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LGBT bishop whose Motown rendition of I Was Born This Way inspired Lady Gaga dies aged 77


A former disco star whose Motown rendition of the club hit I Was Born This Way inspired Lady Gaga‘s similarly-titled song has died in Los Angeles aged 77.

Archbishop Carl Bean’s death was announced by the governing body of the Unity Fellowship Church, a protestant denomination he founded in 1982 to minister to African Americans who identify as LGBTQ in Los Angeles. 

In the message announcing his death, the Unity Fellowship Church said Bean ‘made transition into eternal life earlier today, after a lengthy illness’ though further details about his cause of death have not been shared. 

Before heading the church, Bean released a version of the song I Was Born This Way with Motown Records in 1977. The disco song, written by Chris Spierer and Bunny Jones, became an anthem for gay pride. 

The song served as the foundation for Lady Gaga’s hit Born This Way, and the pop singer has previously praised Bean for his ‘relentless love.’

‘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.’ Notably his early work was in 1975, 11 years before I was born,’ Lady Gaga tweeted in May.

‘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.’  

Archbishop Carl Bean’s death was announced by the governing body of the Unity Fellowship Church, a protestant denomination he founded in 1982

Before heading the church, Bean released a version of the gay pride anthem I Was Born This Way with Motown Records in 1977

Before heading the church, Bean released a version of the gay pride anthem I Was Born This Way with Motown Records in 1977

The song served as the foundation for Lady Gaga's hit Born This Way, and the pop singer has previously praised Bean for his 'relentless love'

The song served as the foundation for Lady Gaga’s hit Born This Way, and the pop singer has previously praised Bean for his ‘relentless love’

‘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 said in its announcement of his death.

‘He was also a noted speaker and activist, founding both UFCM, Inc. and Minority AIDS Project in Los Angeles, CA, where the denomination was headquartered for many years and where the founding Mother Church is still located.’  

The church added: ‘Our hearts go out to all as we mourn the loss of this trailblazing leader and legend in the worlds of activism, advocacy, AIDS, community outreach, faith, liberation theology and so much more will live on for several lifetimes.’

‘He is immortalized in the city where he served as Archbishop Carl Bean Square bears his name in the community of Crenshaw on Jefferson Blvd.’

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), an organization that provides hospice care to people dying of AIDS, released a statement mourning Bean’s death and highlighting his work as an AIDS activist and openly gay black preacher.

The organization had named one of its three AIDS hospices in honor of Bean early in the AIDS pandemic, which operated in South Los Angeles from 1992 to 2006.

More than 3,000 people lived and died at the facility before it ceased providing hospice services because of the development of lifesaving antiretroviral medications, AHF said in a statement.

‘Archbishop Carl Bean was my brother in the struggle for the last 35 years. We marched through the fire together during the height of the pain and the dying. Regardless of the pressures that could have divided us, we were always there for each other,’ said Michael Weinstein, president of AHF. 

‘An irreplaceable part of our history is retired with his death. However, a small piece of his legacy of service lives on at the Carl Bean House, which started as a hospice and still serves today as sacred ground and a place of healing. Rest in the peace you richly earned dear friend and comrade.’ 

Much of Bean’s life was documented in his 2010 autobiography aptly titled I Was Born This Way: A Gay Preacher’s Journey through Gospel Music, Disco Stardom, and a Ministry in Christ.

In the book, Bean shared his rise from living in Baltimore foster homes to the stage of the Apollo Theater and later his AIDS activism. 

Bean was born in Baltimore on May 26, 1944 to teenage parents. His biological father ‘was not ready for fatherhood’ and his mother ‘did her best’ to raise him until she no longer could and gave up custody of him, according to his autobiography.

He was watched over for a time by neighbors and said his mother later died from a botched abortion when they were not yet legalized nationwide, he told Vice in 2016. 

Bean has said he was sexually abused by his ‘uncle’ – the brother of a man he called ‘Dad’ – as a young boy, which he graphically described in his autobiography.

He later attempted suicide when his foster parents found out he was gay, he told Vice. He then ran to New York on a Greyhound bus at the age of 16 to become a gospel singer.

Bean eventually studied to become a minister and was officially ordained in 1982.

In 1985, Bean started the Minority AIDS Project – the first community-based HIV/AIDS organization established and managed by people of color in the United States. 

Details of memorial services for the trailblazing musician and faith leader have not yet been made public.



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