5 Trailblazing Religious Leaders Who Showed Us The Light

They kept the faith.

In honor of Pride month and Logo’s Trailblazer Honors special on June 23, we’re showcasing clergy who preached tolerance, inclusion and love for LGBT people in their faith.

Some used their role to publicly further acceptance, while others fought behind closed doors, but they all blazed a trail for LGBT visibility.

Watch Logo Trailblazer Honors on Sunday, June 23, at 9/8c on Logo.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Bishop Desmond Tutu rose to prominence in the 1980s, becoming the first black Archbishop of Cape Town and working tirelessly to topple apartheid in South Africa. More recently, he extended his activism to advocate for the LGBT community and fight against HIV/AIDS, homophobia and transphobia.

In 2013, he made headlines by declaring he'd rather go to Hell than a heaven that rejected gay people: "I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this," Tutu explained. "I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven," he said. "No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place."

Gene Robinson

When he was elected Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire in 2004, Robinson became the first openly gay man to be consecrated in that role in a major Christian denomination. Though he had publicly disclosed his sexual orientation in 1986, this new level of visibility sparked controversy—and a schism in the church, with many conservatives leaving to form the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

Robinson retired in 2013, though he still ministers: In 2017, he became senior pastor of the Chautauqua Institution, a center for arts, education, recreation and religion in upstate New York.

Rev. Troy Perry

Troy Perry's passion for religion and LGBT equality drove him to open the Metropolitan Community Church, the first affirming ministry for the LGBT community, in 1968.

He had been religious as a child, and dropped out of high school at 15 to become a Baptist preacher. At 19, Perry married Pearl Pinion, a preacher's daughter, and began preaching at a small Church of God in Illinois. But he was caught having a sexual relationship with another man and was forced to leave. His marriage fell apart several years later, and shortly thereafter his bishop at the Church of God of Prophecy in Southern California told him to renounce himself in the pulpit and resign.

The idea for MCC came at a low point in his life—a failed romance had led to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Desperate, Perry put an ad in the Advocate announcing worship services for the gay community in L.A.

A dozen people showed up at that first service, though Perry claims "Nine were my friends who came to console me and to laugh."

At first, services were held in Perry's living room but within a few months were relocated to a theater that could accommodate 600 parishioners. In 1971, MCC opened its own house of worship in 1971 to accommodate more than 1,000 regular members. Social action has always been a part of the church's calling, and Perry helped found L.A. Pride on June 28, 1970. That same year he began performing same-sex unions.

Perry continues his activism to this day, and believes in a future where LGBT people know they are all children of God. At a recent award ceremony, he remarked, "God did not create me so He could have someone to sit around and hate!"

Rabbi Denise Eger

Denise Eger made history in 2015 when she was elected president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, becoming the first openly LGBT leader in Reform Judaism, the religion's largest denomination.

"It’s about human rights and human dignity," she told the AP. "[It] speaks to the way Reform Judaism has encouraged the discernment and education that has made it possible to make the movement more inclusive.”

Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge

In 2014, Rev. Patridge became the first openly transgender priest to preside over services at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Now a chaplain at Boston University, Patridge told Huffington Post he's interested in raising awareness for trans issues on campus: "In one sense, my being trans doesn’t matter. In another way, I’m able to have certain conversations about the complexities of human identity with college students, who are figuring out their own identities."

Watch Logo Trailblazer Honors on Sunday, June 23, at 9/8c on Logo.

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