Carl Bean, singer of gay pride hit ‘I Was Born This Way’, dies at 77

The musician turned pastor/activist made the "transition to eternal life" after a lengthy illness

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Gospel artist and minister Carl Bean, who sang the gay pride anthem “I Was Born This Way,” has died at age 77 after a long battle with an illness undisclosed to the public.

“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,” said a statement from the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, a church Bean founded for Black LGBTQ+ congregants.

It said he had made the “transition to eternal life” on Sept. 7 “after a lengthy illness.”

Bean, a former Motown singer, is best known for the 1977 gay disco anthem “I Was Born This Way.” The success of the track inspired Bean to study to be a minister, and he was ordained in 1982. 

“The experience of recording this gay anthem in 1977 affirmed and illumined [Bean’s] call to ministry,” author Mark Bowman wrote in a biography. “The song received widespread play – moving up to #14 on the Billboard charts. He was finally able to publicly affirm being gay as a God-given gift.”

Carl Bean
(Credit: Simon & Schuster)

The hit song also inspired Lady Gaga who credited Bean during the 10-year anniversary of her second studio album in May. 

“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,’” Gaga tweeted after the ceremony. “Notably, his early work was in 1975, 11 years before I was born,” she said

“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.”

At the height of his music career, Bean quit the music business after Motown asked him to sing more love songs about women. He went on to become an HIV/AIDS activist and founded a network of LGBT churches.

Launched in 1982, Bean’s Unity Fellowship of Christ Church has since expanded to at least 17 affiliate churches in the US and Caribbean, per The Guardian. In 1985, he founded the Minority Aids Project (MAP) in Los Angeles. The organization offers care to low-income Blacks and Latinos living with the HIV/AIDS virus.

Born in 1944, Bean reportedly had a troubled upbringing in Baltimore. His mother died during an abortion and he was allegedly sexually abused as a child by his uncle. Bean was raised by his godparents and claimed he was rejected by his family due to his sexuality.

“I felt like, now I’ma be kicked out because I’m a queer. I attempted suicide and landed in the mental health ward of a big hospital,” he told Vice in 2016.

Bean unpacked his troubled childhood in his 2010 autobiography, “I Was Born This Way.”

“I don’t fear being honest about who I am,” he said in 2009 ahead of the book’s release. “I expect to be called upon to speak about it, challenge, probably debated, but I know that it would give a lot of people permission to be honest about who they are. God is love, and love is for everyone.”

In 2019, an intersection of Jefferson Blvd. and Sycamore Ave. in South Los Angeles was renamed Archbishop Carl Bean Square.

“I learned from the then-Rev. Bean that services to Black people were not being provided and he felt that there was a need,” said L.A. City Council President Herb J. Wesson at the time.

“He used to go pick up things for the pantry himself. It started out with him and half-a-hand of volunteers and they serviced about 12 to 5 families,” Wesson continued. “You look at MAP today and there’s 40+ staff serving 1,500+ folks.  With little-to-no resources, he was just a person who was determined and he is my friend.”

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