Interviewer:

 Mason Funk

Camera:

 Kate Kunath

Date:

 April 05, 2017

Location:

 Home Of Troy Perry, Los Angeles, CA

Rev. Troy Perry was born in 1940 in Tallahassee, Florida, the first of five sons. His grandfather fought in the Civil War and his father was a prominent North Florida bootlegger.Growing up, Troy was the only one in his family who enjoyed going to church, and had a sense that one day, he would shepherd his own flock.

When Troy was 12, his father died, and his mother married an abusive alcoholic. This made life at home unbearable for Troy; so he ran away and went to live with his Pentecostal aunt and uncle in Georgia. At the age of 13, Troy delivered his first sermon in his aunt’s church. By 15, he was a licensed Southern Baptist preacher. By then as well, he knew he liked men, and divulged his feelings to his pastor. His pastor told him to get married, so he married the pastor’s daughter at age 18. They soon had two sons.

The family moved to Southern California, but Troy’s feelings for men didn’t go away. His marriage failed, he lost his job, did two years in the military, and at age 28, after a failed gay relationship, tried to put himself out of his misery.

Then Troy had a revelation that God loved him as he was. His call to be a pastor came out of the closet with him, and in October 1968, 28-year-old Troy founded the Metropolitan Community Church in the living room of his apartment.Over the years, the MCC grew rapidly and today, it has222 congregations in 37 countries around the globe.Troy has been invited to speak at the White House by three Presidents (Carter, Clinton, and Obama), and has published three books: his autobiography The Lord is My Shepherd and He Knows I'm Gay, a sequel Don't Be Afraid Anymore, and Ten Spiritual Truths for Successful Living for Gays and Lesbians and Everone Else!

Today, Troy lives with his husband Phil in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Troy is a big guy with a crackling smile and dancing blue eyes, and although he’s told his story many times, his OUTWORDS interview felt fresh and generous. Troy made peace with his maker – and through his ardent leadership, many other queer people have been able to do the same.

Time Speakers Transcript Text
Mason Funk: Okay.
Troy Perry: I'm just talking 'cause y'all told me to.
Mason Funk: You're a good interviewee. You do what you're told.
Troy Perry: Yeah, that's right. You learn. 'Cause you people can.
Mason Funk: I can make you look really good or really bad.
Troy Perry: Really bad. That's what I know. You edit it down too where it looks awful.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So we're gonna kind of start at the beginning and work our way forward.
Troy Perry: [00:00:30] Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Mason Funk: I have to ... I reassure myself because I have to, that we can't cover everything.
Troy Perry: Right.
Mason Funk: So I have to just tell myself that so I relax.
Troy Perry: And you gotta tell me that too if I get wound out a little bit. You know, if you can just maybe raise one finger and I'll know it's time to.
Mason Funk: Time to quit.
Troy Perry: Stop that.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Troy Perry: Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] So do me a favor. Start by telling me your name and spell it for me.
Troy Perry: My name is Rev. Troy Perry. That's T-R-O-Y P-E-R-R-Y.
Mason Funk: Okay great. And tell us where and when you were born.
Troy Perry: [00:01:30] I was born in North Florida in Tallahassee the capital of Florida. I'm a seventh generation Floridian. I was born on July 27, 1940. I was the oldest of five sons. I have four younger brothers. I was very fortunate, I had a mother and father who loved me.
Mason Funk: Okay. Tell me a little bit about how your parents were parents of the depression and how that affected your family life.
Troy Perry: [00:02:00] Mm-hmm (affirmative)- My parents were parents of the depression. They were, they could remember the Great Depression. It was very, very funny when we were young, I remember us having anything we wanted. We were ... I could never figure out where our money came from. It wasn't until my father died when I was 12 years old, that I discovered not only did we own the farm, not only did we own property in Tallahassee, but my father was the biggest bootlegger in the North Florida. When you wake up at 12 and receive these secrets all at once that surrounded the family, it's very interesting. People sometimes ask me, they say Troy, when you were young and you went to school, did people talk about you because your father was a bootlegger. And I said, no, all their parents were just like mine. They all did something to increase their wages and they held more than one job too. Nobody ever made fun of me because my father was a bootlegger.
It was very, very interesting. They did tell me you're to own two deep freezes and you're to keep a half a hog and a half a cow downstairs because the Depression could come again. They remember that and how horrible it was. I heard the Depression stories from my aunts and uncles too, who talked about how awful it was at that time. How hungry people were. Sometimes you only had things like syrup and biscuits and a little fat back, as they called it.
They told me stories ... I had a letter from my grandfather who was in the Civil War when he fought on the side of the Confederacy he wrote my grandmother a letter and said we haven't eaten for three days, we're here in Quincy, Florida. We're waiting for the union troops to come so we can surrender. But I want to tell you now, I hid a barrel of syrup, it will be worth it's weight in gold. This is where I hid it. Once the troops ... They take the surrender of Florida, Georgia, then go out and have the kids dig it up and y'all have food or you can use it to sell to buy food with. That's exactly what happened according to the stories.
So I was raised in a culture where the South played a role. There was one thing I never understood, and that was the prejudice. I could never get past that as a little boy. I didn't realize we were all so poor. As we got older, that is when we had more money and moved from the poor, poor neighborhood. Poor blacks and poor whites lived next door to each other. So you ended up with most of your friends being poor blacks and poor whites. But at a certain age they separated we kids.
My mother had a maid. I remember she brought Junior. He was my age. We had the best time, we kids played. One day the neighbor women came to my mother and told her you've got to tell her not to bring her son back up into this neighborhood again. He's getting too old. Meaning, we were all getting ready to jump through puberty. Once you went through puberty there was no mixing of the races then. But it gave me a learning thing. I could never understand why do people treat people like that.
Of course, once before puberty, I'd started attending church. Church was very important to me. As a little boy, I loved church. I was the only one in my family. My mother was raised in the Baptist church and she was Baptist. Daddy's family were Pentecostals. Of course, I always cut up today and say I was a Bapticostal. I connect the two because I love the Baptist church who taught me a great love scripture. I love the Pentecostals for their exuberance, that you could do anything, you could believe in miracles. God could move and God could work. They taught me a little song: Jesus Loves Me this I know. Until I went through puberty. When I got on the other side of puberty, all at once, sex started raising it's head. When it did, I knew I was different. I cannot tell you how, but I knew very quickly I was different. I had no name for it.
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt you for a second. I want ... Before we get to that I want to just talk a bit more about church.
Troy Perry: Okay.
Mason Funk: What is it that you loved? I just want to know what did you love about church? As a young boy?
Troy Perry: [00:07:00] As a young kid, there was something about church that excited me. I knew somehow I was going to be in the ministry. Don't ask me how, but I did. It was automatically something that was just there in my head. I couldn't get away from it. I loved scripture study. As a little kid, they have the sand boxes. I look back on that now, with the little mirrors that they built into the sand boxes to make it look like a lake. The stories ... My favorite story in Hebrew scripture was Noah and the Ark. We kids, we all love that story. The story of Jesus around water, 'cause we were from North Florida.
One of the first things you learned as a child, was how to swim. I can remember when my father threw a woman into the lake, not realizing she couldn't swim. He had to jump in to save her and my mother jumped in. I waddled right over and jumped in too. The next thing they know, they're trying to save her, it's deep and they look around and here I am dog paddling right out to them. They were shocked and started screaming, get back, get back. 'Cause they were afraid she was going to drowned everybody. Them and me too. I remember paddling back to the shore. My mother and father did not ... But we had always played around water. That's something in North Florida you learned.
So church, baptism was held in lakes or ponds or creeks or rivers, whatever it was. For me, I went very early on. I was one of those kids who went to funerals. In the South that was a part ... Death and Life were a part of your lifestyle. I was one of those kids, I started going to funerals when I was probably five years old. If somebody died who was a cousin, we automatically went to the funeral. Funerals were big deals in the south. When somebody died, no matter what.
For me, all of that together came to place in church. Where I saw funerals, where I saw weddings, where I saw the good things that in my heart excited me. So as I grew up, I went to church. I was the one boy in my family who went to church. I went to Sunday School on Sunday mornings at the Baptist Church. Sunday nights to the Pentecostal Church. On Saturday mornings, my best friend was a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and I went with him to Sabbath School as they called it. So I went to church three times on weekends.
Very early on, I listened very closely to preachers. I learned, they were my mentors in a weird way. That was fine as I grew up and at age 12 my father died. I still went to church and then my mother remarried six months later. Of course, you've got to remember in America at that time, that's the way the community treated it. You were to marry. The early pilgrims all married within six months. They needed children to grow up. In the South, they still did that. They pushed widows to find people, because they had to depend on a man to take care of them. My mother was no different, even though my father had left her with the farm, with all of these, she married. The horrible thing was in the South at that time, the man then owned the property. My God, it lasted two years. This was the most horrible man. An alcoholic, he beat on we kids, he beat on my mother. We didn't know it, he was doing it behind closed doors.
Kate Kunath: Sorry.
Mason Funk: Sorry. Yep.
Kate Kunath: That mic is doing all crackling now.
Mason Funk: We've got a little problem with your mic.
Kate Kunath: Switch.
Mason Funk: We're gonna do a test. You need him to talk right?
Kate Kunath: Yeah.
Troy Perry: [00:11:00] Yeah.
Mason Funk: So just tell me a bit more about [crosstalk 00:11:01].
Troy Perry: [00:11:30] My ... Okay, let me got back to my step-father and talk about that. Finally the day came when he beat up my mother in front of we kids and when he did, I rushed over to call the Sheriff's. He pulled the phone out of the wall and he was so awful. My mother hit him with a Coke bottle and he turned around and knocked her down. I rushed out of the room screaming. Ran over to a neighbor, asked her to call the Sheriff's Department.
Kate Kunath: It's fixed.
Mason Funk: Okay. Let's skip to when you began ... After you went through puberty and suddenly you started to feel like you were different than the other kids.
Troy Perry: Okay.
Mason Funk: Tell me about that.
