Rodney Church was born in South Central Los Angeles in August 1965, barely two weeks after the Watts Riots devastated the neighborhood and claimed 34 lives. Out of this troubled beginning, Rodney set out to discover and create a life that made sense for him as a black gay Angeleno.

The women in Rodney’s family – his mother, aunt, and grandmother – understood and accepted early on that Rodney was different. The men were less tolerant. Rodney carefully navigated the family waters, charting his own course. He attended public schools around South Los Angeles as well as El Camino College and Santa Monica College, focusing on marketing and psychology. But his passion was fashion. His aunt and grandmother took him on shopping sprees to Bullocks Wilshire and Robinsons in Beverly Hills, and together, they frequented the Ebony Fashion Fair Show at the Hollywood Palladium.

Rodney also took dance classes at the Third Street Dance Academy, and realized a dream come true by becoming an American Bandstand regular dancer from 1981-83, often getting selected for the Spotlight Dance.

By the time he hit his 20s, Rodney was a regular in the Los Angeles gay club scene, frequenting the Odyssey and Studio One in West Hollywood, and the legendary black disco Jewel’s Catch One on Pico Boulevard. He was an active volunteer with the Los Angeles LGBT Center, AIDS Project LA, Project Angel Food, the Minority AIDS Project, and HRC.

Rodney met his partner Jerry in 2007. Today, they live together in the Los Angeles suburb of Covina.

OUTWORDS sat down with Rodney at the Los Angeles home of his best friend Danny in April 2017. We were charmed by his vivid memories of roller skating down Hollywood Boulevard in ‘little satin short-shorts’ during his teen years. Life was not easy back then for a free-spirited black gay teen, and it’s not much easier now. But Rodney Church found a way to rise above, embrace his passions, and stay true to himself.






Mason Funk: We interviewed a woman last summer. Remember Valda Prout? This amazing woman in Washington DC. She just simply tended to close her eyes when she was talking for long stretches, then she would go [crosstalk 00:00:15]
Rodney Church: You're like, "No."
Mason Funk: Or her eyes were so [crosstalk 00:00:19]
Rodney Church: Little slits. Well see, that's what I'm afraid of.
Mason Funk: You'll be fine.
Rodney Church: Okay.
Mason Funk: Your eyes are wide open compared to her. You're in good shape. Okay. Are we speeding?
Kate Kunath: Speeding.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] Do me a favor, just start from the very beginning.
Rodney Church: That's the mic.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Tell me when you were born, where you were born, and just give me a little bit of a picture of who was around when you were born.
Kate Kunath: I'm just going to make sure ...
Mason Funk: Hold on one second.
Kate Kunath: he doesn’t knock this around too much
Rodney Church: I thought ...
Mason Funk: I don't mean who was around like your wet nurse or what not , but I mean who was in your family, what family were you born into. Like I said, as soon as Kate's done.
Mason Funk: Danny.
Danny Gibson: Yes?
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] You'll probably be fine if you come down. No. Actually, we'll see you if you come down.
Kate Kunath: Hopefully you're not a chest pounder when you talk, but we'll see. Some people talk like this a lot, but ...
Rodney Church: No.
Kate Kunath: We'll see.
Rodney Church: I tend to hold my hands.
Mason Funk: Okay. You should also feel completely free to use your hands when you talk. Don't feel like you have to keep [crosstalk 00:01:15]
Rodney Church: Goink. Goink. Goink.
Mason Funk: Okay. When and where were you born? Who was in your family when you were born?
Rodney Church: [00:01:30] I was born on August 31st of 1965 here in Los Angeles. My mom and dad, Edna and Nathaniel Church, and my maternal grandparents, and my dad's mom, so my paternal grandmother. I'm an only child, so as a child, I was always in the company of adults, so probably tended to be a very small adult.
Mason Funk: [00:02:00] What do you mean by tending to be a very small adult?
Rodney Church: [00:02:30] It seems, as I recall, I was in a hurry to grow up. Just couldn't wait to be older. So I remember social occasions, “I want a kiddie cocktail,” or, "Can I have my juice in a wine glass?" That sort of thing.
Mason Funk: Great. Those are great examples. You mentioned in your questionnaire, you talked both about your mom and your maternal grandmother. Let's talk about your mom to start. Who was she? What was she to you?
Rodney Church: Oh god.
Mason Funk: Especially, she knows you're gay.
Mason Funk: What was she like?
Rodney Church: My everything, really, I mean if she ...
Mason Funk: Say, "My mom."
Rodney Church: [00:03:00] [00:03:30] Okay. My mom was my everything. If she was leaving for work, I probably would burst into tears, it's like because I didn't want her to go. But after she and my dad divorced, then she of course was a single parent, and so she had to work. Then, I was left in the care of my grandmother, or grandmothers, and my mom's sister, my aunt Nola, who is sort of my Auntie Mame. I was left in good company, but I just didn't want my mom to go.
[00:04:00] [00:04:30] My mom was really not, to me, a parent, a parental figure, because she didn't give me a lot of discipline. I was kind of allowed to be. She was a fashion design student. That was her college education. She worked in a little retail boutique on Wilshire. She also sold clothing for entertainment clients. At our house, we had three sewing machines. The dining room table was used to cut out material. There was always some activity related to fashion in our household.
My mom's sister, my aunt Nola was frequently the fit model. I was probably sitting nearby, playing with a Vogue pattern or reading Vogue magazine, or something like that. My mom was a buddy, a best friend.
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] That's wonderful. That sounds like such a delightful ... As I kid, I wanted to learn how to sew, just like my sister. I loved the patterns. I had to be shooed out of my mom's closet because I wanted to help her pick out her clothes.
Rodney Church: Yeah, me too.
Mason Funk: That sounds wonderful.
Rodney Church: [00:05:30] The sad thing is at this point, even some of my own college education, retail merchandising, and I had to take clothing construction as part of the curriculum, and I can't sew anything. I feel bad about it. Well, I could probably sew a button on a shirt, but in terms of really creating and making something, don't look to me for that.
Mason Funk: Were your folks, were your parents, were they LA natives as well, or have they come here from somewhere?
Rodney Church: [00:06:00] [00:06:30] My dad and his family, as far as I'm aware, are from Kansas. My maternal side of the family are from Alabama and Mississippi. I have some great stories that my grandmother told me. I always wanted to hear her stories over and over about her childhood. She was also an only child. She just told these stories that I wanted to hear about being a young girl, growing up in the South. She was born in 1920, so she experienced the harshness of Southern living. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by that.
Mason Funk: Do you remember some of the stories she told you? Or even kind of just like impressions of what was both wonderful and horrible about living in the South pre-civil rights?
Rodney Church: [00:07:00] Gosh. I mean, I really ... I ... things that come to mind, but as an only child, she was close to her grandparents. My grandmother and I were extremely close. Again, she was something of a mother figure for me, but also my best friend, definitely.
[00:07:30] [00:08:00] I think for her as a young woman, she was probably married by the age of 17. My grandfather never really held a job or worked for someone, so he kind of ... the terminology for being an entrepreneur at that time. He was a man who made his own way, and did fairly well, and so my grandmother didn't have to work. My mother was her youngest, so she had three children to take care of. Some of her stories are like going to the local store, I guess, in the town where black people didn't shop. She was allowed to shop there on off hours, I guess, before or after they were open. Although she did sew clothes at home, she had lots of store-bought goods that other people probably did not have.
[00:08:30] That's a thing when she would describe, "I went into ..." I can't even remember the name of the store, "And I bought a brooch, or I bought some face powder," as she called it, so probably a compact or maybe it was loose powder. I don't know. Probably wasn't her shade either. In any case, stories like that.
Mason Funk: You mentioned that she was strict ...
Rodney Church: Yes.
Mason Funk: [00:09:00] ... as compared to your mom who was a little more relaxed with you. You mentioned that your mom would cover for you.
Mason Funk: Kind of jumping forward in years a little bit here, we may go back, but tell me about your grandmother's strictness, and about your mother... kind of maybe having a more intuitive understanding of you and covering for you, and that whole thing.
Rodney Church: [00:09:30] I guess I would start by saying I remember, at a very young age, maybe like seven or eight, sitting in front of the TV. I was watching a documentary about homosexuals in San Francisco. My mother passed through the room, and then she approached me. She asked, "Do you know what you're watching? Or do you understand?" I said yes. She left me to watch whatever I was watching.
