Carl Bean, Singer of Pioneering Gay Pride Anthem “I Was Born This Way,” Dies at 77

Carl Bean, Singer of Pioneering Gay Pride Anthem “I Was Born This Way,” Dies at 77

The former Motown signee and gospel singer worked as an archbishop and founded a number of LGBTQ+ friendly churches

Carl Bean at church

Carl Bean, October 2004 (Carlos Chavez/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Archbishop Carl Bean, the gospel singer behind the gay pride disco anthem “I Was Born This Way,” has died after a “lengthy illness,” The Guardian reports. He was 77 years old. The news of Bean’s death was announced in a statement from the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, the church founded by Bean for the Black LGBTQ+ community. “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,” the statement reads.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Bean moved to New York at the age of 16 after a turbulent childhood. It was there he began his gospel career, singing with bandleader Alex Bradford. After relocating to Los Angeles, Bean signed with Motown Records. In 1977, he recorded “I Was Born This Way” for the label. The single, originally written by Chris Spierer and Bunny Jones, became an anthem for the LGBTQ+ community. Its lyrics were straightforward and notably progressive for the era: “I’m happy, I’m carefree, and I’m gay,” Bean sings in the chorus. As the title suggests, “I Was Born This Way” influenced Lady Gaga’s 2011 hit single “Born This Way,” which also espouses equality for the LGBTQ+ community. 

Following the success of “I Was Born This Way,” Bean studied to be a minister and was officially ordained in 1982, the same year he founded the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church. He went on to open over a dozen affiliate churches in the United States and the Caribbean. Bean was also a prominent AIDS activist and founded the Minority Aids Project in 1985, which provides care for low-income Black and Latinx residents of Los Angeles who have been diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.

“Archbishop Bean worked tirelessly for the liberation of the underserved and for LGBTQ people of faith,” Unity Fellowship Church added in its statement announcing Bean’s death. “And in doing so, helped many around the world find their way back to spirituality and religion.”

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