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The Reverend Mel
White remembers the late Jerry Falwell

The Reverend Mel
White remembers the late Jerry Falwell


Soulforce cofounder Mel White knew two Jerry Falwells: the evangelical preacher who spewed hate from the pulpit and the family man who wasn't so bad once you got to know him.

During his years of concealing his own same-sex urges, the Reverend Mel White was a ghostwriter for iconic antigay evangelical figures such as Pat Robertson and Billy Graham. When the Reverend Jerry Falwell got wind of White's prowess, White was recruited to pen Falwell: An Autobiography, published in 1987. Eventually White came out and became a voice, as the cofounder of Soulforce, for open and closeted LGBT people against the religious right's condemnation. Here, White remembers his relationship with Falwell, who died May 15, and looks to the future of the antigay movement.

I was in the dentist's chair when I heard that Jerry Falwell passed away. I couldn't believe that I started crying. I had to find an office and I just cried. I was trying to think, Why the heck am I crying? I think I was crying for his family. He was a great father and husband, and he was a really good pastor--I've been going to his church for years, so I know--and he was a really good president of a university. There are 20,000 students at Liberty University, which Falwell founded, and they all like him.

I knew there would be just a huge hole in Virginia and in Lynchburg, and I felt for those people. But at the same time I was feeling more strongly that now we'll never have a chance for Jerry Falwell to say, "I was wrong. I did wrong, and I said wrong, and I'm sorry. God creates gay people and loves them just like she created them. I'm not going to say anything more against gay people because I was wrong." Imagine the consequence that would have had for so many people. Falwell was the face of homophobia.

Back when I was still afraid that I was sick and sinful for being gay, I got a job as a ghostwriter to get my kids through college. First I ghostwrote for Billy Graham, and the next thing you know, Jerry Falwell heard, and I ended up ghostwriting his autobiography. When you have to write 450 pages about a guy, you get really intimate with him, and I learned about this guy inside and out. I kind of liked him. I didn't like what he said, but he had a private persona that was really quite amiable. After putting myself through exorcism, undergoing electric-shock therapy, and then slitting my wrists and going to the hospital, my wife finally said, "You know, you really have a life of your own. I like gay people, but I just didn't want you to be one."

Eventually I met and fell in love with Gary Nixon, and as soon as I realized that my sexuality was a gift from God and got over my fear and guilt, I wrote Stranger at the Gate, in which I told the leaders of the religious right that they are doing terrible damage and they must stop.

Then in 1999, I told Falwell that I had 5,000 people trained to march on his church to close him down.

"OK, what else do you suggest?" he asked me.

I said, "I'll take 200 of those gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and straight allies, and we'll come visit with you for a weekend."

So he said we would have an antiviolence summit, which 183 accredited news crews attended. It was an amazing thing. And then the minute he invited us, he started getting dumped on by all his fundamentalist friends and donors--big donors. Like Tim LaHaye and Gary Bauer and Jim Dobson at Focus on the Family. So he started pulling back, and after that event he refused to see me again. My partner and I moved here, to Lynchburg, Va., hoping that he would be tortured a bit by our presence and he would see a healthy gay couple and realize that he was wrong, because he's changed on other things. He died first, which was a chicken way out.

He was a racist in the 1950s and 1960s. He called the movement for black equality the civil wrongs movement, and he bad-mouthed Martin Luther King Jr. But in 1964, he began to realize something was wrong and he reached out to black people--he told me stories about a shoeshine man who really won his heart. Two years ago he got Lynchburg's NAACP award, which shows not only did he change, but he acted it out.

I had a paradigm for change that I thought Jerry would succumb to, but he didn't. I told him that I would be here until he died or I died, so he decided to win the race.

There's a whole crowd of folks who are fundamentalists like Falwell who are using the gay thing to raise money and mobilize volunteers just like he did. And I think they are all as sincere as he was. These people really believe that America is doomed because God has created a chain of command: from God to Jesus, from Jesus to men, from men to women, and from women to children and so forth. When a man gets out of the chain of command and acts like a woman, he destroys God's plan for humankind. When Jerry said 9/11 was caused in part because we're accepting gays, he means that God withdrew his hand of protection because of this crazy acceptance of gays.

As far as the future of the religious right, Liberty University will graduate 3,750 little Falwells this month. Liberty will have a school with more students than UC Berkeley or UCLA within 20 years. That's the kind of foothold Falwell has on education. He's got an accredited law school, like Pat Robertson's Regent University. They're both turning out lawyers who are wiggling their way into politics and government. An entire generation is coming up that really loves Falwell, and I'm afraid they're all going to be antigay. We gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are really missing it when we think the older generation will pass and the newer generation will save us. A whole new generation of people is being prepared to condemn us.

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