Carl Bean, the HIV and LGBTQ+ activist, gospel singer, and minister who sang the LGBTQ+ Pride song “I Was Born This Way,” died Tuesday at age 77 following a long illness.
Bean's song inspired Lady Gaga’s anthem “Born This Way” off her 2011 album of the same title. She said his song was “like a sermon,” according to the BBC.
In the 1970s, Bean found success as a Motown singer, working with legends like Dionne Warwick, Sammy Davis Jr., and Miles Davis. Bean, an out gay man, gave up his singing career after being asked to croon love songs about women.
After Motown, Bean worked to create LGBTQ+ inclusive churches in the U.S. and throughout the Caribbean.
Bean led the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, becoming the liberal denomination's founding prelate. In a statement announcing his death, the church wrote, “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 noted his extensive activism, including founding the Minority AIDS Project in Los Angles in 1985.
The organization was the first in the area that focused on the transmission of HIV in the Black community. Bean’s work received widespread recognition, including an NAACP Image Award in 1987. An intersection in Los Angeles was renamed Archbishop Carl Bean Square in his honor in 2019.
Born in Baltimore in 1944, Bean was raised by his godparents after the death of his mother during an abortion procedure. He told Vice in 2016 that his uncle sexually abused him when Bean was growing up.
After his family found out he was queer, Bean attempted suicide. Bean ended up in a mental health ward, but a psychiatrist helped him eventually accept his sexuality.
“She said, ‘There are many people like you. I can't do what your parents want — make you a heterosexual — but I can help you accept who you are and go for your dreams,’” Bean told Vice.
“That gave me enlightenment and the chance to accept myself. If I had another doctor, I might have been a different animal,” he said.
He eventually moved to New York and then Los Angeles where he connected with Motown executives for “I Was Born This Way.”
Bean told NPR in 2019, “I always say the lyric found me, and it was very natural.”
He also told the outlet how honored it felt to have been an inspiration for Lady Gaga’s hit.
“I felt it was a great tribute, and it was the continuation of saving lives,” he said. “So you know, ['I Was Born This Way'] has just been a blessing to my life. And it's been a blessing, once again, to even another generation's life through the take that Gaga did on it.”