A living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community — Part 9: By word and deed, marching forwards

Posted on April 4, 2017

On that sunny Sunday in October, 1987, founder the Rev. Mayes miraculously bumped into Jack Pantaleo — a Parsonage member who brought The Parsonage’s banner across the country for the march — just as a clock struck noon when the march began. Mayes had carved and painted a special post for the occasion and managed to stand at the front of the lead group with San Francisco leaders Harry Britt, Art Agnos, Pat Norman, Gerry Studds, and “other congressional representatives.” With them by his side and The Parsonage’s banner fitting perfectly on the post, Mayes began the march to the White House, down Pennsylvania Avenue, and towards the Capitol. “The march,” Mayes wrote, “scheduled to last one hour from noon to one o’clock, was still not over by half-past four.” At the time, the New York Times reported that 200,000 people rallied for gay and lesbian rights, but estimates as high as 750,000 have been made as well. This march is one of the biggest to ever happen in the nation’s capital and was the first public showing of Cleve Jones’ NAMES Project Quilt. In Mayes’ reflection, he closed with a heartfelt note to the little cottage of ministry on Castro Street that he helped begin when he wrote “The Parsonage family, both past and present, is playing its part. Our banner carried us all with it all the way!”

In early 1988, The Parsonage started advertising its status as a Jubilee Center of The Episcopal Church, a designation made by the Executive Council in June of 1986. This status was essential to The Parsonage’s credibility as another group began — “Episcopalians United for Revelation, Renewal and Reformation,” which opposed the ordination of “practicing” homosexuals, inclusive language, and the consecration of women bishops. Although EURRR was not an official group of The Episcopal Church, when they began a phone campaign years later, reports of them presenting themselves as officially associated with The Episcopal Church were made.

When The Parsonage attended the 1988 General Convention in Detroit, it would witness and help make history in The Episcopal Church again. For the first time, two openly gay women, were seated at General Convention, one of whom — Dr. Bonita Palmer — was representing the Diocese of California as a member of both The Parsonage and Integrity. The National Episcopal AIDS Coalition — led by Bill Lorton, longtime Parsonage member and leader — was recognized and granted funding for three years, which would go largely towards the education and prevention of AIDS. Broadly speaking, however, the 1988 convention was more conservative than the previous one in 1985. Short by one lay vote, the convention did not adopt a resolution that would amend the canons to include sexual orientation as an identity that could not be taken into consideration about people wishing to be ordained. Put more simply, gay and lesbian people were still not officially protected in the ordination process.

Later that year, back at home in the Bay Area, Bishop Swing would find himself in an interesting predicament regarding a rite of blessing of same-sex unions. In October, the 139th diocesan convention passed a resolution written by Jack Fertig on behalf of The Parsonage (but sponsored by the vestry of St. Aidan’s, San Francisco, since The Parsonage did not have its own voice at convention) which directly asked the bishop and diocese “to support the development and use of a liturgy for the blessing of same sex relationships.” Remember that Swing had previously stated he wanted to wait for General Convention’s position on the matter before taking one himself for the Diocese of California, but General Convention did not take a clear stance on the matter — The Episcopal Church, by and large, wasn’t in consensus about blessing the relationship between two people of the same sex yet.

Swing was, however, making progress in the church regarding AIDS. He spoke in “Philadelphia, Albuquerque, Syracuse, Columbia, South Carolina, gave briefings…for the Archbishop of Sydney and his staff, the bishops of the London area, the Archbishop of Burma and his standing committee, the American Baptist Church,” and was even asked to speak with the Vice President of the United States about AIDS. The activism around AIDS that the Diocese of California led the larger church in was so important, and ultimately life-changing and life-saving.

For more of the living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community series, click here.