Troy Perry: [00:12:00] My mother remarried when my dad died, just when I was starting to go through puberty. I was a kid who loved church. Church was so, so important to me. He didn't want me to go to church. He stopped me from going. I would beg to go to church. Finally, he would relent and let me go one Sunday and then the same thing all over again. Here I am going through puberty. Before puberty, Jesus Loves Me this I know. After puberty, all these feelings ... Why do I feel like I'm attracted to men? Yet, here I'm going through it.
The next thing that happened is we moved from Tallahassee to Daytona Beach, my mother with her new husband. It was there that several things happened. Number one, he was an alcoholic. Number two, he would beat up on my number and we kids. Number three, I had to have him arrested. When I had him arrested, my mother like women at that time period, I knew she was going to let him out of jail. Four days later, she let him come home. I knew from the looks I was getting from him, he was going to murder me. I really believe that; that he was going to see something happen to me. It wasn't one month later till he announced his brother, it turned out not to be his brother it was somebody he'd met on a Shrimp boat ... fishing in Florida. He said, my brother's coming to visit. Here everybody's very nervous, I especially.
Here I'm going through puberty, my step-father says, he's going to sleep with you. He tells my mother he can sleep in the same room with Troy and Eugene and Jimmy. He came in that night and in the middle of the night he put his hands over my mouth and he raped me. I was so frightened. It affected me for years. It's one thing to know the difference between being gay and having wonderful relationship with another human being. It's another thing to be used by somebody. The next morning when I woke up, I knew it wasn't going to stop. I immediately could not tell my mother.
So, I always took tourist out to fish in the salt water. I normally didn't go out on the deep sea fishing boats, we owned a fishing camp in Daytona Beach Florida with a motel and a restaurant. I would go out and they would tip me and he would take my tip money away from me. So I decided I cannot live here any longer. Something's going to happen to me. I just can't do it.
The day I ran away from home, the bus driver who I in my heart of hearts, knows today was a lesbian. She had a ... She was a rough woman. But she maintained order on that bus. She knew every kid she picked up by name. And always, good morning Troy, good morning Billy, good morning Jane, good morning Mary. When she picked me up that morning, she could tell something was really bad wrong with me. She immediately said to me, I know you have it rough at home. She made me stand up by here while she drove. She said, don't do whatever it is you're fixin' to do. I couldn't even talk to her. When she dropped me off at Daytona Beach, the high school. I walked right through the high school and out the back door and walked across the bridge to Daytona where the Greyhound bus station was at.
I'd gone in the drawer and I stole $10, but I justified it by saying, he took my tip money away from me all this time, surely this is my money. But I had never done anything like that in my life. I didn't steal things, I was a church boy. I got on the bus and took it to South Georgia across the state line. Got to as close as they could get me to where my uncle's farm was at. In the middle of the night, I walked five miles from the Highway to my uncle’s farm. When I got there, they knew that I was having problems. They knew things had happened and I was not happy at home. They really didn't push me. They were religious and they were Pentecostals.
The very next morning, my aunt got me up, got me dressed and made me go to school. Thank God, because two days later the Sheriff came out and said has your nephew got here? I've got a telegram from Florida. They think he may have run away to here. They want to know if he's here with any of his uncles. I'm having the Sheriff of the next county check with Troy's uncle there. My aunt said yes he's here. They said, well where's he at? She said, he's in school. He said, well I'll send them a telegram back and tell them that he's okay. He's here and you've put him in school.
So it was very interesting. Every Sunday they held a church service. They held it in farm houses. I just loved it. Was while I was there, one of my aunts. The Pentecostals believe in being saved, sanctified and filled with the precious Holy Ghost as we call it. The Baptist just believed in being saved. If there were anything the Baptist hated in the South more than queers it was Pentecostals, I always tell people. Because Pentecostals were so arrogant. If you didn't speak in tongues like them, you're gonna die and go to hell still.
So here I am with my Pentecostal relatives and my aunt who had a little church. She said, Troy Jr. I feel like you've been waiting for this day. I feel like God has called you to preach, what do you feel? I was 13 by this time, and I shook my head yes, I felt like I was called to minister. She said, I want you to come to my church and preach next week. So at 13 years old I preached my first sermon in the Pentecostal church. I preached a lot. It was amazing to me, I thought kids all across America were just like me. There were young people at age 13 who were preaching. At age 15, after I went back home, after I'd got as far as Texas preaching all across the country, to my Aunt Bessie's house.
I went to a little school, Ysleta High School outside of El Paso, Texas. I was the only Anglo in the room. Again, God teaches you wonderful good lessons. It was about wonderful people. I cut up with people, to this day and said I learned Spanish there. Burrito, Taco, Enchilada, I fell in love with Mexican cooking when I was there.
I went back to my mother's house; we moved to Winter Haven, Florida and I continued to preach. Whether it was to family or in churches or whatever, I did it. At age 15, I was licensed to preach in the Southern Baptist Church. But I'm still trying to wrestle with my feelings. I still knew I loved men, I knew that I was different. But I thought I was the only one in the world, I kept wrestling with this. At age 16, I'm conducting revivals.
At age 18, I finally go to my pastor and tell him. By now, I'm going to bed with men a little bit. But it's normally friends and we're still the same age. I remember going to my pastor and I talked to him and I didn't use the word homosexual, but I told him finally after an hour of trying to beat around the bush, I told him about my funny feelings. He looked at me and said to me, oh my God, I know what you're trying to do, what you're trying to tell me. My Lord, all you do, is you just marry a good woman. That will take care of that problem. That was the attitude of my church, just marry a good woman.
Well, it wasn't funny or flippant when I married his daughter. Both of us at age 18, I crawled into bed as a virgin, I'd never gone to bed with a woman in my life. I tried my best for three years, I was fine. But still wrestling with me trying to go to bed with just my wife. You know, it catches up with you if you're gay. Finally, we moved to California. She and I and my two kids. When we arrived in California, here I'm still wrestling with, oh my God what are these feelings? Then I started hearing there were places you could go. I started going to the beach which was against our church rules. They didn't believe in mixed bathing, men and women going and swimming at the same place. But I was a Southern California kid in a church caught in 19th century sort of. I did a lot things they told us not to do.
I kept wrestling with it and finally the day came when I walked into a book store in Santa Ana, California and when I went in as I looked around, I was there to buy a Life Magazine. There was an article I wanted a quote from in my sermon for the next week. When I was there for the first time in my life, I saw Physique Magazine. I cut up today and say this is when they were still wearing bathing suits. I said, but immediately when I picked it up, I knew there was something different about me. Then I saw, as I looked around, I thought oh my God, I finally saw this word, a little magazine called One. I picked it up and I couldn't believe it. It used the word homosexual in it. All at once, I knew without a shadow of a doubt, I was a homosexual. I finally had found out the word that worked for me. I had to go home.
I asked the woman behind the counter and I said do you have any books on homosexuality? She said, oh I've got a few. I know today, she was probably lesbian. I paid, which was a lot of money, $18.15 for this bag full of books, including One, the magazine. When I read that magazine, I knew without a shadow of doubt they were talking about me.
Number two, there was a book in there, called The Homosexual in America, by Cory. When I read that book, oh my God, it let me know there were millions of people like me in America, that I wasn't alone. Then of course next, was what am I gonna do about this information?
Mason Funk: Hold on for a second. Just take a little pause, 'cause I want to ask you about One Magazine.
Troy Perry: Yes. I want you to.
Mason Funk: It is a very pivotal connotation.
Troy Perry: Yes it is.
Mason Funk: So let's take a moment and just tell me what you know about One Magazine. Who started it?
Troy Perry: Right.
Mason Funk: How it? Give me a little history on that magazine.
Troy Perry: [00:25:00] Right. When I picked up that little One Magazine I had no idea, anything about history. I didn't know who started it, I didn't know where it came from. I really didn't. So for me, I couldn't figure out what is this about? It still took me several years later, before I went to One Institute where the magazine was published. It was before I founded Metropolitan Community Church.
When I went to that first meeting there were several things I noticed. Number one, no one spoke to my partner and I. Number two, we were the youngest people in the room. I think they thought we were police, who'd been set up and sent to the room. Because here we were, something they were not used to. Number three, it was very interesting. I didn't know for several years again that the men who were there, didn't use their real names. I was the new generation of leader that came along.
I met Dora Leg, I met Don, I met several of those people, Jim Kettner who had helped found and kept that little magazine alive in One Incorporated. It was the oldest homophile organization in America. I found out later, at that time I had no idea there was a history to our movement. I met Harry Hay. When I met Harry the first time, I had no idea I was meeting the gay father of our movement. I mean, I look back on those times and meeting Frank Kameny. I can just go through the list of those gay men I met that I had no idea had played a role. A good part, but they were drug in front of congress, they were arrested. I was arrested later, mine were moral civil rights arrest. With them with Harry, my God he was pulled in front of Congress and called a Fairy, in front of Newsreels. I don't even know how men and women did it back then.
I look at it and I think of those people like Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon who I knew and who are now deceased, so many of those people. I look back at that, and I think of the history they played. They couldn't have known they were playing a role in my history by printing that little magazine. I don't think they could have known that somebody like Troy Perry would come along. Who had been so influenced through their words on the printed page.
Once I bought that first one, I started buying a part of one every time it came out. I tried to get the latest issue to make sure that I had it.
Mason Funk: That's great. That's great. Thank you for that. I'll tell you later, I'll you a story about the first interview I did and how it relates to One.
Troy Perry: Okay.
Mason Funk: But now, I want to go back to you leaving the bookstore with $18.15 worth of books.
Troy Perry: [00:28:30] Okay.
Mason Funk: And you're still married. So now you've got a real problem.
Troy Perry: [00:29:00] I took those backs back to the parsonage. The parsonage are where protestant ministers back then lived. Usually it was next door to the church. Ours was connected to the church. Meaning, we had no privacy whatsoever. That's the way churches wanted it back then. Anybody could knock on your door, morning, noon or night and you were at the beck and call of everybody who did that.
When I got back with these books, I read them and reread them. The Homosexual and America one, the others were like gay soft porn. They didn't tell me a lot. Those two things were what I was looking for. It even mentioned, he did and that's what caught my eye. Don Webster Cory I think was his name, who wrote the book The Homosexual in America, he mentioned clergy and mentioned church and homosexuals who were clergy. That was the thing I could not wrap my mind around. How could you be a homosexual. The church has taught me you can't love me. The church has taught me, and it just went on and on. The old tapes.
I finally went to my District Bishop and I drove up from Santa Ana where I pastored here near Los Angeles to Compton where our District Headquarters was at, at that time. I said to the Bishop like I had my pastor, whose daughter I'm now married to, this was not the same man but a different one.
I said, I have a problem, and now I have a word for it. We talked and I said, I'm a homosexual. Oh my God, his face turned purple. He said have you molested, have you gone to bed with a little boy in the Sunday school down there? I said, no sir. I was so shocked when he asked me that. I said, no sir. I said, I've never gone to bed with anybody in my church. Well, what makes you think you're a homosexual. And I said, I've read this book and it says I am. Immediately he said, just so typical of the Pentecostal tradition, this is a trick of the devil. We're going to lay hands on you and pray for you. I want you to go back and I want you to tear up the book and I want you to throw those away. I said, well I've reread the book and it's refortified everything I think about me.
I prayed until I'm blue in the face too. I said, God just doesn't seem to hear and answer that prayer. He laid hands on me like Pentecostals do. Prayed for me and he said, now go back and tear up the books. Well, I went back and a month later the Bishop for California came to visit him and evidently in the middle of the conversation, he said oh by the way, I had Rev. Troy Perry who came here and he thinks he's a homosexual. The Bishop said, well if he thinks he's a homosexual then he probably is. I want him excommunicated tonight. We will go down there, call two other ... Call one other clergy and one of the District Officers and the three of us will go down tonight.
I was gone during the day for something. My wife had got back from her parent's where she had gone on a vacation. When that happened my wife when I got back home she said, the Bishop has been here with two clergy what is going on? I said, by that time, the Bishop drives up. I said to her, I'll talk to you later. I said let me talk to him first.
He immediately wanted me to come out to the car. There was the four of us in the car and he said I think you know why I'm here. I said, yes sir, I do. I mean I prepared myself for what was fixing to happen. I mean, I'm ready. I didn't react the way they wanted me to. Do you want us to tell your wife? I said, I'm an adult I can tell my wife myself. Well, can y'all get out of the parsonage tonight? I said, no we're not moving out of the parsonage 'till I talk to her and until I can find out what to do with our furniture. I'm gonna have to put it up to sell because I know we're gonna separate. I just knew in my heart of hearts that's what was going to happen. He said, well when you go in tonight, I'm going to call the Business Meeting to order and I don't want you to use the word homosexual. You just get up you failed the Lord and you leave. I said, okay, that's perfectly all right, that's what I'll do.
Of course, my membership showed up and it was a big crowd 'cause they loved me. He was backed up into a corner within 15 minutes after he said, I've accepted Rev. Perry's resignation. You heard him say he’s failed the Lord. So he's failed God and we're accepting his resignation. Within 15 minutes after that, friends of mine told me the Bishop was backed up into a corner verbally. People saying what's wrong? We love our Pastor and his family. This church has tripled since he came here. What is wrong? Finally, he used the word homosexual to describe my behavior and not another question was asked.
I went out and picked up my wife. Told her to have the kids ready. I said let's go to a coffee shop. This was while they were going on with the meeting after I'd left the room. We left. I made sure the door was locked so nobody could come into the parsonage. We went to a coffee shop and she said, what is wrong? I said, I don't know where to even start. She said, does it have anything to do with those two books you hid between the mattresses. I said, yes. She had found The Homosexual in America and the little One Magazine. She said, well I read the book and went and looked through that magazine. She said, it says there are heterosexuals who are homosexually married. Maybe we could stay together. I said, no we're not. I said, I couldn't live that way and you couldn't either. I said, I don't know what I am other than a label. But I cannot go on like this. It was really amazing. We talked. She said, then I want to go back to my parents. We agreed she would take my two sons with her.
I didn't know it would 17 years later before I saw one of my kids. There is a price to be paid when you come from a church background when you come out of the closet. I don't know how to explain this, but I do. You can have problems with your family, thank God I didn't have that problem with my mother and two brothers. I had a mother who loved me unconditionally. My mother was one of my best strengths, one of the strengths of my life. If I have a vision of God, it's my mother. My dad died when I was 12. My younger brothers don't always remember my father the way I did, but my mother was God in my eyes. A little country girl who gave everything for her kids. I'm thankful that even though she was a little country girl and even though she had to sometimes take jobs she didn't like, she kept her boys together. She said, we're going to win together. My mother gave me strength.
My wife and I we separated. I moved into Los Angeles. I thought God can't love me, the church had taught me that. God can't love me, they’ve taught me the Bible says that. When I moved in, my mother and her husband at that time, another man, not the man who she married after my father died. They had a boarding house in Huntington Park. My mother, oh you just move up here. Bring her up here and the kids, we'll make it all all alright. You know, parents want to make it all alright for their kids. It's just not always that way. For me, it was one of those things where I thought that's not gonna work.
Thank God, when I moved in, there was a gay man there. A native American from Alaska. He talked about his problems with being gay. Then I met a gay man who was as out as you could be at that time, Willy Smith. Willy and I ended up becoming roommates. We were never partners, we never had sex. He always called himself my mother, he was my gay mother. Every gay man back then had somebody who really wanted to make sure you came out right. Would introduce you to people and things like that. Willy and I became roommates. In the middle of all that within a year later, after he and I became roommates. Here I am as a gay man but trying to work it all out in my head. I dated a few people. But it was very, it was ... Most gay men were having very impersonal sex, I was no different. I don't want to ever paint myself different than the gay community. I did everything every other gay man did at that time.
Then I received my draft notice.
Mason Funk: Let me hold for a second okay? I want to ... I think if we ... I want to move ahead a little more.
Troy Perry: Okay. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Just because otherwise, we won't get to some later parts.
Troy Perry: Right. Okay.
Mason Funk: I do know there was a certain point and I'm not sure if this had already happened or if it was still to happen later, when you finally turned the corner.
Troy Perry: I was almost there.
Mason Funk: [00:40:00] Oh you were?
Troy Perry: Yeah. This was the last thing. I was gonna talk about the military for about a minute here.
Mason Funk: Okay. All righty, then carry on. So maybe tell me roughly how old you are now.
Troy Perry: Okay.
Mason Funk: You've separated from your wife.
Troy Perry: Right.
Mason Funk: Reset the stage.
Troy Perry: Okay.
Mason Funk: And then carry on.
Troy Perry: [00:40:30] Here I am 25 years old when I receive my draft notice from my Draft Board in Mobile, Alabama. They said, Uncle Sam needs you. Willy Smith said are you gonna let them draft you in the Army? You're gonna check the magic block? I said, what magic block. Right under Tuberculosis and Cancer will be Homosexual tendencies. Or it will say a Practicing Homosexual. I said, no, no, I'm going into the military. I'm not a practicing homosexual. I've got it down pat. I don't need to practice it anymore. That's exactly what I did. I spent two years in the military. Served with distinction, was a Vietnam Veteran. Came home with no problems whatsoever in the military. The military was finishing school for me.
I got back home, but there was something that ate me alive. It was the thing around church. Willy and I would go to church, we had a Pentecostal Church, one of the mega churches near us. Where if you went and sat in the balcony, people would leave you alone. They were so big, they didn't know who was there and who wasn't. He and I went and we'd go to Sunday night 'cause they had a big choir and we'd listen to it. I knew I was dying and going to hell, there was no changing that. I don't care what anybody said, that's the way it was gonna be. Willy of course, was from the Seventh Day Adventist Church. He didn't ... He couldn't figure out why I liked church. But he liked to go with me, 'cause he had been involved in his church when he was a kid.
Well, as it turned out, as we went several things happened. I then started looking around the gay community and I fell deeply, madly in love for the first time in my life. When I fell deeply, madly in love it lasted six months. He was a school teacher cowboy from Wyoming I want to say. It was very, very interesting. He had a little trailer that he taught two families in, in the middle of nowhere, and he was gay. He had a lot of experience in the gay community. I fell deeply, madly in love. Six of the best and worst months of my life, I always describe it. I was in love.
One day he said to me, I just can't live with you. You're the most domineering individual. I said, I'm not domineering, what do you mean I'm domineering? I said, I love you. But we've never been out of each other's site since we got married. Since we got together, you just don't let me out of your sight. I said, that's 'cause I love you. I love to go places with you. He said, I can't live it like that, let me go out by myself. I said, no. He said, that's what I mean. He walked out of my life and two weeks later, I climbed into a bathtub, cut both of my wrists and just hoped I would die.
Something happened. Willy Smith came home and broke the door down to the bathroom when I didn't answer. He heard water running and when it just kept running, he said Troy are you okay? Then he broke the door down. I think I heard him. He got up, put tourniquets on my arms and rushed me to County General Hospital. It was there that a woman came in, an African American woman, in a nurses uniform. I thought she was a nurse, she could have been or not. She could have been just paid to do this. When she came in she said, my God I don't know why you've done this but this is crazy. You're too young for this, and I was 28 years old now, and she said ... No, I was 27, I’m sorry. She said this is crazy. She said, I tried it too. My God, she had scars on her arms like I'd never seen. She said, isn't there somebody you can talk to? Can't you just look up? She pushed every religious button on me. All my spirituality without knowing it, and I broke down just sobbing. Finally, she left the room.
I prayed and said, God I want you to forgive me. I said, you know, here I am. I committed this sin in Romans 1:26-28. I worshiped and served the creature more than the creator. It's not about my being homosexual, oh God. But it's because my partner had clay feet, was the way I was trying to describe it. Blame it on somebody. I couldn't accept responsibility for myself. Then the bad cop came in, the doctor. When he started sewing up both of my wrist, he made me feel every stitch. He was the bad doctor. Now, do I have to lock you up for 72 hours or are you going to be okay? Well, I just prayed and I felt better. I said to him, I'm gonna be all alright I think. I said, but what do you think? He said, “I think you need your ass kicked all over the hospital, that's what I think.” He said, “I'm not gonna be responsible for you. You're responsible for your life, you tell me, are you gonna be okay or not?” I said, I'm gonna be okay. So, he let me go home.
Willy drove me back home. The next morning Willy said to me, “Are you gonna be okay or do I need to stay home with you?” I said, “No, no I'm gonna be okay, go to work.” I sat there and started thinking about the night before. Then I thought about my job, oh God. After you've tried to kill yourself, then the first thing you think is they would fire me if they knew I'd done this. So I've gotta go buy some long sleeve shirts to have them. It's so weird. Then as I'm laying there, I think about what had happened the night before, and I think about praying. There was a joy, what we Christians sometimes call from my Pentecostal background, my Baptist background, the joy of my Salvation. It was there again as I thought about my prayer.
Then I stopped and said wait a minute. This can't be you God, this can't be you. The Bible, the church has taught me you hate me. This can't be you, you can't love me. I tell people to this day, almost 50 years later, that in that still small voice in the mind’s ear, God spoke to me and said, “Troy, don't tell me what I can and can't do. I love you. I don't have stepsons and daughters.” Without a shadow of doubt, I knew then that I could be a Christian, I was a Christian and I could be gay. Now it took me several more months, before finally it dawned on me, if God loves me then God has to love homosexuals too. God's not a respecter of persons scripture tells us. So if God loves me, then God loves everybody.
With that, I started proclaiming the good news wherever I went that God loved you and you could be a Christian and a homosexual. It's pretty hard though to witness in gay bars. Willy would introduce me to someone he'd just met and of course, the first few times, I would say, have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Just like I did in the Baptist or Pentecostal. Of course, Willy would get so upset. He said, why do you do that? I can't pick up a trick without you driving them off. Why are you so interested in religion? I was religious too, you know that. But there's nobody else in the gay community who cares about religion. I said, well I do.
Then the next thing, it just ate me alive that I'd found my niche in the ministry again. I had a ministry, that I was to talk to my community first. Everybody was welcome. Just as Jesus said to his early disciples, go to the lost house of Israel first. Mine was I'm going to my community first. In October 6, 1968 ...
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt you again, I’m sorry. We'll get to that for sure.
Troy Perry: Okay.
Mason Funk: But I want to go backwards a little bit. Earlier than that there was a bar called The Black Cat. And you know what happened at The Black Cat on New Years Eve, 66.
Troy Perry: Yeah, I was not there. I was in the military.
Mason Funk: Oh okay. But I thought you were part of the protest that happened in 67.
Troy Perry: [00:49:30] I was the protest that happened in 1968.
Mason Funk: Oh.
Troy Perry: The Patch, the earliest gay bar where it was a gay demonstration.
Mason Funk: Okay, tell me about that.
Troy Perry: Not The Black Cat, which was a Police response from a lot of hippies. There may have been a sprinkling of gay people but look at photographs, there's not a sign that says anything about homosexuality.
Mason Funk: [00:50:00] Really? Okay. So tell us about The Patch. And that story which I don't think has been as widely told.
Troy Perry: Oh, it is. It's in all kinds of history books.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Troy Perry: [00:50:30] But I mean, this thing with which one came first. What it was, I just again corrected someone who asked me the story. I said, no. The Black Cat played no role, none whatsoever in my starting Metropolitan Community Church. I didn't hear about it until years later. That was from Jim Kettner not from anybody else. I mean it's so bizarre when I look back. But Jim claimed that was the first time and he was the historian who left so much to the gay community that when incorporated now, his collection is what started the big collection there. I'm not trying to ... But for me, it was very, very interesting.
Let me backup here for a minute.
Mason Funk: [00:51:00] Okay. Okay.
Troy Perry: [00:51:30] Before we get to that. After I tried to commit suicide, after God spoke to me, I started dating again. It was very, very interesting. I ended up dating a young man, Tony Valdez. Tony on our second date, we had heard through friends of ours about a new gay dance bar. The first one in Los Angeles that was public.
I had gone to a dance bar before, it was called The Canyon Club out in Topanga Canyon in the middle of nowhere. It was owned by a former Vice Officer who had a gay nephew. You went to the front door and you matched a buzzer, they looked at you and decided if you got through door number one or number two. Then they asked you for ID. Then you went through door number two, where they then charged you, looked at your ID again and then you went through door number three, where you were in the bar. You were explained that if the Police came, they would turn on lights. If there was a lesbian that night in the bar, you tried to grab her, to be the only heterosexual person in the bar to be dancing with, when the Police got through door number three. Gave just a little time as they slowed them up, but let them in.
This bar, The Patch in Wilmington. It was in the Doc area of Los Angeles, San Pedro. Down near San Pedro. We went down and the first night we were there, we were having the best time. We're dancing. The bar owner said as you know, here it's against the law to dance together for two men or two women to dance together. But there's nothing wrong, as long as you don't touch, with dancing next to each other. He drove a mac truck through the walls that was on the books of the City of Los Angeles. First bar owner to ever do it, Lee Glaze. Very effeminate man. I always cut up and told people he may have been effeminate but he had the strongest wrist in the world.
That night the police came into the bar. My date had walked over to Bill Cummings, a friend of the bar owners. They laughed and cut up, camped for about two minutes. I'm watching them. I saw everything that happened, Lee saw it. All at once, one of them, Bill slapped my date on the rump. Bill was an older man from us, we were in our 20s and he slapped my date who was about 21 on the rump. He came back over with our two beers and the Police came right over. They said, come outside with me. They had pulled out their badges and they were in plain clothes. I said, who are you talking to? They said, not to you to him. They arrested Tony and Bill for lewd lascivious conduct. That covered anything we did in a gay bar. If one of us touched the other on the shoulder, there must have been something sexual about it. That you were homosexual. They were accused of groping. But once we got it to trial, it was just awful.
The attorneys back then would always say, we'll get it down but you've got to plead guilty. Of course, they didn't tell us you were going to be registered as a sex offender for the rest of your life. Usually the attorneys didn't. I took him home and he broke down crying, and this is what sparked my church. Really, because he just broke down crying and said I've never been treated that way in my life. He said one of the Police officers kept talking to me in Spanish. Telling me I'm gonna call your parents, I'm gonna call your employer, you're not going to have a job. I can't believe you've been arrested for this. Of course, he said, “I'm going to lose my job, I know that. I've got to go to court.” I said, Tony, hear me loud and clear. I want to tell you now, don't get negative on this. Whatever you do, don't. I said even if I'm concerned that people don't care. Because he said, “Nobody cares about me.” I said, even if people don't care, God does. I'm trying to witness to people.
Tony through his tears laughed at me and said, Troy, I went to my Priest. I told him when I was 15 years old what I was feeling and he ordered me out of Catholic Sunday school. He was afraid I would contaminate other children. No Troy, God doesn't care about me. When he left, that's when I really prayed. I said, okay Lord, you've told me you love me. This is where I'm at now. I know if you love me you've got to love Tony and others like Tony. You just let me know when you want a church started. Just let me know when. I always say God spoke in that one little word and said, “Now!”
Two months later, I was going back to The Patch. I had met Lee. I said Lee, I want to meet the people who own this gay little newspaper with four pages called The Advocate. He said, oh they're coming by. They're gonna be here in a bout an hour. He said, just stick around. Lee always cut up to the moment he died and said well my first reaction to Troy Perry was I cruised him. I thought he was so attractive and said but he just didn't cruise like other people did.
So, we that night when all that happened, we went to the Police Station. When we went to the Police Station, we marched in, he had stopped by a florist and bought every flower they had, and we had flowers. He marched us in, there were about 10 of us that walked into the bar. I've got the photograph in fact. Here we were, all these gay men with this effeminate man who walks up and says, “We're here to bail our sisters out of jail.” I was just shocked the way he said it. The cop looked at him real strange and said, what's your sister's name? He said, Bill Hastings. He named the young man I was with, Tony Valdez. The cop turned as white as a sheet, called for backup. Next thing we know, we've got all these cops around behind the counter with us. We would not go away. We stood there and it took us another four hours to get them out of jail. But we waited. We got them bailed out of jail.
That for me, was the start of my gay activism. I'd never seen anything happen like that in my life. I saw how the police ... Subconsciously, I saw how the Police reacted to this man and to us. Here I am, all at once I knew God loved me and God loved others. Finally, I met the owners of The Advocate. It was at that point where I met Bill and Mitch Mitchell. Bill Ryan and talked to both of them. They said ... I said, I want to buy an ad. They said, oh there's a lot of charlatans in the gay community. How do we know you're not one of them? Well, I testified. After 30 minutes, they said wow. We'll tell you what, we'll give you your first ad. I didn't even have the money to pay for the ad. They said, if you'll buy two more. I said, great. I said, I won't pay you until after the first service, but I will pay you. Because I had to raise the money to pay for the ad. There was something they saw in me, that they knew I would pay.
Sure enough, when I took that ad, Rev. Troy Perry, October the 6, 1968. I had in the ad the first service date. Hear Rev. Troy Perry, gave my home address in Huntington Park with a photograph of me. It was really funny. I went home and told Willy Smith and he had a heart attack. My God, you've taken out an ad in a homosexual newspaper, giving our home address? Are you crazy? The Police are going to be here, scooping them up in nets. I couldn't get it through my head. I kept saying, finally it dawned on me. I said, if they're expecting orgies on the altar they're gonna be shocked. I said, because this is a worship service. We are going to celebrate our sexuality like we celebrate everybody's sexuality. But I said, it's not gonna be orgies on the altar. So I invite them to come.
On October the 6, 1968, that first service, 12 people showed up in the living room of my home. Nine strangers and three ... I mean pardon me, three strangers and nine friends. It was amazing. I always said, it was a view of things to come from Metropolitan Community Church. There was a Gentile with his Jewish partner, both of them doctors. There was a heterosexual couple a Hispanic, a person of color.
Mason Funk: Why was a heterosexual? Why were they there?
Troy Perry: [01:02:00] 'Cause their gay brother and his partner had invited them that morning to come and hear Troy Perry because he came from a Pentecostal background just like we did. She was Catholic, that was her background and he was the Pentecostal, the straight couple. But it was a view of things to come for us. Everybody was welcome at MCC. I look back to that time and I really didn't know, some of those nine people I'd gone to bed with. I thought, you know we've shared very ... we've shared as close as you can for human beings and yet you know, I felt this is going to be interesting because I've met a lot of people here. I'm like every gay man, I've gone to bed with folks. I've certainly been to bath houses and everything else that gay men did, back in those days. You know, that was sort of unbelievable to me, that people who had shared with me still came to church. Still was there and faithfully when I got up and told them my three-pronged gospel.
And said, “Number one, we're a Christian group, so we believe in Christian salvation. Number two, we who are not a ... God has made a people. I know that gays and lesbians aren't supposed to get along and neither are heterosexuals in the same group. Or blacks and whites or whatever, but we're one family. The last thing, Christian Social Action.” Once I had gone to The Patch, once I saw, I said, “Where we find oppression, we're gonna bring deliverance. So that means we may be picketing. We may be holding demonstrations. That's what's going to happen. When I go down to picket I expect you to go with me.”
That was the hard one. Because there was an 800 pound gorilla in the room, even with the gay community. It was called death. People were afraid what if the Police ... We knew, they were beating people to death. They beat to death a homosexual that year. That's one of the things that set me off. I went about my demonstration after I founded MCC was Howard Efland who was beat to death at the old Dover Hotel in Los Angeles. That was used before we had bath houses in L.A. Where impersonal sex took place between gay men. I went to the inquest. When I watched the jurors when the Police Officers and the Nurse talked about the guy dead in the other room, it so affected me. That could have been me, that could have been Willy, that could have been any of my friends.
After that, it wasn't long after that, 'til I held my demonstration in downtown L.A. where I met Harry Hay the first, Jim Kettner was attending my church and was a member of it. All these people who had played these roles in homophile organizations. It just came full circle sometimes in the way things happen in our community.
Mason Funk: [01:05:30] Wow! Wow! Let's take a little break.
Okay. So you gave them the three tenants of the church. The third one was we are not going to sit idly by.
Troy Perry: That's what other churches, yeah.
Mason Funk: So tell me about, tell me about taking some of your new flock to their first demonstration when faith meets action. Tell me about that.
Troy Perry: [01:06:00] It was very interesting to me. Our first demonstration after I founded the church, was a small demonstration. I received a phone call from San Francisco telling me that there was a brother who was fired from his job because he was gay, at the States Steamship Company. They called and said they have offices in L.A. what are you gonna do about it? I said, we're gonna picket. Saying and do it were two different things.
That first little picket, we went to downtown LA. We had signs, Homosexuals need jobs too. Probably four signs. There were about maybe 13 or 14 of us who were demonstrating. When we got down there with those signs and started going around at the base of the skyscraper where their offices were located, people didn't say a word to us. We were met with dead silence which was more scary in some ways than if people had of screamed at us. The treasurer of my church, Tom Tranary. I didn't even remember, after that first day of picketing, we did it for three days. The first day he said, I'm so nervous, I can't get the sign out of my hand where I've been holding it. You're gonna have to march me back to the car and help me get this out of my ... 'Cause if I undo it I'll drop the sign. He said, I've never had ... I've never been through anything.
The next day we had a bigger crowd that came and looked at us. Now people are getting a little more bold though. Now, we get a few folks who say things under their breath as they walk by. Faggots, Queers. Then they start dropping water out of the top of the building. Never hitting any of us but hitting business people walking by, which gave us lots of advocates all at once. Ready to join the demonstration just to piss off the people on top of the building who were dropping ... Who had wet them. It was very, very interesting. But we did it.
Those people went back to the church and here there was some period between that and the next demonstration. The next demonstration was over the murder of Howard Efland at the building. We went downstairs and we marched down Main street by the old gay bars down there, the Hustler bars and all. Up to the Dover Hotel and we put flowers in front of the Dover Hotel.
Then, the next demonstration was really for my church group. I wanted them to have some guts. I said, we're going to hold a demonstration. I keep going and trying to get answers on how we get the laws changed in this state. I said, “People who are in the courts tell us to go to the Legislature. The Legislature tells us to go to the courts. Round robin all the time. So we're going to demonstrate against the laws in the State of California that tell what consenting adults can do in their bed room.” At that time the law said if you were caught having anal sex it was five to life, open-ended for the judge in the State of California. The law at that time for oral sex was five years to 15. These were really bad things. People were being locked up for those kinds of things. For going to bed with another consenting adult.
So I said “We're going to go to the California State Building, hold a demonstration and everybody, we're going to get hurt, we're going to get hurt, that 800 pound gorilla.” And I said, “But we're Christians.” Always pulled out my ace about who we were and what we believed about people of faith. I had to remind them and I said, “the scripture tells me, to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord. So guess what? Even if they kill us, they haven't ended our lives. We go from life to life eternal. I said, so we've gotta get over that.”
All at once, we held this demonstration. We march from Olvera Street, they thought we were Catholics I know, marching from the Mission out in front of it, up to where the California State Building was at. And we had about ... I was really surprised, about 300 people who showed up. When we got there, I knew a little secret. I have to admit it today. I do I tell people. They kept worrying about, oh God everybody's gonna see us. I knew nobody at that time and that history of L.A. was in downtown Los Angeles. You could have dropped a bomb in downtown L.A. and you couldn't have killed anybody. That's exactly what happened. I didn't say it to the group but that gave them courage.
The next demonstration took care up on Hollywood Boulevard. These were now coming very quickly and we were growing. At that time, it wasn't just MCCrs, it was all kinds of GLBT folks. There were over 1,000 for that demonstration.
The cop comes running up on the motorcycle, jumps off of it trying to be very dramatic. Comes running up to me and says who is in charge here? I looked at him ... I wasn't afraid of this cop. I mean, my Lord, I had withstood much more than that. I said, “You know who's in charge here.” That he came up to me, I knew he knew who I was. I said you know who's in charge here. What do you want? He said, I want to tell you something. There's a bunch of Marines around on Hollywood Boulevard. Just waiting for this group. I said, “Oh groovy. I said a lot of our men are into Marines. So we'll have great time once we get around there.” I always used humor to defuse it. The people around me just screamed laughing. I mean they're listening to this. He got on his motorcycle. I said, “Before you leave,” I said, “We don't expect any problems. You're not getting any problems from us. Now we don't want any problems from the Marines.” Everybody had heard it now. They couldn't use it as any kind of reason. And we marched.
We marched from Hollywood High School all the way down Hollywood Boulevard to where the Hollywood Police Station was at.
Kate Kunath: [01:13:00] Can you use the year when you are marking these things?
Mason Funk: Yeah, try to use the year. Try to insert the dates.
Troy Perry: Oh, I'm sorry.
Mason Funk: Whenever you get the chance.
Troy Perry: Okay.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Yeah. But I want to ask you.
Troy Perry: That was in 1969 y'all just so you know. Those two things were.
Kate Kunath: First demonstration after I formed the church was in.
Mason Funk: Yeah, do me a favor. Just give us a topic sentence and say, after I formed the church, the first demonstrations happened in, and give me the year.
Troy Perry: Okay.
Mason Funk: [01:13:30] So after.
Troy Perry: After I formed the church, the first real demonstration had happened before I founded the church at The Patch. But the first demonstrations where I invited other people to go with me was in 1969.
Mason Funk: [01:14:00] Okay. Now I have a question for you. In these early days of activism when you were getting a few people together to go protest, the first thought that crosses my mind is how did you know it would work? Didn't you ever worry that it wasn't going to work.
Troy Perry: [01:14:30] It was very interesting because from the first demonstration I was involved in, I knew it was going to work. Because of the African American Community. Dr. Martin Luther King was leading demonstrations all through the South. I knew from having watched that, that they had a coloration, I didn't. Gay folks didn't. But with a color and being a minority they still kept fighting back. They kept holding demonstrations, all kinds. So for me my real mentor was Dr. Martin Luther King. I didn't know anybody gay but when I saw what a man could do. And he was a clergyman also. That just opened my eyes.
Again, subconsciously I think sometimes, in your mind you put away things. You don't realize later how important that lesson was to you. Just like my going into the military, that was my finishing school I always say. Once I knew I went there and I could die in the military, there was no frightening me after that. I mean, I wasn't going to be frightened by a little thing called death. And that I was a clergy person who believed that death wasn't the end, it made it easier for me to talk with the group. They new I believed that. They could just tell from Troy Perry that he actually believed that. That's the way it was gonna be and that's what we were gonna do.
Mason Funk: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's terrific. Another question I have. When you turned that corner and heard that still small voice for the first time, was that a one-shot deal or were there still times when you struggled with wondering whether God really loved you?
Troy Perry: [01:16:00] It was very interesting, after God spoke to me in that still small voice, I never ever ... I knew without a shadow of doubt that God loved me. I didn't play old tapes anymore. My biggest thing was this though. I prayed and asked God, God I still don't understand. You love me and I know that. What about scripture? I know sooner or later somebody's gonna ask me about scripture. God doesn't tell you everything that's gonna happen to you in your life, I always tell people. I wish it was that way, but I can't say it is. I'm not a person who hears the voice of God every day of my life. Normally, when I say that still small voice, it's in my guts. It's knowing somethings right. I know after prayer, after mediation, after reading that something is right. Even though I don't understand it just yet, God will explain it in the long run or God will send me somebody. I tell people that God speaks to me more out of hearing other people speak sometimes. I prayed for something and all at once somebody says something and that's my answer from God.
Scripture was the next thing I had to work on. I prayed and said, God what do I do? What about these scriptures? God said something very simple to me. Reread my word. But He didn't sound like, look for loopholes. It's like read it again. Now that I've told you I love you. Once you through eyes of faith begin to look at scripture, you find all kinds of things. As you look. When I talked about my mother. There's all the scriptures in the world that says men own women like property. But no one in this day and age believes that. Scriptures never changes. It still says slaves obey your masters. It didn't change, the culture did. Well if this day and age we don't believe that men ... That we had to continue on with slavery. Then God could have meant something else about this scripture too. As I reread the scriptures and I looked at them through eyes of faith, I found it very, very interesting.
In the book of Leviticus, when you stop and read about what transpires and happens. If a man lies with thee as he would with a woman with another man, they are both to be stoned to death or blood's to be on their own head. They didn't say anything about Lesbians. Very, very interesting. They would argue with you today those groups, that today they now have put it in one of their new ... Not a translation, they've tried to do that but they've now tried to put in, men who sleep with men and women with women. That is intellectually the most dishonest thing I've ever seen happen in my life. That's not scriptural.
So I have to remind people, let's look in faith and see what it says here. Romans 1:26-28, the Apostle Paul was talking about several Cults that existed in his time period. Where sex on the altar was a thing that happened. He said, that was a sin, that was wrong, that was not to be done. You weren't to bring the price of a harlot in the house of God. I mean, I can go on and on, you get the connection as you look at it.
That's why when MCC started, I've said some Baptist publications, Southern Baptist had in one of their early books, when I first founded MCC I called it the Church of Sodom. Biggest lie in the world. It's always been called the Metropolitan Community Church. When I hired an attorney and said, “I want to sue the Southern Baptist”, he said “Why?” I said, “Because they've said I called it Church of Sodom.” Who cares? I said, “I care. I know what they're trying to do. They're trying to make me into something I'm not.” In those early days, they attacked me. But every time they did, it gave me such publicity, they quit it. They don't know what to do anymore. Only the most extreme person will use me anymore, because they're afraid of me.
I've lived to see such a change in spirituality. We’re today welcome and affirming temples, mosque, churches, I mean you name it, it's there. If you live long enough, you see things you just can't believe sometimes. Today there are theologians that said Troy Perry was absolutely correct. Many of them say today, Troy was not trying, he was not anti church ever. He was not anti Christian, he was a reformist. He wanted to reform the Christian church, he wanted to reform the faiths. I knew without a shadow of a doubt, those kinds of things after I worked through that, each time, it was a building block.
I had people who would come to me and say, oh God hates me. Earlier, even, I would meet people who my God, they just wrestled with it to where they lost their minds over that one thing. I've meet GLBT people who have lost their minds over trying to come to terms with what scriptures says and what churches have said to them. Because those groups that hate us, still hate us. Yet, I believe you can have change.
I've done things in my church like, I invited the President of the Southern Baptist Convention to come and preach at our General Conference. A lot of gay folks who were in my church, they didn't like that I invited. They were former Baptist who had been hurt by their Baptist church. I didn't tell him what to preach on but I knew what I hoped he would. He was a very smart man, Dr. Jimmy Allen. Dr. Jimmy Allen came and talked about how his son, how his daughter-in-law, how his three grandkids all came down with Aids. One son was gay, the son that was married to the wife and had the two kids. The Baptist church wouldn't let them go to Sunday School and he's the President of the Southern Baptist Convention. The gatekeepers he talks about and I believe. There are gatekeepers in a lot of religious groups. They are the ones who decide you can come in and you can't. Dr. Jimmy Allen preached about what happened with his family around Aids. It was incredible, an incredible moment for our church and for him.
His gay son said dad if you're gonna go speak to a gay crowd, I want you to go to Rev. Perry's church. They're the group that would really like to hear from you. I've been invited to groups. I never try to ever always preface what I say to groups that I go in. If I say anything that comes across wrong or hostile, please know it's only through my ignorance that I don't understand maybe the culture. Please just know that and know that I ask apologies before I start. I try not to do that. But please know. It's been an incredible journey that I've watched.
From 12 people in that first service to a growth where we went from my home to where we have churches in 35 countries now. In all the continents except Antarctica. I always but up and say, yes and one of you who want to be a Chaplain in the Military, one day I'll get somebody in the Navy who'll want to go to Antarctica and be a Chaplain down for the troops down there. I have continued to carry the good news for almost 50 years now to all the world.
I go to where Christianity is a minority religion, I preach in Muslim countries, I preach in Christian countries, I preach in countries with no religion. I always go in. I don't think I'm better than anybody else. I don't think everything I believe you have to believe. I give a lot of ... I tell people that you and God will determine what you want. Your spirituality may not involve going to church, it may. But don't lose the spirituality whoever you are. You know what, even today with young people, it's there.
Our people are one of the most deeply spiritual communities that I can meet. Once you've been demonized, once you've been told you're unlovable, once you've been ridiculed and yet in your heart of hearts you know you can be deeply spiritual and know God, it makes all the difference in the world. Nobody can ever take that away from you. And you shouldn't let them. Don't give anybody power over you. Except that thing we call, or AA does I know, when they talk about that Higher Power. That thing that's beyond us or our mind. But it's part of our soul.
Mason Funk: That's great. That's great. I want to ask you maybe. You mentioned a couple people that you wanted to talk about. Mainly Jose Serena and Barbara Gittings.
Troy Perry: [01:26:30] Yes.
Mason Funk: I do like to talk about important people for the record.
Troy Perry: Right.
Mason Funk: And I certainly believe you are qualified to talk a bit about each one of those individuals. So why don't you talk about Jose Sarria.
Troy Perry: Okay.
Mason Funk: Who was Jose Sarria?
Troy Perry: [01:27:00] Okay. Barbara Gittings was an interesting friend of mine. She was part of a homophile group. She was editor of one of the early Lesbian homophile. She was a young woman. She's deceased now. But Barbara was in the first march held at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1966 when the homophile groups, a little group of them marched and started marching every year in front of where the Liberty Bell is at. Again, trying to get freedoms and Barbara and I.
It is so cute. When we started MCC in Philadelphia, I knew who she was and I'd read things she'd written. Barbara and her partner, it was so funny. She came to a business meeting we had ... Churches are not always good, sometimes they can be very, very bad too; people in churches. They can be as disruptive as anybody else. There's no... I tell them, the saints can be sinners when they want to be. She came to a business meeting we held and we were having to have this meeting. In the middle of it, she told me to shut my mouth. It was so cute. But I didn't get upset at all, I wanted to know who she was as soon as service was over. Not because I was going to hate her, because I wanted to let her know that I wasn't the person she thought I was because of what was going on in the room. We became good friends.
When she died, hers was the first memorial service held at the New National Center for the Constitution in Philadelphia. It was held in the auditorium there where we celebrate the constitution. Barbara Gittings, it was packed out completely full. All the Directors mainly of Organizations, they said to her partner before I got there, make him go last, make him go last because Troy can talk. We're used to our boards and all but Troy Perry is a clergyman. He'll make the rest of look like the Night of the Living Dead, one of them later caught up told that they said that. I was the last one to speak but they gave me a standing ovation after I spoke because I could talk so personally about her and what we believed as a gay community.
Jose Sarria was a Hispanic man who I used to stay with when I went to San Francisco. I knew who he was. He ran for Mayor of the City of San Francisco. He was a drag queen. He started the royal court system in the world. He was incredible. He was a GI who was very proud of that. He was like me, we were both proud that we had been in the military. He was a World War II veteran or Korean War, I'm sorry Korean War. I was a Vietnam era veteran. When they raided the bars in San Francisco, he went out and ran for Mayor, and scared everybody to death in that City. Because it doesn't sound like a lot, but at that time, he received over 2,500 votes. The Police didn't want to believe there were 2,500 homosexuals in the city who would vote for him, who would know who he was.
Again, he was those incredible men who lived out his life out of the closet. Before some of us got there, and continued to do it until the day he died. His funeral was held at Grace Cathedral with the Bishop of the Episcopal Church, he was a member of the Episcopal Church. He had requested all of the court show up in Victorian drag. All of them did in Victorian costumes. The whole funeral. Of course, it made all the newspapers and was carried all over America. He was the first Hispanic that I knew that was making a difference in the lives of gays and lesbians.
I look back on it and I think that these were folks that were so important to our movement but who always don't get mentioned.
Mason Funk: [01:32:00] Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Great, Great.
Hey Kate, do you have questions? I let her ask some questions too. If she asks you a question talk to me.
Troy Perry: [01:32:30] Okay but Kate, I'm a little hard of hearing and your behind the camera so, he may have to say it for me again.
Kate Kunath: Okay. I'm interested in knowing what the Reverend thinks about the connection between the Metropolitan Community Church and the Black Church. Since the Black Church was so important in Civil Rights and this church seems important in the Gay movement. Do they work together? Can they work together? Does he ever have any visions about that?
Troy Perry: [01:33:00] Mm-hmm (affirmative)- The one group of people who have worked with me over the years has been the African American community. It was really, really interesting for some of them they caught it immediately. Also, homosexuality was not something that was talked about in the African American community. They didn't even talk about sex. Most church in the broadest sense, homosexuality ... They didn't talk about heterosexuality, so homosexuality for a long time, they couldn't talk about it. But having said that, right off the bat, I had African Americans who attended Metropolitan Community Church who joined our church. I always wanted a multi-cultural church, I mean that's what I wanted to see MCC growing into. For me it was to make sure that I reached out every time I could and I met people.
Very first thing that happened, somebody said do you know there's a church they won't ... They know it in their self, they know when they talk about it but they're sort of out but not out. It was called Universal Tabernacle here in Los Angeles. I found out ... Immediately I made it my business to meet the Pastor Morris O'Neile, he's deceased now. It was just amazing. In his church, I found out they had the most amazing history. They had moved to L.A., the whole church had, from New York City. He said God told him to move to California with his congregation. So they moved into South Central Los Angeles, I met him in 1969.