[00:10:00] [00:10:30] Again, at that age, I really probably didn't grasp the meaning of what was being said, but I was intrigued and drawn in. My grandmother very much a churchgoing lady. That really was her life. She loved church, going to church. Everything centered around church for her, because that was her social life, her worshiping, her work to some degree. So she was strict, and yet at the same time not.
[00:11:00] [00:11:30] But my mom would cover for me if I was out late or probably exhibiting some behavior that my grandmother would not approve of. She would kind of tell a fib and say, "He went to bed early," or "He is studying with a friend, doing homework," when actuality I might've been out wearing little short shorts rollerskating on Hollywood Boulevard, or as a young teenager, I started clubbing really early. I guess I was a club kid because I went to teen disco on Saturday afternoon. It was held like from two to six, or whatever, something like that, but then after that was over, kids would go out for a burger or whatever. It might be like eight or nine before I was home. That means I was out after dark.
[00:12:00] Yeah, she would cover for me. Her attitude was pretty cool as long as I wasn't getting into trouble, then it was okay. I never got into trouble, so that was that.
Mason Funk: I want to talk more about short shorts on Hollywood Boulevard. Let's also fill in a little bit about church ...
Rodney Church: Sure.
Mason Funk: ... and what church meant to you as a kid, what you liked about it, kind of the role it played in your life.
Rodney Church: [00:12:30] I was never made to go to church. It was just something Saturday night, you lay out your clothes, or you're reminded that “we're getting up early in the morning, so you'll have to get up and get ready.” I was, as far as I can recall, always agreeable to that. I enjoyed going to church. I liked the idea, I guess, of getting dressed up.
[00:13:00] [00:13:30] Probably for me, seeing other people at church, ladies in church, to be completely honest, dressed to the teeth. If you went to church with us, again, because my household was a sewing household. If you think about a Vogue pattern, they weren't designer originals, but we were very well dressed at church. I liked to see ladies in big hats, or hats with fur or beads or something. I enjoyed going to church. It was fun. It still is.
Mason Funk: It was like a fashion show.
Rodney Church: [00:14:00] Kind of, yeah. As a little kid, you're not, maybe, so tuned into the message. At a very young age, it wasn't so much about the message. Then as I got older and came to understand what religion meant to me, then certainly I tuned into the message more, but it was still about the fashion show.
Mason Funk: That sounds delightful. I'm imagining. I mean, I kind of grew up in church, but I definitely don't remember the ladies at my church having any particular fashion sense. I think in the African-American church, there's more of a thing [crosstalk 00:14:21]
Rodney Church: [00:14:30] Definitely. Definitely. Again, because church is not only where you go for worship, but then luncheons and other social functions. I'm sure some people might identify where you leave after morning worship. You go out to lunch, or maybe you go home, you have lunch, and then you come back late in the afternoon and church goes into the early evening. I mean, you probably had a costume change so when you came back to church, then you had a whole new outfit on. Church was great.
Mason Funk: [00:15:00] I'm loving that. That was the question that was going to come to mind, was there a costume change.
Rodney Church: Of course. Absolutely. For me, too. Different bow tie or different something. Yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:15:30] Great. That sounds wonderful. From early on, you liked to watch the ladies in church. You knew you had a certain sensibility. When did that sensibility begin to feel like, "Oh, I'm different from other kids." Did you know that internally? Did they tell you? Did you get teased, bullied? When did you begin to get a sense of like, "Okay. I'm not just your average black boy."
Rodney Church: [00:16:00] [00:16:30] At a young age, I was an effeminate young man, young boy. I didn't know, because no one necessarily said that was wrong. When probably my grandfather or my uncles brought up the issue, it was my grandmother who came to my defense. "Leave him alone. He's not hurting anyone." I liked bright colors. Then when I came home and I said, "Kids call me names. I'm being teased," and I didn't understand why. Then, I guess, my uncle might say, "Well, instead of a red umbrella, you need a black umbrella." "Okay." But did I still want to wear yellow rain boots and splash in puddles and twirl my umbrella around? Probably.
[00:17:00] [00:17:30] Yeah. Then I dressed probably differently from other boys my age. I remember having jeans. Remember, this is the '70s. I think for a birthday, I got jeans with silver back pockets, and like a silver aviator type jacket, and black, silver and burgundy platform shoes. I couldn't wait to wear that outfit to school. Of course, when I got to school, I was probably laughed at, shamed, and probably came home in tears, if I'm being honest, because the outfit that I was so proud of and happy to wear caused me so much pain in the end, but I wanted it. Once it was paid for, they were like, "Well, those are your new clothes. You picked them. Have fun."
[00:18:00] I did get over it. I probably wore those clothes with my head held high, but on that initial day, the teasing and the finger-pointing.
Mason Funk: I hate to ask, but do you remember what were they just ... how blatant were the words that kids used? I mean like sissy? I don't know.
Rodney Church: [00:18:30] [00:19:00] Yeah. I was absolutely called a sissy. I think as I got older, as a young teenager, 12, 13-ish, then the word fag was used. Again, I really didn't get ... I knew it had a negative connotation to it, but I didn't necessarily get that it was bad, or I was bad because of it. I really, to some degree, I guess, just thought they're being mean, or that's their way of trying to hurt me. I was told at home, "Sticks and stones will break your bones. Don't worry about those kids. They're jealous."
Mason Funk: Sorry. Just one second.
Mason Funk: Just for that truck. Go back and start with, "I was told sticks and stones ..." Just go back just that far.
Rodney Church: [00:19:30] I was taught that sticks and stones will break your bones, and words will never hurt you. In the teasing and the bullying, I managed to rise above that and find my dignity and hold my head up. All of a sudden, those words didn't mean so much anymore.
Mason Funk: Great. Now, who was Sylvester?
Rodney Church: God. For me, I learned that he sang in church. That's where he-
Mason Funk: Could you say Sylvester?
Mason Funk: Introduce me ... Yeah, just introduce me to like Sylvester. Who was Sylvester, but use his name.
Rodney Church: [00:20:00] [00:20:30] Okay. Sylvester, for me, was someone that was introduced to me. I saw an album in a record store. For whatever reason, this album cover really stuck out. He was wearing some outrageous outfit. Then, his backup singers known as the Weather Girls later, but originally as Two Tons of Fun, because they were big women. Just something about that album got my attention. Either I bought it, or I begged my mom like, "I want this. I want this."
[00:21:00] I took it home, and tore it open, and put it on the record player, and just immediately I'm like... love at first listen. Instead of love at first site, love at first listen. I believe, Step II was his second album. The first album I saw, it was called Scratch My Flower. Sylvester with The Hot Band out of San Francisco. I don't have that album in my collection. It's the only one that's missing.
[00:21:30] He was an effeminate young man growing up in church, whose story is probably a little like mine, found his tribe in other gays in the neighborhood. I just so looked up to and still look up to him, although he is no longer with us. If a Sylvester song comes on the radio, or I hear it at the club, I'm right there, I'm right there reliving ... probably the period is about 1979.
[00:22:00] [00:22:30] You did ask me about rollerskating and wearing short shorts. I would put on little satin short shorts and a red or yellow or bright blue tank top and take my roller skates and rollerskate from Vine to like La Brea or Fairfax on Hollywood Boulevard. I wasn't with anyone. I was just out being me, being free, really. Just, I felt free. Hollywood had an attraction, as it does for many people, for whatever reason. I lived probably 20 miles away, so I took a bus to get there and then rollerskate all the way west, and then take another bus and come home, and, I don't know, stop and have a burger or pizza along the way.
[00:23:00] [00:23:30] At one point, there was a roller disco called Flippers here in town. On Saturdays, Cher took her daughter, and her son, but her daughter, Chastity, there. Again, Teen-Disco on a Saturday. So if I didn't go to roller disco, I went to OSKO’s for Disco Disco. It was just fun. It was just fun. Many of those young guys from that period, as I and we got older, became friends of mine. We partied together. I miss a lot of those guys now, because they're no longer with us. That was a very special time.
Mason Funk: That sounds wonderful. Give me one second here. I dropped my phone almost and I lost my place where I [crosstalk 00:23:59]
Mason Funk: [00:24:00] This Sylvester, I feel like I missed out ... I mean, I've missed out on a lot of good stuff, including Sylvester, apparently. This may seem… Do you like to sing?
Rodney Church: I do, but you don't want me to. I enjoy singing, but I really cannot carry a tune.
Mason Funk: Would you be able to even badly sing your favorite Sylvester song?
Rodney Church: Absolutely not.
Mason Funk: I had to ask. I'm going to go check out Sylvester though. Do you know who Sylvester is?
Mason Funk: You do?
Rodney Church: [00:24:30] Now, the music plays in my head, but no.
Mason Funk: What about dancing on American Bandstand. Tell me about that.
Rodney Church: [00:25:00] As a youngster, directly across the street from us, my neighbor was Damita Jo Freeman, who danced on Soul Train. For a long time, that was my thing, because everybody on Saturday, for an hour, watched Soul Train for the fashion show, for the Soul Train line of dancing, to see recording artists. But having her right there, for me, was something special. I went a couple of times thinking I could break through to Soul Train, and that didn't happen.
[00:25:30] Maybe a year or so later, I probably met someone who was on the show who said, "Well, write a letter to this guy, and I'll put in a good word for you." That's pretty much how it happened. I look forward to getting the mail still. I used to come home to see what came in the mail because I had pen pals. I would send away for stuff. I always wanted to know did anything come for me in the mail.
[00:26:00] [00:26:30] Probably as a junior or sophomore in high school, I came home one day from school, and there in the mail was a Dick Clark envelope. And so I tore it open. There was my golden ticket to American Bandstand for the first time. I packed a suitcase full of ... Because they taped four to six shows. It was all day on a Saturday and a Sunday. Someone had to drop me off and pick me up. I needed pocket money for lunch.
[00:27:00] So that very first weekend, that was just the beginning of about two and a half years of nonstop party, both at the studio, because I made lots of gay friends there. After taping all day on Saturday, the discussion was, "Where are we going out tonight? Who's having a party? Are we going to the Odyssey?" Which was a juice bar, teen disco here on Beverly Boulevard.
[00:27:30] [00:28:00] At right under the age of 16, I started going to The O, as we called it. You were supposed to be 16. I wasn't. I managed to get in. They did not serve alcohol. It was a juice bar, a soda bar that was open after hours until like 4 AM. So again, my mom had to cover for me because my curfew was before midnight. Because I didn't drive, I had to ride with someone else. My excuse was that, "Well, they weren't ready to leave," or "I couldn't find them."
[00:28:30] My curfew was extended by a half hour. 12 became 12:30, and then 1. Pretty soon, probably at the age of 17, I honestly was out all night. I would come home on the bus when other people were going to work, and other kids were going to school. I probably looked a mess. My mascara had run. My outfit was all tattered and sweated out or whatever. I would come home and grab a couple of hours sleep, and then go to some classes, and then it was lunch time, and it was time to go shopping on Melrose to get a new outfit to go out the next night. That was just how I was living my life at about the age of 17.
Mason Funk: [00:29:00] Wow. You say basically your mom was ... Was this all with your mom's knowledge?
Rodney Church: [00:29:30] Yes, because I was like ... probably at that point, it was pretty ... I was out there. It was like, "Mom, I need 50 bucks, because I want to get my hair blown out, and a new pair of jeans, and I need $20 for a cab," or whatever it was. It was almost every night. So while my other friends may have been on lockdown studying, thinking about their SATs, I was freewheeling, free-spirited. I was out there.
[00:30:00] I mean, I guess my mom could've stopped me. I did get the talk. I was told to focus. "Your grades are slipping." But the attraction of being out there, it was just no match. There was no holding me back from the world I had discovered.
Mason Funk: [00:30:30] You mentioned in your questionnaire Dick Clark, kind of the welcome map that he put out, in some way, shape, or form for gay kids.
Rodney Church: Without specifically stating it, but yeah, because ...
Mason Funk: Let me know what you talked about.
Rodney Church: [00:31:00] Going to American Bandstand, Dick Clark nurtured dancers. I mean, without dancers, you really had no show. We were not paid for that. Again, it was me packing up several wardrobe changes, and going off for a weekend, when at 16, I could've been working, or I could've been studying for exams, or something like that.
[00:31:30] [00:32:00] You go there. At ABC, it was ... Dick Clark's wife, Kari Clark, she was the mother for us. He certainly encouraged us, "Do well in school." When cameras were not rolling, he asked, "Where do you go to school? What's going on in your life?" I mean, he was interested beyond his business, but it was a safe place. I had a couple of boyfriends. He's a celebrity hairstylist now. I won't mention his name. I mean, here was this good looking guy. I really was attracted to him. Yeah, we probably sneaked a couple of kisses. No one was there to tell you, "Don't do that," or "You can't do that. That's not allowed."
Again, I was in a space where I was allowed to be. I just continued to run in that direction, basically.
Mason Funk: [00:32:30] It's just wonderful to hear that memory of Dick Clark, because now he's become ... Well, now, he's passed away.
Mason Funk: I mean, in the last years of his life, people liked to ... It's not fair. I don't think people these days in the more recent past appreciated, probably, what he was doing for you and dozens of kids like you.
Rodney Church: [00:33:00] Sure, I mean artists ... It was a creative outlet. I took dance lessons, which my grandmother paid for. I took musical instrument lessons, although I don't play an instrument. I thought, "I want to play drums." That didn't work. "I want to play the flute. I want to play this. I want to ..." So I was supported and encouraged. "We'll rent you an instrument, or we'll buy you sheet music," or whatever it is.
[00:33:30] Then, I started taking dance classes. That was, for me, I guess a natural extension. If I'm taking dance classes and I'm dancing on this show, no one knows where this will lead, or if it will lead to anything, but okay. We will give you a shot and let you run with it. My family did that. I'm very grateful that I had that support.
Mason Funk: I don't want to forget to ask you about your hair. Faux-hawks and blowing out your hair.
Rodney Church: Oh gosh.
Mason Funk: [00:34:00] I mean, for you and me both right now, it's hard to remember what fantastic hair we had.
Rodney Church: [00:34:30] Yeah, because I don't have much hair anymore. It's silver to snow white. Back in the day, I had braids, a serious blowout. I had really long hair that had to be blown out and curled. My hair looked better than my mother's hair. I had to go to her like the day after like, "Will you help me curl it? Will you put it on rollers? I need your assistance with the upkeep for this look."
[00:35:00] [00:35:30] I remember once when I was trying to grow it out, my dad's mom ... I was really younger, so like maybe 12. She says, "You need a haircut. I'm going to take you to the barbershop." She did. Most of my hair was cut off. I really cried. Now, in retrospect, her intentions were good. She just felt, "I don't want my grandson to look shabby. He needs a haircut, so go get a haircut." But at the time, I was trying to grow out enough hair to set on little perm rods because there was a guy at my school who had great hair. I wanted hair like his.
[00:36:00] [00:36:30] Yeah, braids, blowouts, Jheri curls, pretty much anything you can think of. I went to the Vidal Sassoon Salon on Rodeo Drive, and I had my hair done a few times. Again, you have to understand, I was really allowed to be myself, to go get a facial at a Beverly Hills salon, and my mother never had that, to get a regular manicure. My mother didn't do that. But at the age of 17, 18, if I wasn't working, certainly my grandmother, she gave me all she had. Although money, I'm sure, was tight, I had money in my wallet to do the things I wanted or felt I needed to do. Those were some of the things that I did. Yeah, a little different from most guys my age.
Mason Funk: [00:37:00] It sounds like it. You also mentioned homophobia from within your family in your questionnaire. Just in passing, but I wonder where that ... I'm not surprised. Maybe you're telling me that there was some pushback or comments.
Mason Funk: What did you hear? What did you experience?
Rodney Church: [00:37:30] [00:38:00] Well, again, my parents were divorced. My dad, who kind of had the reputation of being a party guy. He probably would've been more understanding of platform shoes, or more creative ways of dressing. My uncles, my mother's brother, and my aunt's husband, were having none of my sissified behavior. They kind of either removed themselves all together, and did not have much to say about it, or the ladies more or less got me a free pass, but every now and then, I would hear that they were not happy with the person that I was, and that I guess I should at least attempt to act a little more masculine, and that what will people think.
[00:38:30] [00:39:00] Again, I was told, "Don't worry about what people think," from my aunt, my mother, my grandmother. So on one particular occasion, we were in Las Vegas. I was probably, again. 17, 18-ish. I went to the pool. I wore like a black Speedo and a T-shirt. I have a lot of T-shirts. I like T-shirts that make a statement with the design or the logo or whatever it may be. To my memory, it was a purple, tight fitting T-shirt, and a purple bandanna worn as a headband. I came from the pool and got on the elevator with some other people that my family knew. I guess someone said, "You should really keep an eye on your nephew." My uncle, I guess, had a talk with my aunt, or my grandmother, who then relayed the message to me.
[00:39:30] [00:40:00] Later, our relationship ... He was distant. I just don't think he could handle how out there I was, and unapologetic, just being me. I guess maybe for him, he thought I should live a bit quieter, and maybe fly under the radar a little bit. I wasn't interested in flying under the radar. If anything, I wanted to be bigger and brighter and shine more. Yeah, it did cause some problems.
Mason Funk: It was never an option that you entertained to try to tone it down. You just weren't interested.
Rodney Church: [00:40:30] [00:41:00] No. No. I really was allowed to be. I like to say that I made myself into a product of my imagination. Whatever the influence, whether television or movies. I read a lot as a child. Summer Book Mobile, I always got awards from the library for reading. My first job out of high school was at a local library where I was approached because they said, "Well, we notice you're here daily. You're here all the time. We were wondering, would you be interested in working here."
[00:41:30] [00:42:00] For several years, I did work in a public library. You could usually find me hiding in the stacks reading because I had some down time. I guess my family thought I might become a librarian. At some point I realized, "Well, a librarian needs to have a Masters degree." I wasn't a good student, so I knew I would never achieve that. It was time to look beyond the library, to the next thing I knew best, fashion.So I'll go work in a retail store, or meet some fashion people ...
Mason Funk: Let's hold for one second , just so we get the copter pass.
Rodney Church: That's LA.
Mason Funk: [00:42:30] Well, let me interrupt you. There's this thing, we white people hear about this, which is black guys on the down low, so to speak. I, frankly ... it's not my culture. I feel like whatever I had heard is probably distorted. I wonder, that would've been an option for other black men like yourself.
Mason Funk: It might not have been an option for you, but you probably knew about it, or heard about it, especially as you grew older. How would you describe that phenomenon from what you've experienced, or ... I don't know. Is that a real thing? Do you think it's a ...
Rodney Church: [00:43:00] [00:43:30] [00:44:00] It's a very real thing. Again, when I was younger, guys in the neighborhood, probably some of those same guys who taunted me and bullied me, later ... I might've seen a guy from my childhood in a gay club. I thought, "Wow." At least at that point, he was comfortable enough to be out, but there were other guys. I mean, imagine if I'm driving down the street with my hair blown out, and a guy pulls up next to me, thinking I might be a female and then realizing I'm a guy. Of course, I had a couple of guys who still tried to talk to me. Like, "Hey, pullover," or "Let's go somewhere." I just kind of laughed. I never… I was flattered, but I wasn't interested. Maybe on a couple of occasions, I was, but I don't know.
[00:44:30] [00:45:00] Again, I was comfortable with myself, but I guess for others, having to hide who you are, and be something that you're not, perhaps even if it's for the sake of existing, not being found out ... You might be fired at work, or maybe you have a girlfriend, or a wife and that's your beard, your cover. You sleep with her. Then, you've got a guy on the side, in the shadows. For me, I wasn't interested in being there with someone in the shadows. If I had a boyfriend, then I wanted to bring my boyfriend home to meet my parents. I wanted to go out on a date with my boyfriend in public. That whole feeling.
[00:45:30] [00:46:00] I've met DL guys, certainly now that it's a known thing. But just it for me, would've been really horrible, because that means you have to pretend to be something you're not. Almost like wearing a mask. Then, when do you get to be comfortable and take that mask off and just be yourself? I was told as a kid, "If you tell one lie, then you have to continue lying, because you have to keep that lie in motion." For me, that seemed like a lot of work to sort of try to remember what you said to who. And "oh I'm dating this girl who goes to this college across town." Well, if there's going to be a school dance or a family function, then I've got to try to remember that Mary, or whatever her name is, "Oh, she's not available. Her parents won't let her come out."
It just seemed like a lot of work. For those guys who feel the need and felt the need to live that way, I actually feel really bad for them.
Mason Funk: [00:46:30] Great. Thank you for that. By the time you were probably 17, 18, we began to hear about AIDS. When did you first become aware of this thing going around? I don't know if it was already called AIDS, or if it had other names.
Rodney Church: [00:47:00] I think I recall ... I may have been approaching 20, so 18 to 20. I was out there. You heard about guys who were getting sick. It was kind of mysterious. Not much was known about it. I wasn't very sexually active. I liked going out to party, but I wasn't so much sexually active. For that reason, because I knew this was out there, that probably made me even more so a little reluctant.
[00:47:30] [00:48:00] I was in West Hollywood and hearing the rumblings. The Center used to be located on Highland. If I had any kind of minor sexual contact, and if I probably got a headache, or something didn't seem right, I would call the hotline and go running to the clinic, because I wanted to make sure that whatever it was, I didn't have it, that I wasn't exhibiting those symptoms.
[00:48:30] I had my very first boyfriend two weeks after my 21st birthday, my first official boyfriend that I brought home to my family. He had just moved to California from the East Coast, fresh out of the Air Force. For the year or so that we dated, I never let him get to home base. In the end, that's probably why we broke up, because I really wasn't willing to do much, simply because I was afraid. It's like, if I do that, if I go all the way, will I get sick?
[00:49:00] [00:49:30] [00:50:00] In a few years beyond that, one of my coworkers was sick a lot. Then I became aware that he was HIV-positive. Very soon, he had full-blown AIDS. A few other people ... I was aware. I was like, "Wow. These guys are really suffering." There wasn't a lot out there. I think those were approaching the Reagan years, probably the mid-80s to late '80s, and maybe going until around 1990. It wasn't pleasant in a lot of ways. I wanted to know what could I do, not only to keep myself safe, but what could I do. I volunteered. I went to a hospital. actually Carl Bean house when that opened, because that was the only, in South-central or on the South side of Wilshire, where it was even being talked about.
[00:50:30] [00:51:00] Of course, Carl Bean founded Minority AIDS Project. There, I found other people of color like myself. We all were looking for information and protection. Then, of course, on the other side of Wilshire, APLA existed, and lots of other organizations were springing up. Those were scary times. Even though we now have medication, there is no cure for HIV. These are still scary times, because once you're positive, the question for me would be, "Then what?" I'm just still very grateful to be negative considering I've been out there. I've been living and loving and having a gay old time, and yet here I am. Really happy about that.
Mason Funk: [00:51:30] You mentioned in your questionnaire a lot of feelings of guilt, of shame, from the mere fact that you have not always had protected sex, you've had unprotected. That for whatever reason, you never seroconverted, and you knew many people who did and eventually died.
Rodney Church: Right.
Mason Funk: That's the deaths have been a hard thing to process, I guess.
Rodney Church: [00:52:00] [00:52:30] Yeah. I don't see myself as having done anything differently or lived differently. I don't see being HIV-positive as a judgment of any sort. How all of my high school and college buddies got sick and passed away, and then my second group of friends, and now, they are either positive and/or deceased. Yeah. To be 51 years old and have been out there since I was a teenager, I feel some guilt. When I did have unprotected sex, knowing what was out there, the guilt, the day after, I just really beat myself up internally. Why would you do that knowing the possibility? Now, you have to be tested. Then, you have to wait two weeks for the results.
[00:53:00] That waiting period to get those results were the hardest, that was before the swab where you got the results in an hour, or whatever, and when you had to do the blood draw and wait. I'm amazed that I'm alive and healthy.
Mason Funk: [00:53:30] We'll get to that. We'll get back to that later on. You mentioned ... My questions are kind of like random a little bit, so I always like to have kind of a through line. In a different email, I think you mentioned making an effort to join a diversity committee at the HRC, I think, is what you said.
Mason Funk: [00:54:00] What I kind of want to get at is we've had a couple of interviews this week of people who have been severely critical of the gay community for its racism, for its internal racism, for its inability or unwillingness to be inclusive, this group of people that are looking to be included, but they're not ...
Mason Funk: Your mention of this diversity committee, and maybe hitting a roadblock, or not being welcomed. I wonder if that's a way into that topic.
Rodney Church: [00:54:30] Sure. It was the '90s, I'm sure, when HRC came on the scene or when I became aware of the organization. I guess I found out there was some sort of a meeting in Culver City at Fox, or whatever. There was a studio over there. I called the number, put myself on the list, and there I go.
[00:55:00] [00:55:30] As is, and was often the case, I was either the only person of color, or one of two. I sat through the meeting, and says, "Okay. The next activity is at someone's home in Nichols Canyon up in the hills." Okay. Fine. I go to this event. I happen to be passing through the house. I heard a prominent member say ... “I don't think so much about me,” but they were having this conversation. This guy goes, "Not our class." I thought, "That's a quirky, interesting thing to say. I wonder what he meant by that." Yet, I really did know.
[00:56:00] Then, at that time, there was the black gay beach party at Malibu beach every summer for July 4th. HRC wanted to reach out. I was asked to be the person to represent HRC at that event. "Just go set up a table, collect some names and numbers and emails, so that we can reach out." Fine. I did that. I was going anyway. Sure.
[00:56:30] [00:57:00] [00:57:30] I did that. Did not find very many people interested in wanting to give their information or either they weren't aware of HRC or a little leery of it. I can understand people not wanting to give their name and phone number. "Will you be calling my home or my office," or what have you. But I think it really, for me, was an eye-opener, because I wasn't serving on any boards are really having any place in any organization at that time. I did feel as if I was trying to break through. Then, after that, by attending another event, a fundraiser, a pool party, I think, where there was like all the Absolut Vodka you could drink and a restaurant, La Fabula, for people who knew La Fabula back then donated like chips and salsa.
[00:58:00] Here are people, guys, drinking, just tons of alcohol. You have to drive back from Malibu back into the city and you hadn't eaten all day, but you've been drinking. I wrote a letter saying I was upset about that. So I was then asked to join the committee for the next year's event. I did. At that time, I worked at an event company in Century City, so it was a natural fit, because I also thought, "Well, maybe I can pick up some business for work because they will need some sort of stuff for their event."
[00:58:30] [00:59:00] [00:59:30] I was the person who would go out and tour venues, and secure business. Then, our production team would then provide that assistance. Off I go to these meetings where ... Who's going to donate the food and the liquor? Where are we going to get this, that, and the other? Do you want to be a table captain and sell tickets? Sure. Fine. I think I got a couple of friends to buy tickets, and a couple of coworkers. Ticket may have been $50, or whatever it is. But at these events, again, if there were 100 guys there, then I was maybe one of five African-American guys. You, maybe, saw one or two Asian guys, one or two Latin guys. This was not an event ... not that you didn't feel welcome, or you weren't welcome, but it was just very obvious that this pretty much is a fraternity of sorts, or this isn't community college. This is Harvard. There's a very distinct difference here.
[01:00:00] I think in trying to break through, maybe on both sides, people reaching out to pull others in. At the same time, were there other people like me who even were interested in being in.
Mason Funk: I guess there's two thoughts that come to mind. One is that just because someone's gay, doesn't mean they're not going to be racist, because ...
Rodney Church: True.
Mason Funk: [01:00:30] ... or that because a lot of these people are gay, they tend to be more insular. Like when you're a gay person who finds some other gay people, they feel like they're like you, that you tend to become more closed in and more exclusive of people that don't feel like you, because you're so nervous all the time about being discovered.
Rodney Church: Potentially.
Mason Funk: [01:01:00] Obviously, you've been on the receiving end of the racism, as opposed to the generating end of the racism, for the most part, but do you have a sense of why the gay community has not been more inclusive, in general, towards all parts of the community?
Rodney Church: [01:01:30] That's a great question. I'm not sure I have an answer. When I think about women, transgender, then ethnically ... Again, I don't necessarily have an answer. I know everyone ... you're comfortable where you're comfortable. I think people assume that if you have been oppressed, then how could you be an oppressor, but that obviously is not the case.
[01:02:00] [01:02:30] In reaching out, or feeling the need to reach out, sure I still think there could be more openings, more access, and genuine, not just because like ... "Well, if we get one or two, then we have enough." It's like everyone from all corners, East, West, North, South. Let's have representation from all corners for the common good. We're all on the same page. We all want the same thing, respect, to have our dignity intact, to go about our day, do our jobs, live our lives without those issues being issues.
Mason Funk: [01:03:00] Yeah. Well, it's obviously a big topic. Obviously, there's been some efforts, by the HRC, to become a more inclusive, diverse organization. As you point out, sometimes it feels like, they'll be like, "Oh, we got a black person for the board. Now we're all good."
Rodney Church: He's our poster child.
Mason Funk: He's our poster child, an Asian person, a Latino person, and so on.
Mason Funk: It's obviously something that takes a long time to ... You can't just fix it.
Rodney Church: [01:03:30] Yeah. I don't know if there's a fix for that and for a lot of the issues that we face. I think for me personally, having grown up in LA, although my family is from the South ... Again, I've heard some stories, some good stories, some bad stories.
[01:04:00] [01:04:30] [01:05:00] I remember being at a bar and called a derogatory term. Okay. That was eye-opening. I wasn't in Alabama or Mississippi. I was in Southern California. Every now and then, you do experience, or I do experience things like that. But I must say that for the most part, it hasn't been my experience on a regular basis. I pretty much have been able to move around and live my life without too much negative. I'm grateful for that, but I really feel for people. If you live outside of the big city, if you live in a Southern or Midwestern state, because then not only are you a person of color, but then either you're gay, or bi, or transgender, so you're really a double minority. I don't have to look too far to know what that feels like.
Mason Funk: You mentioned in your questionnaire, you said you walk a fine line. I think you were referring to being both black and gay.
Mason Funk: What did you mean by walking a fine line?
Rodney Church: [01:05:30] There are times when I don't feel I fit on either side.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Say either side of what, so in case someone doesn’t hear my question.
Rodney Church: [01:06:00] [01:06:30] Sure. There are times when I don't feel I fit in on either side of being black or gay. I can't choose one over the other. They are both a part of who I am. I could attempt to play straight to get by for a moment, maybe but I wake up and I'm black every day. I can't take that on and off. I am black and I am gay. As I like to say, South of Wilshire, if I'm in the hood, yeah, there are guys that are going to have an issue with me, and yet at the same time, if I'm in Hollywood or West Hollywood or on the Westside of LA, then there might be guys there that have an issue with me as well.
[01:07:00] For me, I've come to let the issue be their issue. I go back to my childhood of sticks and stones may break my bones, but the words. You can call me the N word. You can call me the F word. It's not going to rattle me too much. If you're in my face, if you physically attempt to harm me, that would certainly be a different story, but the trying to ridicule me or somehow take away my dignity by calling me names ... I've made it to the age of 50, and I'm still here. As far as that goes, it's not going to happen, not likely to happen.
Mason Funk: [01:07:30] Great. Along the way, you mentioned the quest to find the perfect guy.
Mason Funk: How has that worked out for you?
Rodney Church: [01:08:00] Well, great, because I'm currently in a relationship. I have a partner of 10 years. Great, now. From a very young age, I wanted to be with someone to be partnered. My ultimate goal was and still is to be married. Now that we have marriage equality, my partner does not want to get married. It is an issue that comes up every now and then. I've decided I won't ask him again.
[01:08:30] [01:09:00] I don't know. I always thought I had a fairytale ... a vision of my life of being with someone, building a home, sharing responsibilities, being a couple, being part of a couple. In the last 10 years where I have enjoyed that. Even though we're not married, my family loves him. His family has welcomed me. It's great. It's what I thought it would be like. I'm glad to have someone who I know really cares for me about my well-being, who loves me and nurtures me. We're a team. It's exactly how I thought it would be and should be.
[01:09:30] [01:10:00] Although I wear a ring, I purchased this ring myself. He did not get down on bended knee and place it on my finger. That aspect of it has been elusive. I think for me, the idea of marriage is probably, for him, it's a piece of paper. It's a step legally. For me, it's probably the ceremony, the celebration, sharing with family and friends that I found love, and wanting to celebrate that.
Mason Funk: You also mentioned along the way that you, at a certain point ... I don't know if this continues, but that you felt you were drinking too much, and you started going to AA meetings.
Mason Funk: That was super helpful to you.
Rodney Church: Absolutely.
Mason Funk: Can you tell us about that?
Rodney Church: [01:10:30] [01:11:00] [01:11:30] It was after a bad breakup. If you're as social as I am, I thought of myself as a social drinker. What I would jokingly say is, "Well, sometimes I just am too social." I, at the request of my therapist at the time ... says, "Why don't you just sit in on an AA meeting?" Because I had relayed some experiences of drinking to the point of blackout, and not knowing where I was, or who I'm with, which really was not social drinking. It had gone far beyond that. I think to some degree, I was drinking to escape emotional pain, loneliness, because who ... I didn't drink at home. You have to understand. It wasn't that I opened a bottle at home and had a drink and then drank the whole bottle. I could have alcohol at home and might have a drink, but it was only when I went out and I would drink all the money in my wallet, or discover I've charged $100 worth of drinks at a bar.
[01:12:00] [01:12:30] I did go to some Hollywood, West Hollywood area AA meetings. Quite honestly, I have to say I really, really enjoyed when you sit down with this group of guys and some gals. It is called Alcoholics Anonymous, so I can't mention any names, but to see familiar faces, people that you've drank with in the bar, people that you've partied with, and now you're both acknowledging that there might be or is a problem, and to hear their stories and discover that their story was similar to my story.
[01:13:00] I do drink currently, presently, but I did over the course of several years, get about five months of continuous sobriety where I did not drink. For people who know me, five months of one day at a time, I will not drink today, that meant at happy hour, I wasn't going out. At brunch on Sunday, I wasn't having two or three mimosas, or I wasn't having a brandy, or a Kahlua and coffee at night, or whatever it was.
[01:13:30] [01:14:00] [01:14:30] For five months, for me, that was a pretty good amount of time. During that time, I learned to be responsible for my actions, to assert myself but properly, to communicate effectively what my needs are. Those tools, those things that I learned in AA, I still use, even though I drink currently, but I'm now aware of the consequences of drinking too much. It goes far beyond drinking and driving, that I might injure or hurt myself or someone else, to know that I killed someone only because I had one drink too many and got behind the wheel of my car. I would just be really sick knowing that I had done that.
AA was and is a time in my life, no regrets. I recommend it. The things that you learn there, it's almost as if everyone should have to learn those principles and use those principles in their daily living.
Mason Funk: [01:15:00] Great. You want to take a little break?
Mason Funk: You've been talking for a while now. Right. Not a drag queen, not transgender.
Rodney Church: No. Black, gay male who is very involved in churches.
Mason Funk: Wow.
Rodney Church: He wears a lot of big church hats.
Mason Funk: Oh my goodness.
Rodney Church: [01:15:30] [01:16:00] He frequents a bar that I go to, used to go to a lot, and he sits there, and he holds court. He has like a one man, one woman show, a play ... I'm trying to think of the title. It escapes me. Anyway, in thinking about this whole process, he is someone who comes to mind. He's probably several years older than I am. He's seen and heard probably some of the same stuff, then maybe even some other stuff that he could add. I don't know.
Mason Funk: For sure. Those are great suggestions. We'll be doing some more shooting in Los Angeles later this year, because for this week, there was a larger pool of people that I assembled. Then, of course, it was a question of who was available.
Mason Funk: [01:16:30] Some people weren't and some people were. Even yesterday morning, we were supposed to do an interview, and she ... It's funny. She lives in Long Beach. She said, "I just realized this is the week of the Long Beach Grand Prix. My apartment will be deafening for today," so I had to postpone her ... No.
Kate Kunath: Okay. That's good.
Mason Funk: Tell us about Archbishop Carl Bean. His name, I've never heard before.
Rodney Church: Really?
Kate Kunath: What?
Rodney Church: Oh my gosh.
Mason Funk: Really? There we go again. First, it was Sylvester. Now, it's Carl Bean.
Rodney Church: Where have you been?
Mason Funk: That's a very good question. My husband says “I sometimes feel like I married an alien,” because I so don't know so much.
Kate Kunath: [01:17:00] It's because you don't know that Born This Way [crosstalk 01:17:05]
Rodney Church: The song ...
Rodney Church: ... before Lady Gaga. In my attending of Unity Fellowship Church, which he founded, along with ...
Mason Funk: Don't say he, but tell me who you're talking about. Start with Carl Bean, or Archbishop Carl Bean. Start with his name and then tell me.
Rodney Church: [01:17:30] [01:18:00] Carl Bean founded Minority AIDS Project, and Unity Fellowship Church here in Los Angeles. My understanding is he was ... I think he's from New York or Baltimore. Baltimore. He's from Baltimore, and found his way to New York to stage and singing, and grew up in the church. Church is the connection for a lot of these things, especially for black people. Again, church is and was our life, because again ... Martin Luther King, being a minister and all the meetings about the boycotts and protests were held in churches.
[01:18:30] Carl Bean here in LA. I heard that there was like a church that black gays were going to where you could be just yourself. There was no fire and brimstone being hurled at you from the pulpit. It was actually just the opposite, welcoming, accepting, inclusive, love. God is love, and love is for everyone. I went. I was like, "This is great. I'm loving this."
[01:19:00] [01:19:30] [01:20:00] I had been to some other churches, because growing up, I sang in a church choir. I sang in boys chorus and glee in school. Later, I did sing in church choir. Don't ask me to sing. I don't know. It seems like the organ player, the piano player, the choir director ... even before my first real official boyfriend, I dated an older guy, a couple years older than myself, from church. I think maybe my mom thought, "Well, this is kind of a big brother figure for him. Now that he's a teenage male, he needs some male bonding." This guy would come and pick me up, and we would go to dinner and a movie, but we would also make out. He was my boyfriend.
[01:20:30] [01:21:00] [01:21:30] Unfortunately, he was the son of a preacher. It was assumed that he would take over his father's church. He lived on the down low, probably seeing me and many other guys. One day I called his house. We didn't speak with any regularity. I mean, just whenever I called up or he called up. I called and I asked for him. "John passed away." "What?" Was he sick? Did something happened? I didn't know who I was speaking to, his mother, his sister, whom ever, so I just offered my condolences and said I'm very sorry to hear that. Then, I began to think about it. Perhaps he, in getting around on the down low, not having one guy, but many guys sort of ... if not anonymous, but just sort of on the fly relationships. I'm assuming for a young healthy man to just all of a sudden not be here, he must have become HIV-positive and then passed away.
[01:22:00] To get myself back on track to Carl Bean, the church for me, again, growing up was important. I enjoyed going to church. I had a Christian foundation instilled in me. When I found a church of my own, it wasn't mother's church, or my grandmother's church, I found my own church. I became a regular member of the congregation. I was there every Sunday.
[01:22:30] [01:23:00] I've always been kind of quiet, so I wasn't on any church committees. I didn't help shape any policy. I was just there in the congregation. I didn't stand up in front of the congregation and read anything, because on the few occasions when I've been asked to do that, the idea of speaking publicly, my throat goes dry, and my knees shake. I'm just really not cut out for public speaking. I was just there, and for well over a decade, attended Unity Fellowship. Although I'm no longer attending there, they have moved to a different location here in the city. I'm aware of what's going on. I still know people who attend church there.
[01:23:30] [01:24:00] [01:24:30] Carl Bean, for me, he is affectionately known as dad. He loves that. We all love him. He did what no other openly black gay male ... preaching. You might have expected someone to be a role model in sports or entertainment, but in religion, I mean, he is the only person I can think of, with the exception of a gentleman who wrote a book that I never finished reading, Gomes. I don't know his first name. But he was well known in the religious community, and may have been bisexual. He was pro-gay. I don't know what his personal life may have been. Again, for me, Carl Bean was and is just such a great man. He has done so much, contributed so much, been a wonderful example for me. I'm happy to have met him. Although we don't speak often, I haven't spoken to him in quite some time, but I am more than happy to call him my friend.
Mason Funk: This church still exists?
Rodney Church: It does.
Mason Funk: Is it all black, gay men, or is it [crosstalk 01:24:48]
Rodney Church: [01:25:00] No. Everyone is welcome. That is the idea. Part of the idea behind it that God is love and love is for everyone. That's a thing that you hear often. The other thing is ... I say this every day in my prayers. I'm just drawing a blank. Anyway, just that ... I'm sorry. I lost my train of thought.
Mason Funk: That's okay.
Rodney Church: If we can break for just a few seconds ...
Mason Funk: Sure. Take your time.
Rodney Church: [01:25:30] ... because I do want to add that phrase.
Rodney Church: The other saying-
Mason Funk: Maybe back a little bit and say, "One of the sayings ..." I don't know. Find a way to back up a little bit and say. "The phrase that they frequently repeat at church is God is love and love is for everyone." Weave those two together.
Rodney Church: To bring it together?
Rodney Church: In addition to hearing God is love and love is for everyone, another phrase that I often heard is that ... God.
Mason Funk: Oh no. Did it go away again? I should've let you say it. I'm sorry.
Rodney Church: [01:27:00] It's okay. I'll get it back. I'm going to try to run with it before I forget again. In addition to hearing God is love and love is for everyone, the other one is that ... Every time I go to say it, it disappears.
Mason Funk: Say it out loud real quick this next time you remember it [crosstalk 01:27:29]
Rodney Church: [01:27:30] Then you can remind me, right?
Rodney Church: Nothing can separate you from the love of God.
Rodney Church: [01:28:00] In addition to hearing the phrase God is love and love is for everyone, another phrase I really like is nothing can ever separate you from the love of God. I'm not sure if that's it in its entirety, but along those lines that you cannot be separated from God, because God loves you just as you are. He has created You. God makes no mistakes.
[01:28:30] [01:29:00] While I am not a regular attendee at any church at this time, after Unity, I probably went a stretch here locally to Agape, and then I bounced since I was living in West Hollywood to MCC, which is Metropolitan Community Church founded by Troy Perry. I was there under the leadership of Neil Thomas, who is now at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, but church is and will always be an important part of my life. I enjoy going to church, being active in church, talking about church. I could talk to you about church, probably, with the same enthusiasm as music or fashion or something along those lines.
Mason Funk: That's great. I'm glad to know about that church. It sounds amazing. It makes me want to go.
Rodney Church: You should.
Mason Funk: Yeah, I should go check it out some time. Typically music in black churches is pretty darn good.
Rodney Church: Very, very soulful.
Mason Funk: [01:29:30] Two questions that we haven't touched on, although they're related. In your questionnaire, you also mentioned the show Will and Grace.
Mason Funk: [01:30:00] You said Will is kind of the hero, but you yourself identify more with Jack. I wonder if you could just talk about that a little bit in terms of ... I never heard that before. I never even realized that ... I don't know. Just tell me about that.
Rodney Church: For me, I just identify with Jack because ...
Mason Funk: Start by saying, "Everyone's seen this show Will and Grace." Kind of give me a little of the thesis topic statements so I know what you're talking about.
Rodney Church: [01:30:30] So in thinking about Will and Grace and how much I enjoyed watching that show, I found that I identified with Jack, the character of Jack. We're kind of a lot alike. Jack has trouble focusing. Jack doesn't always have a job. Will kind of gives Jack a little heat about being a bit of a screwup, or just not being serious enough.
[01:31:00] [01:31:30] Will's issues are that he perhaps is playing it too perfect. He's got the great job, because that maybe was expected of him. Perhaps, he has a higher level of education. I don't know. Jack is a colorful character and interesting, I think. I mean, I like the storyline they developed for Jack, and the friendship between Jack and Karen. Not that I didn't enjoy Will and Grace, but I just identified more with Jack. I absolutely loved Karen. Karen and I could be best friends because we probably would be drinking lunch at the Four Seasons, or shopping, or something along those lines. That sounds kind of like the life that I have lived.
Mason Funk: ] [01:32:00] [01:32:30] That's great. I never realized that to some people, Jack could come across as a little bit ... It can feel almost like it's sort of like a, "Oh, you should ..." I don't know. There's a kind of an unspoken message that everyone should be like Will.
Rodney Church: Correct.
Mason Funk: [01:33:00] I like that you were able to take on, "No, Jack's my guy. It's okay to be like Jack, too. In fact, maybe, Jack's kind of got it more together in some way than Will-"
Rodney Church: Well, he knows himself, I think.
Mason Funk: That's interesting. Kate, do you have questions?
Kate Kunath: I don't have a question right now.
Mason Funk: [01:33:30] Okay. Kate always asks the best questions. I'll start, we have a final four questions that I like to ask everybody. The first one is if you heard about someone you knew, or a friend, or a family member who was just about to come out, and who was maybe seeking a little bit of guidance ... this coming out can be any type of coming out, gay, bisexual, transgender, whatever ... what guidance would you offer to that person before he or she took that big step out in the open?
Rodney Church: [01:34:00] Interesting that you should ask me that. I've discovered via Facebook, a cousin that I've never met. We chat back and forth. I'm not sure how old he is, but he's much younger. I believe he does drag. I've done some drag. Halloween used to be the excuse. When I was really, really young, my mom bought me high heels. I couldn't fit her's, so she bought me high heels because I didn't want to be a broke-down, ugly drag queen. I wanted to be a well-dressed and pretty drag queen, so my mom bought me shoes.
[01:34:30] For my cousin, I know his mom is accepting of him and our family is accepting of him, but when he goes out into the world, the world is not your family. They don't have to love you. They don't have to respect you. My advice if I were to offer any is to respect yourself, to be the type of person in the world that you don't have to demand respect. You can quietly and gently command that respect by being a certain type of person, by carrying yourself a certain way, as I feel I have. That is what was instilled in me. I think my grandmother and my aunt certainly helped to mold and shape me in that way.
[01:35:00] [01:35:30] Then just in general, if you are questioning ... It doesn't have to be sexually oriented, but if you feel different in any way, different is not bad. Why be one egg in part of the dozen, all the same shape, all the same color? Stand out. It's okay to stand out, because that means you are special, worthy of attention. I see that as a very positive thing.
Mason Funk: Great. What is your hope for the future?
Rodney Church: [01:36:00] [01:36:30] Now, that's a serious question. Given our current political climate, my hope is that under someone's leadership, whether it be our current leadership or not, that the United States will be just that, united. We've had the issues of black and white, straight and gay, for years and years and years. It seems as if we may never get it right. If someone knew what the definition of getting it right was, then we would know what it is and how to get there. We may never get it right, but my hope is that we can come really, really close to simply just respecting each other, respecting each other's boundaries and choices.
[01:37:00] [01:37:30] If your neighbor is gay and you're straight, if your neighbor is black or Latino or Asian or other and you're not ... I don't know ... have a block party. Reach out. Get to know your neighbors. I really think you will find that you have more in common once you get to know each other, that you're not as different as you think you might be. That, for me in my experience in meeting people, and traveling a little bit, it's worked for me. I figure if it can work for me, then for the world at large, it doesn't seem like it's that difficult.
[01:38:00] Another Rodney in Los Angeles said not long ago, "Can't we all just get along?" It's just such a simple question, can't we all just get along? That's my hope, is that we will all, soon, get along.
Mason Funk: That's great. Why was it important to you to come in today and share your story?
Rodney Church: [01:38:30] [01:39:00] [01:39:30] [01:40:00] As I said, I've been quiet, as much as I've been out there. I've not marched in a parade. I've been in a parade, but I haven't marched in a parade, specifically, a gay pride parade. I was not part of any organization other than church where I could've marched with them. It's not because I didn't want to. I wasn’t asked. I thought, if I had an opportunity, if I was given an opportunity, that something that I might say might make a difference to somebody. I'm unknown. I'm not famous for anything. I'm just your average, normal gay guy who has had maybe a very interesting life, but I've had my picture in the newspaper. I was in a parade that I can remember, but nobody knows who I am, so I don't have a platform or a voice or an agenda. But if something that I say today makes a difference for somebody, then that's great. I'm so happy to have been asked.
Mason Funk: Great. The last question is this project OUTWORDS, which is in a sense doing what we're doing here with you with potentially hundreds of people around the country, from all different communities, what do you see is the importance of that, a project like OUTWORDS? If you could mention OUTWORDS in your answer.
Rodney Church: I think it will provide-
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Say OUTWORDS.
Rodney Church: [01:40:30] [01:41:00] [01:41:30] I think OUTWORDS will provide ... sort of put a face to the LGBTQ community, that there are just so many facets. There are so many varieties. There is no one or two or three. We are everywhere. We do everything, construction worker, costume designer, lawyer, bricklayer, fashion designer. I think it will shatter stereotypes, just let people know that an LGBTQ person, once again, really could be your neighbor. You didn't know that about your neighbor, and you don't need to know that specifically about your neighbor. They're just your neighbor. I think it just puts a face on all the many types of us that are out there.
