Archbishop Carl Bean, the gospel singer behind the gay pride disco anthem “I Was Born This Way,” has died after a “long illness,” reports The Guardian. He was 77 years old. The news of Bean’s death was revealed in a statement from the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, the church that Bean founded for the black LGBTQ + community. “Our hearts go out to all as we mourn the loss of this groundbreaking leader and legend in the worlds of activism, advocacy, AIDS, outreach, faith, liberation theology and more,” the statement said.
Bean was born in Baltimore, Maryland and moved to New York at the age of 16 after a tumultuous childhood. There he began his gospel career and sang with band leader Alex Bradford. After moving to Los Angeles, Bean signed with Motown Records. In 1977 he recorded for the label “I Was Born This Way”. Originally written by Chris Spierer and Bunny Jones, the single became an anthem for the LGBTQ + community. His lyrics were straightforward and remarkably progressive for the time: “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 hit single “Born This Way” from 2011, which also advocates equal rights for the LGBTQ + community.
After the success of “I Was Born This Way,” Bean studied pastors 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 partner churches in the United States and the Caribbean. Bean was also a noted AIDS activist, and in 1985 founded the Minority Aids Project, which cares for low-income Los Angeles black and Latinx residents diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.
“Archbishop Bean has worked tirelessly for the liberation of the underserved and for LGBTQ believers,” added the Unity Fellowship Church in its statement on Bean’s death. “And thus helped many people around the world to find their way back to spirituality and religion.”