That year we had Christmas services together in 1969. It was, I mean ... The crowd ... We held it at the Auditorium we were meeting in downtown Los Angeles. We had a fantastic crowd. Here was Bishop O'Neile. I found out other things about his church too. The Sweet Inspirations who backed up Elvis Presley, they were a member of that church. I met all three of those women, who backed up Elvis Presley. They had a choir that was so incredible, I couldn't believe it. So for me, getting to know.
I met a Bishop in another Denomination, a Black Denomination who came out to me. I had all kinds of Preachers who came out to me during that time. I can't mention all of them today because some of them were heterosexually married and I don't think it's important to their stories anyway. I wanted them to know. Because of Martin Luther King being my mentor in a weird way, all by television. I never got to meet him, but still for me it was this fight about Black and Whites.
I remember when my Aunt Eutha Belle -- bless her heart -- called my brother Eugene when I had ... Right after I tried to commit suicide. I don't know how they had heard there was something wrong, but she heard maybe there was something wrong with Troy and I don't know if it was my mother telling her she thought there was something wrong. But all at once, my aunt who was very prejudice and very homophobic, good Baptist, she immediately called my brother Eugene. My brother really didn't know what had happened to me. She said, “We've heard there's something wrong with Troy.” He said, “I don't know what you're talking about.” She thought of the worst thing she could think of, “Well we understand he's living in L.A. with a black woman.” My brother said, and it went right over her head, “Well, they may be black but I'm not sure it's a woman.” It just went over her head. She till almost the day she died, was so racist. The "n" word, the nonsense.
I took an MCC clergy to visit one of my uncles and my aunt Eula May and my Uncle Roy. First thing out of his word, we have a bunch of niggers that's moved in right. I was so shocked, I didn't know what to do. I'm standing there and I said, Rev. David Farrell's partner is an African American. I just had to say it to him, you know. David of course, later said I have relatives just like that. Don't worry about it Troy. But I told Gil, his partner what had happened.
MCC our doors were open. We went to churches in same ... We had black Baptist Churches in L.A. who invited our choir to come in, knowing who we were, we were in the newspapers. The first article written about us was the L.A. Times 1969. I was already marrying couples by then, and they talked about that, they talked about my work, 1,000 people in worship. They had come to church, they saw it. But it was that community that really made a difference. I still fight for people of color. I know that women and people of color still in our cultures all around the world are still treated so awful and so bad. Men just, we take that male privilege, we take our white privilege sometimes that I talk about. Took me a long time to learn about that.
MCC taught me lessons too. Once I could hear words like that, those were not original with me. There were things that I learned and it made all the sense in the world to me all at once. Yes, then you start seeing it. I used to see it banks. Let a man walk in the room and he got to the first of the line. A woman walked in line, she could wait. Mr. So and so come on, I've seen it happen.
As a kid I was fired from my job at Kress Dime Store, my parents had taught me to call everybody as ... Anybody older than me was yes ma'am and no ma'am. I had an African American co-worker and Cora and I worked together. She was older than me and I called her yes ma'am. The store manager came over to me one day and said, if you keep that up I'm gonna fire you, that is a nigger woman. That is not a white ... You know, you don't call yes ma'am and no ma'am to niggers. Just like that. I was so nervous, Cora told me, she said Troy don't worry about it. I said, but he's gonna fire me. There's no way I won't say yes ma'am and no ma'am. My parents they taught me manners. The next day by he came by and gave me a leaflet to the Klu Klux Klan meeting at City Hall in Prichard, Alabama, where I lived and where I was fired from my job. But before he could fire me, I knew I was going to be fired. When he gave me that, I quit the job because I thought I'll just be fired.
Even as a kid, I went to Black churches. I loved ... The first churches I ever attended were little Black Churches in my neighborhood because my friends went there. They would put me on a role by myself. I couldn't figure it out. I didn't understand how segregation as a little boy worked. But I wanted to be back there with the kids I played with. Not up here by myself on the front pew but their church would have been burned down had they not done it that way. So it taught me lessons by the time I founded MCC, I was already ahead of that curve.
Hispanics. When I lived in the city and I saw history here, when I saw the L.A. Times reporter murdered in East L.A. the Zoot Suit Fights, when I knew found history. When I started dating a Mexican Americans, some of them very quickly to tell me the history of the community here. As my members came in, how their parents ... One of their fathers had been thrown out of high school 'cause he dared speak Spanish. You were to speak only English. Of course, their parents told them, then just speak English. One of my friends, he didn't learn Spanish until he started teaching in High School as a Mexican American. Those are the kind of stories, as you get older you find out about people and you say, I'm not gonna let this happen to me. I'm not going to be like that.
Phillip and I, we talk about this. My partner, as we celebrate 32 years together and another month and a half. I look at it and I thank God for it every day. We know when we see prejudice, we know it. When we hear it, we know it. He used to tell me because.
Mason Funk: [01:42:00] Wait a second. Start by saying Phillip used to tell me.
Troy Perry: [01:42:30] Phillip used to tell me, be careful Troy you have a bad habit. When a man tries to attack a woman you run right in there. Well, when you've seen people do that to your mother ... He said, “somebody's gonna kill you one day.” He said, “Be careful.” I said, “Well I'm not gonna be one of those people who runs the other way.” Yes, I guess that's the one place in my life where I'm still a sexist. I'm not gonna let men that are around me ... I mean, I find that's the biggest cowards in the world. To beat up on a woman, I just don't get it.
Mason Funk: Great. Thank you for all that. Kate did you have another question?
Kate Kunath: Just a follow-up.
Mason Funk: A follow-up.
Troy Perry: [01:43:00] It's okay, it's all right.
Kate Kunath: [01:43:30] When you were a kid going into those small African American Churches in your neighborhood, do you remember them talking about Civil Rights Movements or any kinds of plans or things like that? Do you remember that? Was it Faith Based taught mostly?
Troy Perry: [01:44:00] I did never, ever as a little boy remembering ... Of course, I wouldn't have known as a little boy what Civil Rights even the word would have meant probably, when I was a child. I'm sure they did. I'm sure they gave ... Because African Americans learned to read, one of the big tools that in the South during Slavery was not teaching African Americans to read. Because the day they could read, they could read scripture for themselves.
The day that Bishop Allen read scripture, the day Bishop Allen who founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church in America could read, it made all the difference for him in the world. He started those churches. There were so many slave owners that didn't want their slaves to know how to read, that's so they could interrupt scripture for them. Once they could do that, they could read themselves, the preachers who came along and learned scripture could quote about the children of Israel, they took those stories to mean themselves. Down by the Riverside, all the songs they sung had messages in them about it's gonna get better, it will be better. Even in death, death is the one escape that will take us where everybody will be treated the same. They did it that way.
There were others who started the fight in America. The NAACP, when it started, the Civil Rights Movement in America was not very old. It was still very closeted until Dr. King came along and there had been people before that. But brother, when they arrested Rosa Parks in the bus, the visions of that for American's, we finally started looking ... When they let go of the dogs we never had that to happen to us in the GLB in our community.
The GLBTQ community, we didn't have that normally. We didn't have the dogs put on us but we did have arrest and we did have cops beat us up. We had seen it already. For us as we started, what we gonna do?
I had a friend who got upset because I did come out of the closet. Years later he said, now you make people pick. Today there are articles being written about what he said. He said, now I can't have sex with a straight man because now they're homosexuals. In other words, I never thought of it the way he said it, but he was a bisexual. He viewed it a little differently than I did. He always described himself throughout while he was alive, he started the first gay youth organization in American History at Columbia in New York City. The Columbia Homophile Youth Organization. They're the GLBT group there that's on campus is the oldest one on campus in the United States, but he was a bisexual. He and I had sex. I always thought he was a gay man. But he corrected me one time and then we talked about it. It was very, very interesting. Right up till he died, he always said, you've ruined it for people like me. Because now we have to decide what we are.
Mason Funk: [01:48:30] I have a question. We interviewed a woman on Monday who grew up here in Los Angeles and she was steeped in the Catholic faith. She's not so attached to the Catholic Church anymore, but and she was an early activist. A little younger than you, but she watched the formation of the LGBT community, the early meetings. And she compared the early LGBTQ community to the early church. I wondered if you've ever thought about similarities between ... The church before was The Church, when it was just people meeting.
Troy Perry: Right.
Mason Funk: [01:49:00] Meeting in secret and sometimes on penalty of death. Have you ever thought about that? Does that make sense to you?
Troy Perry: [01:49:30] You know, I have thought about early church history. MCC lived it and so did other groups. When you have 21 of your churches have been arson and burned down to the ground, when you've had eight of your clergy murdered violently, when you've had members burned to death in a fire you're the early church. No matter what they say to you, you really are in some ways.
In MCC we were a group who kept records. When I was invited to the White House the first time, Midge Constanza, I said you can read my report later, I'm gonna talk from my heart. I walked her through what had happened to our churches up until that meeting and she was just shocked. She was crying. She's the Assistant to the President of the United States, the Assistant Attorney General was sitting there with us. You could see, they had no idea.
During those early days we didn't know if we were going to live or die. People today ... It's very hard sometimes. But because of those stories, that we had to pay that price as part of being who we were.
It was very interesting, two years ago I went to Cuba and I met with the Socialist Government, the Communist Government of Cuba in their headquarters building on Revolutionary Square. I met with a minister, the President and talked about our history. Thank God I know our history. Not only, I was there to talk about Religion with the minister of Religion for the Protestant Groups and she also handled Muslim groups as it turned out. It was very interesting.
Mason Funk: Hold on. Okay. Loud truck.
Troy Perry: Is that what it was? I thought they were moving trash cans.
Mason Funk: [01:51:30] No, just a truck. Carry on.
Troy Perry: I'll go back for just a second, 'cause this is sort of important.
Two years ago I was in Cuba and I was invited to come to this party Headquarters by their minister of Religion. One of the two, I think. The other one holds the Roman Catholic Church and this one held Protestants plus others. I heard that noise again. It must be somebody pushing something.
Mason Funk: It's just another truck.
