John Boswell in front of my West Hollywood apartment in 1983.
Photo by Chris R. Glaser.
The last two posts of May unconsciously began a series of personal reflections on the LGBT Christian movement that will continue each Wednesday of June, Pride Month. For those unfamiliar with this blog, be assured that I will return to other topics next month!
When I was serving a national Presbyterian task force on homosexuality as its only openly gay member, one of my Yale Divinity School professors, Henri Nouwen, suggested I would benefit from the scholarship of a new young professor in Yale’s history department, John Boswell.
But it was other mutual friends who brought us together for dinner, and by the end of the evening I was smitten, not only by how brilliant his mind and revolutionary his research, but by his good looks and boyish charm. I persuaded my task force to invite him to share some of his handwritten manuscript, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, at our next meeting in Philadelphia.
We had sought the expertise of scholars like situation ethicist Joseph Fletcher and scientists like sex researcher William Masters of Masters and Johnson, but none of the experts we consulted wowed the task force like John, and some of his as yet unpublished work filtered into our background paper and certainly influenced the recommendation of the committee’s 1978 majority report that homosexuality should not bar someone from ordination.
When I served as founding director of the Lazarus Project, the first ministry of reconciliation between the church and the LGBT community funded by a mainstream denomination, Boswell lectured many times for us over the years about his work discovering the hidden history of LGBT Christians, from saints to same-sex unions in the church.
He happily stayed in my modest, shoe-box-shaped West Hollywood apartment on those visits, and his unique request each time was that we go to Disneyland.
As far as I know, I was the only friend who called him John because of my affection for the name. Other friends knew him as “Jeb,” the acronym of his initials.
On the occasion of his first visit in the fall of 1983, I invited several people to have dinner with him: Rev. Troy Perry, founder of MCC, Malcolm Boyd, openly gay author and priest (who did not use “Rev.” as a title), and Steve Schulte, executive director of L.A.’s LGBT Community Services Center and one-time Colt model.
Meanwhile my friend George Lynch was en route from South Carolina. We had met at the beginning of the summer during the Atlanta General Assembly reuniting the southern and northern Presbyterian churches, and we joked that we took reunion seriously by bonding as a couple. He was scheduled to arrive the next day, so I urged him to get there in time to enjoy this dinner.
I probably served my signature lasagna, as it was something I could prepare beforehand and bake while I visited with guests. The salad, however, was in process when I received a phone call from George that he had broken down on the nearby Hollywood Freeway, and the tow company would only take cash, no credit card. So I left Boswell with the task of finishing the salad and greeting our arriving guests while I drove to assist poor George.
As I was going out, a feverish Troy Perry made a brief appearance to meet Boswell, and excused himself before dinner because he had returned from Mexico with a severe case of—in his own words—“Montezuma’s revenge.” Upon my return, Boyd, with his date, a writer from the L.A. Times, and I enjoyed chatting with Boswell over dinner, while awaiting the arrivals of George after tending to his car, and Steve Schulte, who was delayed at the airport returning home.
George and Steve arrived at the same time, and after introductions and servings, the initial focus was on George’s long distance drive and his harrowing experience breaking down in the middle of Los Angeles rush hour traffic. We all welcomed him to California!
Given the cast of characters, I am certain that we had some important conversations about church, politics, and the LGBT community. But the memorable thing for me was our good humor as we adjusted to the evening as it was, a bit chaotic, very homely—yet a rare opportunity for an intimate gathering of early history-makers in the LGBT community.
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Copyright © 2016 and photo copyright © 1983 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author, photographer, and blogsite. Other rights reserved.