10 Black Religious Leaders Advancing LGBTQ Justice

by Alison Amyx

As we near the end of Black History Month, we’re featuring ten lesbian, gay, transgender, same gender loving, and queer leaders (pictured clockwise) who are making history as they pave the way for the welcome and affirmation of all people across Christian traditions.

1. Archbishop Carl Bean

Former Motown recording artist Archbishop Carl Bean has dedicated his life to sharing the good news that “God is love, and love is for everyone.” In 1977, his hit song “I Was Born This Way” became the first gay liberation dance hit. Five years later, Bean founded the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, which continues to empower “those who have been oppressed and made to feel excluded and ashamed.” Archbishop Bean’s 2010 memoir documents his journey from disco stardom to ministry.

2. Rev. MacArthur H. Flournoy

Rev. MacArthur H. Flournoy is the Director for Faith Partnerships and Mobilization for the Human Rights Campaign and serves as the National Minister of Public Policy for The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries. Rev. Flournoy has worked internationally on issues of human rights, health disparities, HIV/AIDS, and racial/LGBT justice in faith contexts.

3. Bishop Yvette Flunder

Raised a devout Pentecostal, Bishop Yvette Flunder began a career in social justice ministry as a young adult that has continued throughout her ministry. In June 2003, she was consecrated as the Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, a multi-denominational fellowship of 56 primarily African American Christian churches. Bishop Flunder also founded the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in San Francisco in 1991 as a ministry of restoration and reconciliation. Listen to an interview with Bishop Flunder at LGBT Religious Archives Network.

4. Rev. Cedric A. Harmon

Rev. Cedric A. Harmon is the co-director of Many Voices, an organization committed to creating a national movement for gay and transgender justice from within the Black church. An ordained pastor affiliated with the National Baptist and Missionary Baptist Churches, Cedric served as religious organizer for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. In our latest video, Rev. Harmon discusses LGBT inclusion in the Black church. 

In 2010, Rev. Darlene Garner (left) and Rev. Candy Holmes
were one of the first same-gender couples to marry
legally in Washington, D.C. (Photo via MCC)

5. Rev. Elder Darlene Garner

Rev. Elder Darlene Garner was ordained in 1988 and has pastored multiple congregations of the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) in the U.S. and South Africa. Since 1993, she has been one of MCC’s spiritual leaders. She is currently the Director of the MCC Office of Emerging Ministries. She oversees MCC ministry development in Asia, Canada, Europe, Latin America, and Oceania; diversity and inclusion; and multicultural competence. She also convenes the triennial MCC Conference for People of African Descent, Our Friends and Allies, next happening in Atlanta in May 2014.

6. Rev. Candy Holmes

Rev. Candy Holmes has been a part of the Metropolitan Community Churches for over 25 years. She lifts up a healing liberation theology, an ecumenically-based vision, and a social justice-seeking ministry that boldly proclaims “God’s love includes everyone.” She serves in multiple leadership roles in the MCC, including chair of the MCC Conference for People of African Descent.

7. Minister Louis Mitchell

Minister Louis Mitchell has been involved in the fight for health, respect and self-determination since the early 1980s, with deep engagement in political, mental health, recovery, and black church contexts. Mitchell serves as the Community Engagement Consultant at Transfaith, and he is one of the founding members of the TDOR Unite! Coalition. He is also a founding member of both The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries’ TransSaints and the Trans People of Color Coalition.

8. Bishop Tonyia Rawls

Bishop Tonyia Rawls is the founding pastor of Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte in North Carolina. She is also the founder and executive director of the Freedom Center for Social Justice, located in Charlotte, NC. In a recent video from the Many Voices Video Campaign, Rev. Rawls tells how meeting Archbishop Carl Bean led her home.

9. Rev. Jonathan Thunderword

Rev. Jonathan Thunderword is an ordained minister in The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries and an influential advocate for the transgender community. He is the founding pastor of By the Way Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia, and he has served as both the Chaplain for the Transcendence Gospel Choir and the Minister of Interfaith Outreach at the Church for the Fellowship of All People. He has also worked to combat police brutality in the trans community and has served as an outreach worker and counselor in HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

10. Pastor Joseph Tolton

Pastor Joseph Tolton is a spiritual leader, public advocate, and entrepreneur. He serves as the National Minister of Global Justice for The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries and Associate Pastor for Rivers at Rehoboth Church in Harlem. Pastor Tolton is also the Deputy Director of The Global Justice Institute, providing strategic planning consulting services for LGBT advocacy groups in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia.

In memoriam: Minister Bobbie Jean Baker

Minister BobbieJean Baker was a pioneering transgender spiritual leader, who passed away in a car accident on January 1, 2014. Minister Baker believed her ministry was to help transgender people reconcile their spirituality, but also to help provide practical assistance with overcoming substance abuse, homelessness and more. Baker moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1992 from Memphis, TN. She served as West Coast Regional TransSaints Minister of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries and Lay Minister at Transcending Transgender Ministries at City of Refuge United Church of Christ. She was the lead singer in the ground-breaking transgender group Transcendence Gospel Choir for a decade.

Baker served as a mentor in the Transgender, Gender Variant, & Intersex Justice Project’s Diamond Project Mentorship Program and has been actively involved in the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement. She also worked for several Bay Area non profits as a peer advocate, case manager, supportive housing manager, with certification as an HIV Risk Assessment Counselor and Domestic Violence Specialist. She was a seminary student at the Pacific Religion School, as well as a sought after speaker and workshop leader.

Like many transgender leaders, Minister Baker’s legacy is found in the lives she touched.

Tribute to Minister Baker provided by Transfaith


Header photo credits: Archbishop Carl Bean, Bishop Yvette FlunderRev. Elder Darlene GarnerRev. Candy HolmesBishop Tonyia Rawls, Rev. Jonathan Thunderword, Pastor Joseph Tolton

Special thanks to Transfaith, Many VoicesMetropolitan Community ChurchesThe Fellowship of Affirming MinistriesLGBT Religious Archives Network, National Black Justice Coalition, and Elixher for providing and publishing biographical information included in this list.

Comments (6)

Rev. Dr. Raymont Anderson

Question for you (smile)
Do you have any ministers or people represented by the New Thought tradition?

Adam Lawrence Dyer

Rev. BobbieJean Baker
Rev. BobbieJean is deeply missed, not just by the Christian community or the Transgender community…but by all communities. That was one heck of a bright beacon. May she rest in peace and may her work have inspired generations to come.

Jason G.

Breath of fresh air
It’s always nice to see a once marginalized group fighting for a now marginalized group.

Solphivyaé Rose Thunderword - Cohen

Congratualations to All of
Congratualations to All of you. Thank you for giving voice to those whom once had no place at the table of equality.

John Britt

Minister BobbieJean Baker
All these people are wonderful shinning stars in the work they do. Minister BobbieJean Baker was is and was the real deal.


You know know them by their

You know know them by their fruits.. yal nees to leave god outta this 

Comments are closed.