Godly & gay

Bishop Bean writes spiritual memoir

3 out of 5 stars
I WAS BORN THIS WAY,
by Archbishop Carl Bean (with David Ritz). Simon & Schuster (2010). $24. 264 pp.

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Carl Bean never really knew his father, and he barely knew his birth mother. Born and raised in a poor area of Baltimore, Bean was basically raised by a village of “warm and wonderful women,” who nurtured him even though he admits was a girly little boy, soft and feminine. Attracted to other boys at an early age, he knew he couldn’t hide his feelings from those around him, though nothing was ever said. Bean was loved, and that’s what he knew.

In his book I Was Born This Way, Bean recounted that embracing childhood, as well as his career and finding God’s love and acceptance.

The shining point of his life was his godmother’s mother, the woman Bean called Nana. She cared for him, took him to church, and made him happy, but when he was just 3 years old, Nana died and life changed drastically. He was taken in by his godparents, who loved him but didn’t seem to like him. Shortly after that, Bean was sexually assaulted by an uncle.

Though various abuses continued well into his teens, and though Bean had fully acknowledged his gayness, he maintains that he was cherished and accepted — especially by the unaware wives of his abusers.

Fortunately, he found solace in God and in song. Bean sang in good times and bad, for audiences of none or many. Because he knew that God is love, most of his favorites were gospel songs that Bean sang in the church choir. He was encouraged and tutored, and when he was old enough, he moved to New York City to pursue a gospel music career, quickly making a name for himself on the gospel circuit. He followed that with a disco career and a top-selling record.

But at different points in his life, Bean was homeless, which showed him what God truly wanted him to do. After his musical career ended, he started a church and opened his arms to the LGBTQ community. He began an AIDS outreach program through his ministry — he became unconditional love.

Though it sometimes drags, particularly in the middle section, I Was Born This Way is a wonderful biography about a religious man comfortable with his orientation, and it’s curiously soothing to read.

Bean is brutally honest in telling his story, which is both sweetly idyllic and frighteningly horrifying. Still, despite the nastiness he endured, he manages to convey a sense of calm and comfort, and a peaceful demeanor. That makes this, oddly, more like a hug than a book.

Readers looking for heavenly succor will find it in Bean’s reassuring teachings, while others will be merely treated to a unique memoir. If you’re up for something good, I Was Born This Way is worth laying eyes on.

— Terri Schilechenmeyer

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Disco ballsy

Party Animals by Robert Hofler. DaCapo Press (2010); $15.95. 308 pp.

White suits with shiny polyester shirts — remember those? The thumpa-thumpa of the beat and the hazy feeling of strobe light on mirror ball?

If you’re of a certain age, those are either good memories or echoes of “disco sucks.” Either way, Party Animals will tell you about one man who never wanted to stop the music: Allan Carr, who produced Grease and the Village People movie.

Carr, who was gay when it was taboo to talk about such things, became manager to the stars, a job that fully utilized his skills. (anyone who angered Carr himself received a blistering tirade). He could charm anybody, often sweet-talking sponsors into funding his lavish parties so he didn’t have to pay for food or drinks for his guests.

But Carr wanted to be a movie producer, so when he fell in love with the Broadway musical Grease, he knew he could reinvent it for the big screen. He got the rights, tweaked the show and his career took off…for awhile.

Carr’s sense of timing was ultimately poor and his visions bloated. Following the mega-success of Grease, projects flopped or never went anywhere; when Carr finally got his Oscar chance, the entire world witnessed the mess.

Filled with big names and little scandals Party Animals is exhaustively researched, over-the-top snarky, sarcastically funny, and teetering on the very edge of boring. If you’re a Baby Boomer or behind-the-scenes Hollywood die-hard, you’ll get much more out of this book than not. For the rest of us, these Party Animals fail to roar.

— T.S.

Two stars

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Gospel according to gays

Tim Seelig and Cathedral of Hope put a queer twist on that old-time religion with the ‘Gay’ther Homecoming, a celebration of hymns and homos

M.M. ADJARIAN  | Contributing Writer mmadjarian@gmail.com

SAY  AMEN | Seelig, above, tapped dozens of gospel artists for his inaugural concert, including out singers Ray Boltz, below left, and Marsha Stevens, below right.

‘GAY’THER HOMECOMING
Cathedral of Hope,
5910 Cedar Springs Road.
Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. $15.
CathedralofHope.com.

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Leave it to Tim Seelig to find a way to queer-up the straightest event.

The original Gaither Homecoming was started in 1991 in Nashville by gospel singer and impresario Bill Gaither.

“It’s a huge industry of straight gospel singers — I mean hundreds of millions of dollars,” says Seelig.

And that industry has not been gay-friendly. According to Seelig, too many talented LGBT gospel singers have been excluded from performing at events like the Gaither Homecoming. Many are not even allowed to sing in their own churches.

But there is no want of LGBT gospel music fans out there. So on Saturday, Art for Peace & Justice (which Seelig directs) and the Cathedral of Hope will present the first annual “Gay”ther Homecoming, a gala evening of Christian music and song. Proceeds will benefit the Interfaith Peace Chapel at the COH.

The show, the first of its kind in the nation, will feature 49 singers and six instrumentalists from across the country, singing solos and then joining each other — and the audience — to  sing hymns and gospel songs.

“The audience will know every single song performed,” says Seelig. “They will sing along, tap their feet, clap, and utter many ‘amens.’ I have no doubt there will be tears.”

“The initial idea [for the event] came from a staff member at the cathedral and was simply [intended] to host a celebration of LGBT musicians and their friends during gay Pride,” says Seelig. “It is not meant as a spoof or parody of the Gaither Homecoming industry; we just felt that by giving it that name, people would immediately know what to expect with very little explanation.”

It is, though, meant to be empowering for gay people of faith.

“Over the years, I have come in contact with literally hundreds of musicians who cut their teeth in the church but were completely cast aside once they came out,” he observes. “There is no room for them at the table of main-line religion. Period.”

Seelig faced similar discrimination when he came out in the 1980s, but has since achieved international acclaim as a singer, educator and chorale conductor. He’s also brought to Dallas, through A4P&J, speakers such as Maya Angelou and recently a performance of Terence McNally’s Corpus Christi.

His latest project has two aims. The first is to offer LGBT gospel musicians a welcoming space where they can let their talents shine. And the second is “to bring the audience to a place full of wonderful memories of their own journey with religion and, more specifically, the music of their youth.”

Among those slated to perform at the “Gay”ther Homecoming are LGBT gospel luminaries as Ray Boltz, Marsha Stevens, Mark Hayes, Susie Brenner and Pattie Clawson Berry. Local artists joining the line-up include Gary Floyd, Amy Stevenson, Danny Ray, Lonnie Parks and Shelly-Torres West, along with three LGBT gospel groups: Redeemed, Out 4 Joy and Voices of Hope. The show will be filmed for future DVD release.

“Our hope is that this will be something that LGBT people all over will purchase and enjoy,” says Seelig. “There are so many people all over the world who feel disenfranchised. This is just one way that the Cathedral of Hope and Art for Peace & Justice can help them know they are not forgotten.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens