There is no snob like an undergraduate snob. I thought the riffs in Running were pretty bad; they were pedestrian and sometimes cloying, as in:
—”This is a homosexual bar, Jesus. It looks like any other bar on the outside, only it isn’t.”
—”What was Hiroshima like, Jesus, when the bomb fell?”
—”I know it sounds corny, Jesus, but I’m lonely.”
—It’s morning, Jesus. It’s morning, and here’s that light and sound all over again.”
—”The masks are on parade tonight, Jesus. The masks are smiling and laughing to cover up status anxieties and bleeding ulcers. Tell us about freedom, Jesus.”
— “It’s a jazz spot, Jesus.”
— “Look up at that window, Lord, where the old guy is sitting.”
— “This young girl got pregnant, Lord, and she isn’t married.”
— “I see white and black, Lord. I see white teeth in a black face. I see black eyes in a white face. Help us to see persons, Jesus.”
But hey: it was the Sixties, after all, and there was plenty of schlock to be had all around. Boyd was in pretty good company in that regard (Jonathan Livingston Seagull, anyone?).
I knew that Father Boyd had been a Freedom Rider, and I gave him points for that at least.
And then I stopped paying attention. I vaguely remember him coming out in the middle of the 1970s and thought little of it at the time. I paid no attention at all to his early advocacy of a compassionate response to AIDS. Until I came to Los Angeles and discovered that Boyd was still around and holding court as writer-in-residence for the Episcopal Diocese here, I would have told you—if you had asked me—that Malcolm Boyd was dead.
And now he is dead, with substantial and respectful obituaries published in the LA Times and New York Times. And now I’m thinking what a remarkable and brave thing it was for such a well-known church leader to out himself 1976, just at the point that Jerry Falwell was about to launch the Moral Majority and Anita Bryant was preparing to unleash her virulently homophobic “Save Our Children” campaign against Dade County’s anti-discrimination ordinance.
You can say, and I might agree, that it’s relatively easy for a well-born white male like Boyd to come out. But the reality is that most queer church leaders of that era–however fearless these same leaders may have been in other arenas—not only didn’t identify themselves as gay or bisexual but even made a point of emphasizing their hetero bona fides. Case in point: Boyd’s powerful one-time patron in the church, New York Bishop Paul Moore, Jr.
Another reality of that era is that Boyd’s declaration made him unemployable within the Episcopal Church for several years. It cost him many friendships.
Today when sexual difference is totally accepted and embraced and seen as a significant strength within such rising movements as #Black Lives Matter, it’s almost hard to recall a time when the disclosure of sexual difference could lead to disgrace and to severe social exclusion.
It was pretty tough for seven lean years—Boyd called these years his “wilderness period”—but Malcolm Boyd was resilient, pugnacious even. He had a mischievous twinkle that you could still sometimes glimpse even in his very late age, as in this video clip.
Boyd once told an interviewer that “my very integrity as a human being needs to include my freedom to explore who I am both spiritually and sexually. Not just to explore, but to practice.”
Integrity: being whole. Keeping all the pieces together. Being firmly rooted and standing fully upright like that famous tree planted by the water in Psalm 1: that tree shall not be moved.
What I am saying—and here I am embarrassed for myself, not for Malcolm Boyd—is that I always knew this diminutive priest was quite the character. Everyone knew that. What I didn’t get about him, and should have realized much sooner, is that he also had quite the character.
Rest in peace, feisty freedom fighter. The world still has need of more like you!