Honoring the memory of a Task Force co-founder
We wrote last week that a June 5 memorial service was planned for one of the Task Force’s founding board members, Robert Carter, S.J., who passed away earlier this year. (Find our statement and link to a related New York Times story here.)
The NYC memorial, organized by Father Carter’s longtime friend Brendan Fay, drew a diverse crowd of mourners who came to celebrate the life of this spirited and courageous community leader.
Sue Hyde spoke on the Task Force’s behalf and gave a moving account of Father Carter’s inspirational life and involvement in the Task Force’s beginnings 37 years ago:
Our founders, Father Carter among them, brought an indomitable liberationist spirit to the dream of building an advocacy organization that would be national in scope and mission and would press forward to win equality and dignity for all of us. … Father Carter dreamed of a world in which none of us need fear persecution, prosecution or punishment for living our own queer lives. He worked to bring us to this moment…
Read Sue’s full remarks after the jump.
Good Afternoon. Thank you, Brendan Fay, for including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and me in this moving tribute to Father Carter. Because I grew up in the church and because I did not have the pleasure of knowing Father Carter, out of respect for his role as a priest and mentor to many, I will refer to him as “Father Carter” throughout these remarks.
Father Robert Carter was a founding board member of the National Gay Task Force in October 1973. Father Carter joined 21 other founders, including the famous Three Doctors: Dr. Howard Brown, Dr. Bruce Voeller and Dr. Frank Kameny. Our founders, Father Carter among them, brought an indomitable liberationist spirit to the dream of building an advocacy organization that would be national in scope and mission and would press forward to win equality and dignity for all of us. Father Carter had, one year earlier, founded with Father John McNeill another organization critical to our survival: Dignity. His eye had been on the prize for LGBT Catholics, and now he joined a national political organization for all LGBT people.
Among other early pathfinders sharing board of director duties with Father Carter were Martin Duberman and Ron Gold; and from the first staff of the Task Force was Bob Herrick. Marty would go on to become an esteemed scholar of history, telling the stories of some of our movement’s most significant people and events. Ron Gold served on the board and became the communications director at NGTF. Bob Herrick served as program director for finance, planning and religion.
Marty told me that Father Carter, whom I did not know, was a quiet and unassuming man who neither needed nor sought the spotlight or applause. Father Carter did the work with thoroughness and dedication, making solid contributions to NGTF.
Ron, who told me that he himself chose to step off the board soon after its founding—“I couldn’t stand the meetings!”—remembers Father Carter with fondness. “He was a warm man I enjoyed being with,” said Ron. Regarding Father Carter’s peculiar position in the Roman Catholic Church as an openly gay priest, Ron said, “It was perfectly obvious he was an anomaly in the church. He ignored them and went his own way.” Father Carter’s own way included being identified in an Oct. 16, 1973, New York Times article as the Jesuit priest and professor of historical theology who founded the country’s first national advocacy organization for homosexuals. Shortly thereafter, he was visited by a Jesuit superior who suggested he had suffered a psychotic break, but he was never disciplined by the order for his gay activist work.
Father Carter, according to Bob Herrick who is attending today, organized support for and testified on behalf of the New York City gay rights law, ultimately enacted in 1986. Bob remembers Father Carter as a quieter man surrounded by many loud voices on the NGTF board. Father Carter also worked on church and religion issues, but as Bob put it, “There wasn’t much to do at that time except to raise our voices in righteous indignation.”
As a (relatively) younger homosexual liberationist, I try to imagine what our forebears faced as self-identified and out queer adults in the 1950s and 1960s. As we know, being openly gay back in the day was no picnic. I found an article from the New York Times, dated Dec. 17, 1963, that helps to illuminate the world in which Father Carter lived. Titled “Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern,” its writer consistently deployed words we would not see in today’s New York Times: “deviant, invert, degenerate, immoral, sinful, criminal, psychopathic, ill, conflicted, delusional.” The article is long and comprehensively outlines a panoply of both institutional and informal oppression and exploitation of homosexuals.
“An ex-convict has owned or operated a succession of places that catered to homosexuals….[Crime] syndicate interest in such operations is financial. Homosexuals are traditionally willing to spend all they have on a gay night. They will pay admission fees and outrageous prices for drinks in order to be left alone with their own kind to chatter and dance together without pretense or constraint. Homosexuals are victimized frequently by ‘fag workers,’ young hoodlums who specialize in leading homosexuals on and then robbing and beating them, sometimes fatally. A homosexual who had achieved good progress toward cure under psychoanalysis recently told his analyst that at certain hours on certain evenings, he could identify as homosexual approximately one man in three along Third Avenue in the 50s and 60s.”
Well, I guess that young man wasn’t totally cured.
The article concludes with information from a survey, conducted by an early Mattachine Society leader, of 300 gay men who are asked: “If a quick, easy cure was available, would you take it?” 97% said “no.”
In this environment of toxic hostility towards gay people and our own stubborn insistence that we would remain openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender — even inverts! — Father Carter dreamed of a world in which none of us need fear persecution, prosecution or punishment for living our own queer lives. He worked to bring us to this moment — a day when certainly his dream is only partially fulfilled — but a day that is far removed from the New York Times headline that casts us as an infectious contagion fatal to society if we are allowed to grow and to fester.
We thank you Father Robert Carter, for your steadfast and quiet leadership, for your scholarship, for your life well-lived. I hope you were well-loved; you will always be well-respected and well-remembered. I hope you are proud that the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is home base for a large and robust and hard-working faith/religious affairs department called the Institute for Welcoming Resources.
Rest in peace, Father Carter. Know that we walk in your footsteps, following a clearly marked path to liberation, to social acceptance and to the freedom to worship everywhere exactly as who we are in your — and my — home church.