Carl Bean, the US gospel artist and minister who sang the gay pride anthem I Was Born This Way, has died aged 77.
A statement from the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, a church for Black LGBTQ+ worshippers founded by Bean, said he “made transition into eternal life” following a lengthy illness.
“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 church stated.
Bean was born in Baltimore in 1944 and raised by his godparents after his mother died during an abortion. He alleged that his uncle sexually abused him as a child, and that he was rejected by his family for being gay: “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.
He relocated to New York City aged 16 to escape his troubled upbringing and pursue a gospel singing career, where he worked with gospel bandleader Alex Bradford and others. After another move to Los Angeles, which became his home ever since, he formed the group Carl Bean and Universal Love, and caught the ear of Motown Records.
For the label, he recorded I Was Born This Way, a disco track written by Chris Spierer and Bunny Jones, and first performed by Valentino (AKA Charles Harris). Bean’s version became the definitive rendition (including in numerous dance remixes), and its message of gay pride (“I’m happy, I’m carefree and I’m gay / I was born this way”) made it an anthem for LGBTQ+ people.
It also inspired Born This Way, a worldwide hit for Lady Gaga in 2011. She celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the song in May, telling Bean: “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.”
The success of I Was Born This Way inspired Bean to connect more strongly with his Christian faith – he began studying to be a minister, and was ordained in 1982. That year he founded the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church for Black LGBTQ+ congregants, which has since expanded to at least 17 affiliate churches in the US and Caribbean. Its stated mission is to “proclaim the ‘sacredness of all life’ thus focusing on empowering those who have been oppressed and made to feel shame”.
He also founded Minority Aids Project in 1985, which offers care and treatment for low-income Black and Latino HIV and Aids sufferers in Los Angeles.
An intersection in the city was renamed Archbishop Carl Bean Square in 2019. In 2010, he published a memoir, I Was Born This Way.