Mason Funk: [01:42:00] Great. That's a great answer. Awesome. Kate, you want more time to check on anything you want to add or ask?
Kate Kunath: [01:42:30] I'm just curious. Going back to a more personal thing about your relationship that you're in and gay marriage. I think it never surprises me when somebody is not interested in marriage, because of all the trappings of marriage. Do we really want to ... I, who am younger than you guys, I didn't grow up thinking “I can get married.” You just don't really think about it. [crosstalk 01:42:30], "You can get married." Like, why do I want to hop to your institution. I wonder if you guys, if you have ... kind of what the perspective of your partner is and what you think about that.
Rodney Church: The reason he has given me ...
Mason Funk: Say your partner ...
Rodney Church: [01:43:00] The reason my partner has given me for not wanting to get married, which I do not accept, is that he does not feel that his parents had a good marriage. For that reason, he's just not interested in marriage. He had a previous relationship with a guy for 28 years. That was before marriage equality, so they couldn't get married.
[01:43:30] [01:44:00] [01:44:30] Once again, for me, because I have always seen myself settled down and married, even if it wasn't legal, it was my version of being married if we just stood on the sand and said I love you to each other at sunset, and then went out for a nice dinner. Now, the fact that I can literally go to the county courthouse. That is the offer that I made to him. Forget about the fairytale that plays in my head, forget about the big ceremony and party and all the froofy wedding stuff, because I do realize that probably is more of my internal issues speaking out. I offered him. I said, "We could go to the Beverly Hills courthouse, and for $126, obtain a marriage license, and probably have a three-minute ceremony, and go out for a nice lunch." I was letting him off the hook cheaply, and he still said no.
[01:45:00] I am somewhat bothered by that, not because I don't feel he doesn't love me enough to take that step, but I suppose that I won't realize a dream that I've had for a very long time. I don't know. We're only in April, and the year is young. By the end of this year, who knows. I might be on the market, because at some point in my life, I would like to take that step.
Mason Funk: It could be a deal breaker for you?
Rodney Church: Absolutely. He is aware of that.
Kate Kunath: [01:45:30] Do you think that gay marriage is the last frontier of the gay movement, or are there other priorities you think that the gay movement should have right now?
Rodney Church: [01:46:00] [01:46:30] I think marriage equality was a big hurdle, but then the other things that I've heard and that we talk about employment discrimination, housing discrimination. As a person of color, when you couldn't get a job, or you could only get a certain type of job so that you were kept in your place, or you couldn't move to any neighborhood because there were restrictive covenants, I sort of see it that way. While we aren't experiencing that currently, things could always swing in that direction. That we are not, at this time, to the best of my knowledge, covered from that type of discrimination, or the gains that we have made could be rolled back.
[01:47:00] [01:47:30] [01:48:00] Is my being married or being able to get married as important as not being fired from my job? Fortunately for me in my employment ... I work for a well-known retailer that is very supportive of LGBTQ. You will see my employer's brand prominently displayed. We have on our company website help and support. That's great for me. Not everybody else has that. If it were available by way of legal recognition, legal decree that this type of discriminatory action cannot or will not take place, so that I and my straight coworker are on equal footing, and that I never have to worry about being out of work or not being promoted or whatever it is.
[01:48:30] I would say along with marriage equality, employment and housing, all the things that it takes to make a home with someone and live a life with dignity, those things are all equally important pieces of the pie, pieces of the puzzle. We should expect to have those things as citizens if we are indeed equal citizens alongside of everyone else.
Mason Funk: That's great. Anything else, Kate?
Kate Kunath: No. That's good.
Mason Funk: I have one more.
Mason Funk: [01:49:00] [01:49:30] Because it occurred to me ... I typically do this, but I promise this is the last. The term pride, gay pride, has become a term that we all are familiar with. You don't hear the term black pride as much these days as back in the day, I think there was more of like a movement, black pride. I wonder for you ... I'm just really asking more about you than about all your entire culture or the gay community, is pride part of the mix for you as a gay man, as a black man? Would you say it's the same type of pride, or is there different types of pride from both of those cultures that are part of who you are?
Rodney Church: I would say they're equal.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Tell me what you're talking about.
Rodney Church: [01:50:00] [01:50:30] I would say the issue of pride, and specifically gay pride, and/or specifically black pride or black, gay pride ... I started attending pride festivals as a teenager, like '81, '82, 1981, 1982. I always got excited every year in June when it was going to be pride month. New outfit. What am I going to wear? Where am I going to go? What party? It was, then as a young person, I was focused on those things. Then, later, I was full of pride to see Carl Bean selected as a grand marshal, to be named Man of the Year, Jewel of Catch One, riding in a float, Woman of the Year.
[01:51:00] [01:51:30] That was my gay pride, but that was also my black, gay pride, because here were out, openly gay, black people in my community that I knew, that I identified with, that were role models for me to some degree. Seeing Sylvester in the parade, seeing Sylvester perform at one of the major clubs as the headlining talent. He is an openly gay, black man. At that point, the issue and feelings of pride kind of become equal that I'm happy to be there myself. I'm not representing anyone but myself, but I'm visible. I'm here. I'm not hiding in the shadows.
[01:52:00] For all of those who can't or won't, then I'm there. Stand up. Be counted. Be proud of who you are. Be proud of where you are, of where you're from. I don't know. I don't know if that answers your question, but those are my feelings about it.
Kate Kunath: I have a followup to that.
Kate Kunath: What would you count as the ... I think shame and pride, they go hand-in-hand. Once you figure out how to flip the shame ...
Rodney Church: Balance.
Kate Kunath: [01:52:30] If you're like flip the shame, it turns into pride. There's these processes that go on and people that you hang out with or places that you go that help you to make that turn and those transitions. I just wonder for you, what those places are, or who those people are that have been the most significant or influential in that process.
Rodney Church: [01:53:00] [01:53:30] [01:54:00] [01:54:30] Now that I'm a little older, I think about participating more with organizations, and either being on the board or volunteering wherever I might fit in. For friends of mine who are active in organizations, then I look to them for direction and guidance, because I think, again, to use the term pride, if you were taught to be ashamed or you feel any level of shame, and then you see an organization wanting to encourage or ... I take that back ... discourage homeless gay youth because these are kids that have been thrown out of their home by their family or for gay seniors who come from a time where they couldn't stand up and be counted because they had to live in the shadows, to be associated with an organization, whether that organization is LGBT focused or not, just doing positive things in your community that you can be proud of gives you a reason to not be ashamed. If I've answered your question, that's how I feel about it.
Mason Funk: Were there any specific people who ...
Kate Kunath: Or places, or specific [crosstalk 01:54:46]
Mason Funk: They helped you to turn that page in your own life.
Rodney Church: [01:55:00] [01:55:30] Here in Los Angeles, APLA has done and continues to do great things. Their Necessities of Life Program is still going on, I just found out recently. Years and years ago, I would stand out in front of a supermarket and pass out a little flyer and ask people going in, "Would you buy a canned good or a toiletry item, toilet paper, for someone affected with HIV and AIDS who cannot work, who is not earning a living, and they need these necessities in their life."
[01:56:00] [01:56:30] Project Angel Food, where it's like Meals on Wheels. Initially, that was the model. It's a Meals on Wheels for HIV and AIDS affected people who, perhaps, have limited means and can't get out, and they are missing nutritious meals. You go, you could help prepare the meals, pack the lunches. Then, I was a designated driver to drive and deliver those meals. It's kind of funny because a lot of people don't know that I participated in those things, but I did as well as if there was a big fundraiser. Perhaps even I couldn't afford the ticket, whatever, $200 to go to an event. Then, if you sell a table of 10, you'll get a free ticket. That was my way of going and participating and helping out.
Those types of things for those organizations that I mentioned provide a certain level of pride. I am proud to have been associated with them, and do that work on their behalf.
Mason Funk: [01:57:00] Great. That's awesome.
Kate Kunath: Great.
Mason Funk: I think we're done. You could exhale.
Rodney Church: I didn't talk about that ... No. I'm kidding.
Mason Funk: I know, that does happen. That ... just a technical thing.
Mason Funk: We'll do room tone.
Mason Funk: Okie dokie.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Kate Kunath
Date: April 07, 2017
Location: Home Of Bill Weinberger And Danny Gibson, Los Angeles, CA