Carl Bean inspired “Born this Way”

“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,” the Unity Fellowship Church said in a statement marking Bean’s passing.

Bean’s life and work had a far-reaching effect on the future of the queer community. In May 2021, singer Lady Gaga revealed that her hit track “Born this Way” was inspired directly by Bean, saying “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.”

Bean passed away after a long battle with an undisclosed illness. In his 2010 autobiography, he wrote: “As I look back over this journey starting with my innocent days as a little boy running the streets of Baltimore, I see how love sustained me. Love from my biological mother, my grandmother, my godparents, friends, preachers…love born of a need for connection…to feel worth and wanted.”

Every LGBTQ American benefits from that love today. Goodnight, and thank you sir.