Gospel vocalist Carl Bean, famous for gay pride anthem 'I Was Born This Way', dies, aged 77

Carl Bean, the US gospel artist who sang the gay pride anthem ‘I Was Born This Way’, has died, aged 77.

A statement shared by the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, a church for Black LGBTQ+ worshippers which Bean founded, said he “made transition into eternal life” following a lengthy illness.

“Archbishop Bean worked tirelessly for the liberation of the underserved and for LGBTQ people of faith and in doing so, helped many around the world find their way back to spirituality and religion,” the statement said.

Bean was born in Baltimore in 1944 and raised by his godparents after his mother died during an abortion. He alleged that his uncle sexually abused him as a child, and that he was rejected by his family for being gay, saying to Vice in 2016: “I felt like, now I’ma be kicked out because I’m a queer. I attempted suicide and landed in the mental health ward of a big hospital.”

He moved to New York City at the age of 16 to escape his troubled upbringing, and pursue a career as a gospel singer. Having worked with gospel bandleader Alex Bradford there for some years, he eventually settled in Los Angeles, which has remained his base since. 

It was in Los Angeles that Bean formed the group Carl Bean and Universal Love, and eventually began to receive attention from Motown Records. After signing with the label, Bean recorded ‘I Was Born This Way’, a disco track written by Chris Spierer and Bunny Jones, and first performed by the artist Valentino. Bean popularised the track, with its gay pride message (“I’m happy, I’m carefree and I’m gay / I was born this way”) making it a long-standing anthem within the LGBTQ+ Pride movement and also providing the inspiration for Lady Gaga’s 2011 smash ‘Born This Way’.

Following the success of the track, Bean began to reconnect more strongly with the Christian faith he had since he was a child, eventually becoming ordained as a minister in 1982. That same year, he founded the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church, which sought to provide a space and network for Black LGBTQ+ Christians. It has since expanded to cover almost 20 affiliated churches across the US and Caribbean.

In 2010, Bean published a memoir, named, naturally, after his Motown hit ‘I Was Born This Way’.

Back to top