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REV. GWEN HALL

ďSo that no one would ever die feeling that God didnít love them.Ē

Rev. Gwen Hall (1951-2007) -- helped organize Pride marches, including the National March on Washington, and became known for her ministry to AIDS patients. In 1995 she founded the Sojourner Truth Unity Fellowship Church, the first local LGBT-friendly congregation that worshipped in the African-American style.

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I was born in segregated America, 1951. When you grow up in a city like Chicago, itís segregated, totally. There are pockets, little ethnic communities, and you donít cross those lines. I think the first time I became aware of racism was on a trip we took to visit one of my motherís relatives. We were somewhere between Illinois and Tennessee. I was eight or nine years old and they wouldnít let me go to the bathroom.

We pulled in and asked for gas and the man started to pump the gas. My mother asked him if I could go to the bathroom. He was either telling us he didnít have one or sent us to a dinky one. There was some unpleasant verbiage. My uncle was outraged, and we didnít buy gas there. Oh, but I remember the rage, and not going to the bathroom! [laughing] It was traumatic. I really had to go; I was a kid!

I learned early that there was a difference between the God of my perception and the God that other people talked about. I wanted to be a minister. Of course, that was a time when, quote, ďWomen didnít become ministers.Ē I was like, how can you have this all-powerful God who can do anything, and I canít be a minister? That donít fit. I had to be ten when I made that discovery.

From then on, it was a battle -- about my perception of God, based on what they told me in the early years, and what I saw the behaviors being, and my saying, ďWait a minute, that ainít quite as it should be.Ē My dad says Iím a rebel.

  Rev. Gwen Hall

photo: Marina Wiesenbach / Trine Multimedia

How did you get involved with the People of Color Against AIDS Network?

Probably like many other people have. A sense that something had to be done, and doing it.

I was approaching 40. My son had graduated high school, and I had begun to assess my life, what I could do to be part of the solution. And I was watching many, many people die. One of the things that was very hard for me was seeing them die and knowing that the church was not loving or accepting them. It became very important for me to begin to use the Bible and other tools of the Christians to bring healing. I made a commitment, a personal commitment to do my part so that no one would ever die feeling that God didnít love them.

In 1994 the Unity Fellowship Church Movement were having their convocation in L.A. I was at Seattle U. in the ministry program, associated with the United Methodist Church. But when it came down to discuss with the higher-ups what I should say in my interviews, they said you got to lie about your identity to get through the process. I said, ďIíve been an out lesbian for all these years, telling people to come out. I cannot make such an important decision, and start in lying.Ē

So I knew that I couldnít remain in the Methodist Church. When I heard about Unity, I decided I was either going to be independent, starting my own church, or I was going to team up with these people because they were black and doing the work. I talked to them about the possibility and they decided it on the spot, and I said ok.

Iíd heard this phrase all of my life, in the church: feeling like Iíd come home. I remember that first day going to the church in L.A. and watching and listening and my soul began to soar. Here was all those queer people of all colors and ages and abilities -- all kinds of people -- heterosexual, black, white, Latino people. I was blown away. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted people to experience feeling like they were home.

I named my congregation ďSojourner Truth Unity Fellowship Church.Ē I wanted a place where all genders, ethnic groups, abilities can feel loved. I think that we delude ourselves that diversification will happen by osmosis -- it wonít. We arenít any further along because we donít put ourselves out. My hope was to create a spiritual, intentional community that will serve the needs of all.

It is hard for people to reclaim the spiritual part of themselves, particularly if itís been damaged or hurt. And many people have been damaged and hurt in the name of God.

I always hope that the love of God shines through me in a way that people can see, and have hope. It takes work. Thereís some times I invite people to church and it takes them two or three years to show up. Itís not that we call God when things are going well, anyway. Itís when we reach that nadir point in our lives. Thatís when itís important. So that's what I try to be mindful of at all times and keep that door open.


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Source: Oral history interview with Rev. Gwen Hall, October 27, 1999.
Interviewed by: Ruth Pettis & Emma Moreno
Seattle, WA: Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project.

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