Misinformation and Fear of Gay Ministers

What follows are some of my GLBTQ+ experiences between my birth in 1935 and today, when I am 83 years of age.

I grew up in a UU minister family that was not homophobic, which is not to say that GLBTQ+ persons were looked on exactly like heterosexual persons. They were “different,” “exotic,” “interesting,” “artistic.” In the context of the church those who were “out” were not denied a place in congregational life.

That was the way I saw it. Today I know that was not the way GLBTQ experienced it. Church was safer than most other places, but no place was truly safe.

For gay UU ministers, the discovery that they were gay was grounds enough to have their fellowship revoked. There was both misinformation and fear of gay ministers.

I entered Antioch College in 1953. I was a psychology major. I learned the then “enlightened” view that GL persons had some different developmental stages in growing up that led them to be homosexual. They were simply different than heterosexual persons. Most GL persons ( I never heard then about BTQ persons) were deep in the closet, including my freshman roommate. I did not know until after graduation that he was gay. That was also true of several other close friends.

As an upperclassman, I served one year as a hall advisor in a section of the freshman dorm. As I recall there were 18 men. Several weeks into the fall term one of the students came to me and my roommate to report that he had come into his room and found his roommate in bed with another male student. We advised him that he may have misperceived what was happening, but to inform us if it occurred again. Several days later he told us it had happened a second time.

My roommate and I went to talk with the Dean of Students to discuss what should be done. He set up a meeting with the student and the two of us. The dean said to him that his sexual practices, homosexual or heterosexual, were his own business. However, since he shared a room he could not make this a problem for his roommate. There was no discipline. simply a statement that sexual contact could not continue in his shared room.

The three of us returned to the dorm. I had a social engagement and soon left. My roommate stayed behind to be supportive of “Harry,” who was visible shaken by his experience. Harry went into his room and closed the door. “Harve” waited a while and then knocked on his door. Harry was in bed crying. He pulled himself together and told Harve that he had swallowed a full bottle of aspirin. Harve responded that they had to go to the college clinic to have his stomach pumped. Harry asked for a few minutes alone to pull himself together. Harve agreed and waited for several minutes in the hall. There was not answer when he knocked. When he went into the room he discovered Harry had climbed through the first-floor window and could not be found. However, he was soon found and taken to the clinic. He never returned to his room and he withdrew from school.

The next stage in my experience and development occurred several years later when I was in theological school. During the mid-60s some gay closeted theological students were finding their way into the ministry. One of my friends during his internship was accused of being gay. That charge did not stick and he became a fellowshipped UU minister. AS it turned out he was gay. He served about a dozen years in the minister, always experiencing great difficulty. He left the ministry but has remained in fellowship.

I entered the UU ministry in 1964. This was a time of great social upheaval and change in our society and our religious movement. Women’ rights and liberation were gathering strength, upsetting male-female relationships, home and work practices. Women were beginning to find their way into congregational ministries. The Civil Rights Movement was active, especially across the south. The war in Vietnam was beginning to gain opposition across the nation.

In the late 1970s I served on a board of a gay-lesbian counseling service.  I also preached a sermon with the title, “Are homosexuals immoral, illegal and anti-religious?” I wish I could report it had wide circulation and that it had a profound affect upon the members of my congregation. In the latter case it did, but not in the way I hoped. A year or so later I resigned my ministry under pressure from those opposed to my social activism.

In 1969, Gay Liberation gained strength after the Stonewall confrontation and beatings. That led to greater engagement among Unitarian Universalists.

All these movements came to bear on Unitarian Universalists. Within the UUA there developed coalitions among these groups, working for social change. I was deeply involved as an ally in this movement.

I recall that at one General Assembly there was a late-night session, preparing for the next day’s activity on the floor of the GA. As the discussion went on and on, I became more and more fatigued and my back was hurting. Behind me a friend reached over my seat and began to massage my tightened back muscles. My initial reaction was gratitude. then I remembered the massager was gay, and I felt a deep and irrational anxiety welling up within. I was ashamed, embarrassed, chagrined. This was contrary to everything I stood for. It took me some time to regain my emotional balance. Along the way I became acutely aware that the depths of homophobia are much deeper than the conscious level.

I have tried to keep this firmly in mind in all my social action involvements. We can’t root out racism, homophobia, anti-feminism and other irrational prejudices until we become aware how these lurk undiscovered in our own souls.

Through the years I have continued to be involved in a wide range of social justice movements as an ally. I have tried to conform my own deeply hidden shadows and fears. Both are the work of a lifetime, never completed.

One more story, then I am done. In the middle 1990s I testified before a subcommittee of the Colorado House of Representatives in support of gay marriage. I related a story of one of my parishioners, a white woman married to a black man. In the 1940s, they were not allowed to get a marriage license in their home state, Indiana. They went to Michigan to get married, then soon moved to Colorado for the rest of their lives. I said to the representatives, “I know you will not believe this, but you need to know that the day is coming soon when gay and lesbian folk can get married in Colorado.”

They looked at me as though I was deluded. I think it was the only time in my life I made a correct prediction about the future.

Yes, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” when the committed have the long-range view.

James A. Hobart

James Hobart is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister and a veteran of the Selma Voting Rights Campaign who has worked tirelessly for civil and voting rights throughout his life. Rev. Hobart is 2001 Minister Emeritus of First Unitarian Society of Denver where he served from 1983-2001. He currently serves as President of Antioch College’s Alumni Association, and is a member of the College's Board of Trustees. His father, the Rev. Alfred W. Hobart served as minister of the UU Church of Birmingham from 1953 to 1964 and was an outspoken civil rights leader (learn more about the civil rights history of the UU Church of Birmingham). Rev. James Hobart has traveled with the Living Legacy Pilgrimage and was a prominent member of the planning teams for the LLP’s Civil Rights Veterans Gathering in Asheville, NC, in 2012, and the Marching in the Arc of Justice Conference in Birmingham, AL, in 2015. ​​

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