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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
October 27, 2006

Four Pioneers

Troy Perry

Troy Perry founded the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches as an outlet for gay and lesbian individuals who wanted to maintain and expand their faith.

The first, 12-member congregation of the MCC met in Perry�s Los Angeles living room in 1968, expanding to over 300 congregations across the world today with a message of unconditional salvation. The church addresses the needs of LGBT Christians and has served as a beacon for Perry to become one of the world�s leading gay activists.

A religious individual all his life, Perry felt that, despite being excommunicated from the Church of God and other Pentecostal denominations due to his sexuality, God still loved him. He became inspired to start his own sect after a rejuvenation period of his faith, including divorce, estrangement and a failed suicide attempt.

The unique idea of gays and lesbians sharing their religious faith has been covered by a plethora of media outlets across the world, launching Perry as a spiritual leader in the 16 countries with MCC congregations.

Along with leading the church, he served as an official delegate to the White House Conference on Hate Crime and the White House Conference on AIDS during Bill Clinton�s administration, and was among the first group of individuals to be invited to the White House to discuss LGBT civil rights in 1977 under Jimmy Carter.

He also protested against Los Angeles Police Department harassment of gays, and helped organize marches on Washington in 1979 and 1987. The 1987 march called upon President Reagan to change his lackluster response to the AIDS epidemic, which had caused the deaths of many church members.

Perry retired as moderator of the church in 2005, but continues to speak on the gay rights movement, AIDS and equality, all the while maintaining his faith and encouraging others to embrace their own. He has written three books, including his autobiography The Lord Is My Shepherd and He Knows I�m Gay.

Langston Hughes

One of the most notable contributors to the movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. He spent part of his youth in Cleveland, and many of his plays premiered at Karamu House there, one of the nation�s oldest African American theaters.

Studying at Columbia University in New York and Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, he began publishing his work before graduation, when he moved to New York City to become one of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance, a flowering of African American arts from around 1919 until the early to mid-1930s.

Declaring Hughes to be an LGBT pioneer is, at times, problematic. He was very tight-lipped about his sexual orientation, and his biographers take various stances. Faith Berry unequivocally states that he is gay, while Arnold Rampersand calls him heterosexual, despite documenting at least one same-sex relationship.

Certainly, he was not nearly as visible as a gay man as Richard Bruce Nugent, one of the collaborators on the literary anthology Fire!

However, at no point during his life, which ended in 1967, was homosexuality readily accepted in America. Unlike Bayard Rustin, the gay man who mentored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and organized the march on Washington in which Dr. King gave his �I have a dream� speech, Hughes did not live long enough to see the Stonewall riots and the rise of the gay equal rights movement.

However, many of his poems invite queer interpretation, especially those in Montage of a Dream Deferred. He was also closely associated with other queer writers of the Harlem Renaissance like Nugent, Alain Locke and Countee Cullen, among others.

Tom Waddell

A testament to the inclusiveness and diversity of the gay community, Dr. Tom Waddell�s vision of a global gay sporting event resulted in the first-ever Gay Games. Held in 1982 in San Francisco, with nearly 1,350 athletes competing from 12 countries, the Gay Games have grown into one of the most popular sporting events in the world. Modeled after the Olympics, the seventh Gay Games, in Chicago this summer, drew some 12,000 athletes and 140,000 spectators of all races and sexualities.

Athletics played a dominant role in Waddell�s life. He used sports to compensate for his growing sexual attraction to men. He excelled as a gymnast and football star at Springfield College, and immediately began training for the decathlon following his graduation in 1959. It was his athletic talent which, despite being drafted into the Army in 1966, allowed him to avoid serving in Vietnam and instead train for the 1968 Olympics, where he placed sixth out of 33 decathlon participants.

But, following a knee injury in 1972, Waddell decided to shift his focus to medicine, his primary course of study. His medical knowledge led him to work throughout the Middle East, including a role on the Saudi Arabian Olympic team in 1976 as team physician.

After seven years, Waddell returned home to San Francisco and conceptualized a gay sporting event after participating in one of the city�s gay bowling leagues. He traveled across the country promoting the idea of the �Gay Olympics.�

Despite a successful injunction by the United States Olympic Committee and a later Supreme Court ruling over the word �Olympic,� the event was a resounding success even with the last-second name change.

After being diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, Waddell continued his love for athletics, competing in and winning the javelin throw at Gay Games II in 1986. His life ended in July 1987 from his illness. Despite his loss, the memory of Waddell will always animate the spirit of inclusiveness and diversity paramount to the Gay Games and to the community.

Barney Frank

A fiercely intelligent, often outspoken voice in the House of Representatives, Barney Frank has carved out an irreplaceable niche in Washington. His trademark fast-paced speech, humor, and understanding have propelled him to the top of the Financial Services Committee, all the while maintaining a positive voice for LGBT individuals in national government.

Frank has served as representative of Massachusetts� 4th District since 1981, with a consistent voting record on gay rights as well as the economic impact of equality. Prior to his election he worked in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and as chief assistant to former Boston Mayor Kevin White.

A graduate of Harvard University in 1962 and Harvard Law School in 1977, Frank displays an intelligence that precedes his often fiery demeanor on the House floor. He was voted outstanding freshman congressman in a public television survey, and during his tenure he has become a leading voice of the Democratic Party, campaigning for low-income individuals, the elderly and persons facing discrimination, and against policies like the military�s �don�t ask, don�t tell.�

Though Frank did not come out publicly until 1987, he had supported gay equal rights since he took office six years earlier. He has been involved in one notable scandal regarding his sexuality in 1989, which involved Frank�s housekeeper-driver�s alleged running of a prostitution ring from within Frank�s home. Although Frank fired the driver when alerted of his behavior by neighbors, he fully cooperated with an investigation by the House Ethics Committee, which supported his claims of ignorance regarding the matter.

Though the story was used as an election ploy in 1990 by Frank�s opponent, the incumbent carried nearly two-thirds of the district, and has run unopposed since 1992. In the years following the incident, Frank has continued to be a force in Congress, through his wit, fearlessness and stature as well as his gifted speaking style. He encourages LGBT individuals to make a difference through government, and continues to make a difference in solving the problems which face our country today.

 

 

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