Op-ed: Meet My Hero of the Gay Rights Movement
BY Advocate Contributors
December 21 2011 5:00 AM ET
I met Troy Perry for lunch in Silver Lake, in Los Angeles,
at a little Mexican restaurant called Casita del Campo, the oldest
"gay" restaurant in the city.
A "gay" restaurant these days sounds like an anachronism, but
40 years ago it wasn't exactly safe for gay men and women to gather in public
places — thus a place like this, where I saw what has to be the largest rubber
tree on earth growing out of a little pot on the floor. Arched over my head and reaching about
30 or 40 feet in every direction, I kept stealing glances at it in between
bites of my enchilada.
I first heard of Troy years ago when a relative mentioned
that someone had written a book and printed excerpts of a letter written by my
Uncle Ronnie about being gay and the son of Oral Roberts. At the time, I was closeted and married
and probably in a similar place my uncle was when he wrote that letter, and I
didn't want to know anything about it.
It hit too close to home.
And, even when I was in the middle of getting divorced, coming out, and
crying on the floor just about every night, I didn't want to see this letter.
But when I finally started reading, I ordered some of Troy's books from
Amazon, and I called him up and said I wanted to talk. That conversation, three years later,
is still going.
Who is Troy Perry?
Read all about him here if you'd
like, in Wikipedia — in short,
Troy was a Church of God minister in the mid-1960s, and gay, and struggled for
a few years trying to figure out how to reconcile his faith with his sexuality.
He was kicked out of his church, he enlisted for a couple years, he tried to
commit suicide, and he tried, and tried, and tried to find his way into
romance. None of it was really
He came across The Homosexual in America, a
book by Donald Webster Cory that is now out of print and, to me, one of the
most important records of gay life in pre-Stonewall America. I quote from Cory almost every time I
speak publicly; he's that good.
Troy, inspired by Cory’s book on homosexuality, decided to
do the unthinkable by starting the first "gay" Christian church in
Los Angeles with a congregation of 13 people in 1968 (one year before
Stonewall). He realized that his
spirituality was the thing he missed most as an out-of-the-closet gay man and
decided that he didn't want to come out and
throw away his religious beliefs.
"When younger, I was thin as a rail. As I've grown
older, I've put on weight,” Troy said. “I have continued to love myself in all
those roles. Part of my spirituality, I always tell people, is to accept
yourself for who you are."
Troy’s 13-member church later became the MCC, the
Metropolitan Community Church, which now has
250 congregations in 23 different countries. If you're curious, read his books, which describe the
difficulties he had with many of his early churches — many were bombed or
burned to the ground, over, and over, and over again. To many white Evangelical Christians, the opening of a
"gay" church in town was akin to the physical presence of the devil on
Main Street, and they did everything they could get away with legally (and illegally)
to hurt these churches.
“We've had drive-by shootings,” Troy said. “I've been spat
on, slapped, shot at. One guy tried to stab me with a broken beer bottle. But
the way we look at it, if people do the worst they can, we'll still wake up in
Suffice to say that to the people who burned these churches
down to the ground, they saw in Troy's church-planting an end to the world they
were used to. Amen to that.
We all are (mostly) familiar with the Stonewall riots, and
the various left-wing gay groups that fought hand over fist to secure rights
for homosexuals, and we all owe them a huge
debt. What we don't hear about
very often is the struggle that was carried on by people like Troy Perry,
people who said we don't have to leave things like marriage and spirituality
behind when we come out. The
current fight for same-sex marriage is a direct result of the behind-the-scenes
struggle of men like Troy who say that gays really do want the same thing as
Don’t we? I get
asked this all the time. Do we really
want to serve in the military? Do
we really want gay marriage? Many
gays and lesbians who dominated the movement for the first 20 years after
Stonewall bravely questioned some of the central tenets of what it meant to be
American, maintaining that middle-of-the-road values of the military and marriage
were things that gays do not want a part
Me, I want the right to choose. I am not fighting so that we can all enlist or get
married. I'm fighting for the
right to choose, for the right to be in the same place all heterosexuals find
themselves. How can we truly say
how we feel about an issue if we don't have the right to even make up our mind?
Meeting Troy at Casita del Campo reminded me of the feeling I
experienced while first reading his books several years ago — a sense I was in
the presence of a man who fought huge battles and maintained, throughout, an
easygoing smile. There is no
bitterness in Troy. There is a
warm, loving, grateful respect to simply be alive and well; one man trying to
make the world a better place for the rest of us.
What I learned about my uncle will have to wait for later;
I'm writing a book dedicated to him and don't want to give everything
away. Suffice to say that Troy, as
I expected, had a lot of information and a lot of respect and love for those
who have come across his path, and,
simultaneously, the marks of a grizzled warrior who has survived bombs, fires,
rocks, and stones. Reminding me of
Teddy Roosevelt's line "walk softly and carry a big stick," Troy is a
gentle, twinkly-eyed general who will back up his rhetoric with lawyers if he
has to, and personally face down men in the street with broken bottles in their
hands and hate in their eyes.
To date, Troy is an unsung hero of the gay rights
movement. Me, I'm going to start
RANDY ROBERTS POTTS is the grandson to evangelical
preacher Oral Roberts and a gay rights activist.
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