Today in Gay History: Rally for Rev. Robert Cromey, 1965

9.26.2013

By Andrew Belonsky

Gay-friendly preacher spread his message from coast-to-coast.

By 1965 gay protests, though still rare, had become integral to the gay rights movement. They were part of a "new media-conscious" strategy, writes Marcia M. Gallo. And that strategy was on full display September 26, 1965, when about 30 protesters gathered outside San Francisco's Grace Cathedral to picket the Episcopal Church's decision to "curtail" the job responsibilities of one Rev. Robert Cromey, a straight preacher who fought for full equality, both for gays and blacks.

Cromey's first caught flack for his gay activism in 1963, when he preached about the Christian duty to respect and welcome "outcasts" like gays, people who had been alienated from society. He was instantly branded as a "homophile sympathizer" and "queer lover" and in turn became alienated from his colleagues. He found community, however, in the Council on Religion and Homosexuals, a group he and other religious leaders founded in1964 to bridge spiritual and social divides.

Speaking with the Religious News Service in December of 1964, Cromey, the son of a Brooklyn priest, remarked, "[1 in 10 persons] happens to express love relationships with persons of the same sex. That's 70,000 homosexuals or more in San Francisco. You can't just say to them, 'We don't want to talk to you.'" The church had become "too irrelevant," he said, and must work to change immoral laws and win new hearts. "We might try to get laws passed which don't discriminate against homosexuals and act as a buffer between the law and homosexuals," Cromey said. That same month the Council held a holiday party that was raided by police and ended with numerous arrests.

This all of course riled the powers-that-be, resulting in Cromey's demotion and the 1965 picket. He refused to back down, though, and while that protest was not a success, Cromey has spent the past five decades advocating for inclusion of LGBT people in all walks of life, religious and otherwise. He presided over a gay marriage in 1968, practiced relationship counseling for gay men and couples in the 1970s, and held numerous funerals for young men and women who fell during the AIDS crisis. He also wrote about equality for Penthouse and talked about it on Larry King Live, and in 1992, Cromey published a book, In God’s Image: Christian Witness to the Need for Gay/Lesbian Equality in the Eyes of the Church. Four years later, in 1996, he made national headlines by officiating a wedding for two men in California. The event was covered by ABC News's Turning Points. Cromey still knew how to draw a crowd.

And, yes, Cromey's still around (see picture below) and keeps a blog on which he continues to decry injustice while keeping fans up to speed on his personal life.

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