Troy Perry: Okay, I'll go.
Mason Funk: Third time’s the charm.
Troy Perry: [01:52:00] This is, third time’s the charm.
Two years ago, when I was in Cuba I went and met with the Minister of Religion of the Party there. The Socialist Party, the Communist Party. I told those stories about what had happened with MCC. I mean as we talked, what I discovered and what the minister discovered, she and I, I think was that MCC was closer in some ways to the history of the Socialist Party in Cuba than any church she had met before. I could talk about what transpired and happened to us in our early days here. No we're not the Southern Baptist, no we're not the Assemblies of God, the large Pentecostal group. We suffered, we know what it's like. It gave me an opportunity though, to tell our story to their government. It happened, and I was very glad. She I think, really picked up on what I said, but I picked up on what she said too.
The early history, sometimes people will not put up any longer, and we just say we're gonna win this struggle and this battle. Marriage, I'm so thankful in this country because the day, Cuba's struggling with everything we have. They're ahead of us in some ways and behind in others. Transgender folks there can have their reassignment surgery and it's paid for by the Government. You try that in this country, you know, you've gotta save your money here and very few Transgenders ... When people talk about Cuba, there's only been eight or 10, I don't care. That's eight or 10 more sometimes than we have here. They're discussing marriage and gave me an opportunity while I was there two years ago, with the other clergy, some of their clergies from the Cuban churches, to hold a marriage ceremony. They asked me not to use the word marriage and I didn't but they did. All the papers and television and everything, so it doesn't matter sometimes. But I certainly did everything I would have done in this country. The ceremony was the same, everything.
There are ways that you find things are more alike than different in some cultures. So I'm very thankful in my 50 years, I've never quit going over the next hill. Whether it's another country, another culture, another government to talk to, another people. I'm not an American who goes around saying I know it all. But when they ask questions, they want to know about history too. It gives me an opportunity to talk. But I don't go around, oh this is just like Los Angeles. Oh God, there's a McDonald's over there. I don't do that. I'm not one of those people, I'm there to learn about their culture. So I pick up as much as they pick up from me, I pick up from them. That's the way I want and it that's the way I've constantly did it.
Mason Funk: Great. Four or five final questions. Short ones.
Troy Perry: Okay.
Mason Funk: [01:55:00] If someone comes to you and says they're about to come out. Whatever that might mean to that person. What advice or guidance do you give them? Try to keep this one simple and short. What's your advice?
Troy Perry: [01:55:30] Coming out of the closet is one of the best things you can ever do in your life. Now there's different ways of coming out of the closet. If you're coming out to mom and dad and they're both 90, I'm not sure you have to come out of the closet. But you might want to, that's up to you and how you feel. Once you come out of the closet though, you're out. Don't ever go back in. Because all mommy and daddy really wants to know is that you're happy. If they can see that you're happy that you're yourself. Your not doing violence to yourself, it will make all the difference in the world.
Mason Funk: [01:56:00] Great. Great. What is your hope, when you look to the future, short term, long term, what is your hope? What do you hope to see in the future?
Troy Perry: [01:56:30] As a gay man who lives in America, my hope has always been, to be treated like every other citizen in my culture. I don't fight for anything more but I don't fight for anything less. I demand you treat me like everybody's expected to be treated under the Constitution of this country. I refuse to accept anything less. That's why in 1968 in December, I started marrying couples. I knew that if heterosexuals didn't see us getting married, we would never get to marry. So for me, it's to be an example. Go out and do it. Be natural in the way you do it. I kiss my partner, not to prove anything to anybody, but because we're affectionate. We don't go around kissing in public all the time, but if I want to, I can.
Now in my neighborhood here, when Phillip and I used to walk around here years ago, people were in their cars going 60 miles an hour are very brave. They'd scream out faggots, queer, whatever. I'd always shout back, get used to it. That's what I want people to do is get used to it. Because once they get used to it, it's no big deal. I want people in our culture to be able to work for a job. My God, the members of my church can't work for a job, what's going to happen? So today I'm still fighting that journey and that battle. Our churches, we bring all suits, our members bring all suits. Just like GLBT people do thank God for the groups today that take on the struggles and the fights, who have the attorneys. My attorneys with the ACLU. When I was first arrested on Hollywood Boulevard and I will be thankful to the ACLU forever, for that organization because they caught on so early about GLBT rights.
Mason Funk: Great. Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Troy Perry: [01:58:30] It's important to me to tell my story because I think it's important for everybody to tell their story. Our stories are so important, it helps us get through. It's helps other people to get through to the other side, as I say. As we push towards freedom. People need to hear our stories. I'm so thankful for the gay straight alliances. Young people today ... I go to high schools, my God, when I founded MCC I could no more envision being able to talk to high school students. Yet today, I go and I talk to kids all the time and their parents are there with them. That's the important thing, I want their parents there. Of course, I tell those kids to listen to their parents. While you're in mommy and daddy's house, you listen to mommy and daddy. You're very fortunate, your parents are with you here tonight. That means they love you and they care about you. When they talk to you about growing up its because they do love you. They just want you to have a great healthy sense of humor, a good mind, make a difference, not let anybody use you.
I always used to say at MCC, “I want to use you. I hope to God I never misuse you. I want to be very clear on what I'm saying. Some of you have gifts I need. I don't have to have them all because of all of you. I need you to give me those gifts, I want to use you, in a good sense, not in a bad sense, I know the difference.” People always did.
Mason Funk: Last question. What is the importance to you of this project, OUTWORDS.
Troy Perry: This program to me, Outward.
Mason Funk: OUTWORDS plural.
Troy Perry: [02:00:30] OUTWORDS, I'm sorry.
OUTWORDS is so important to our community because it's the telling of our stories. It's important because people can see what we look like, and what do they see? Nobody with horns, not a serial killer. Just people with their stories of what happened to them and how they made it to the other side. I'm 77 years old here in 2019, and I'm thankful because as a 77 year old man I've lived to see organizations like this who want to see our stories persevered so that young people who are coming a hundred years, two hundred years, five hundred years from now can look back and see all their elders who hopefully have made a difference for them.
Mason Funk: I love that. From your mouth to God's ears.
Troy Perry: Okay.
Mason Funk: That's awesome. Thank you. We're gonna do what we call room tone.
Troy Perry: [02:01:30] Okay.
Mason Funk: [02:02:00] Which is just recording the sound of this room with no one talking for 30 seconds.
Troy Perry: Okay.
Kate Kunath: Okay.
Mason Funk: Okay. Thank you very much.
Troy Perry: I hope it was okay.
Mason Funk: It was wonderful.
Troy Perry: [00:00:30] Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] So do me a favor. Start by telling me your name and spell it for me.
Troy Perry: [00:01:30] I was born in North Florida in Tallahassee the capital of Florida. I'm a seventh generation Floridian. I was born on July 27, 1940. I was the oldest of five sons. I have four younger brothers. I was very fortunate, I had a mother and father who loved me.
Troy Perry: [00:02:00] Mm-hmm (affirmative)- My parents were parents of the depression. They were, they could remember the Great Depression. It was very, very funny when we were young, I remember us having anything we wanted. We were ... I could never figure out where our money came from. It wasn't until my father died when I was 12 years old, that I discovered not only did we own the farm, not only did we own property in Tallahassee, but my father was the biggest bootlegger in the North Florida. When you wake up at 12 and receive these secrets all at once that surrounded the family, it's very interesting. People sometimes ask me, they say Troy, when you were young and you went to school, did people talk about you because your father was a bootlegger. And I said, no, all their parents were just like mine. They all did something to increase their wages and they held more than one job too. Nobody ever made fun of me because my father was a bootlegger.
Troy Perry: [00:07:00] As a young kid, there was something about church that excited me. I knew somehow I was going to be in the ministry. Don't ask me how, but I did. It was automatically something that was just there in my head. I couldn't get away from it. I loved scripture study. As a little kid, they have the sand boxes. I look back on that now, with the little mirrors that they built into the sand boxes to make it look like a lake. The stories ... My favorite story in Hebrew scripture was Noah and the Ark. We kids, we all love that story. The story of Jesus around water, 'cause we were from North Florida.
Troy Perry: [00:11:00] Yeah.
Troy Perry: [00:11:30] My ... Okay, let me got back to my step-father and talk about that. Finally the day came when he beat up my mother in front of we kids and when he did, I rushed over to call the Sheriff's. He pulled the phone out of the wall and he was so awful. My mother hit him with a Coke bottle and he turned around and knocked her down. I rushed out of the room screaming. Ran over to a neighbor, asked her to call the Sheriff's Department.
Troy Perry: [00:12:00] My mother remarried when my dad died, just when I was starting to go through puberty. I was a kid who loved church. Church was so, so important to me. He didn't want me to go to church. He stopped me from going. I would beg to go to church. Finally, he would relent and let me go one Sunday and then the same thing all over again. Here I am going through puberty. Before puberty, Jesus Loves Me this I know. After puberty, all these feelings ... Why do I feel like I'm attracted to men? Yet, here I'm going through it.
Troy Perry: [00:25:00] Right. When I picked up that little One Magazine I had no idea, anything about history. I didn't know who started it, I didn't know where it came from. I really didn't. So for me, I couldn't figure out what is this about? It still took me several years later, before I went to One Institute where the magazine was published. It was before I founded Metropolitan Community Church.
Troy Perry: [00:28:30] Okay.
Troy Perry: [00:29:00] I took those backs back to the parsonage. The parsonage are where protestant ministers back then lived. Usually it was next door to the church. Ours was connected to the church. Meaning, we had no privacy whatsoever. That's the way churches wanted it back then. Anybody could knock on your door, morning, noon or night and you were at the beck and call of everybody who did that.
Mason Funk: [00:40:00] Oh you were?
Troy Perry: [00:40:30] Here I am 25 years old when I receive my draft notice from my Draft Board in Mobile, Alabama. They said, Uncle Sam needs you. Willy Smith said are you gonna let them draft you in the Army? You're gonna check the magic block? I said, what magic block. Right under Tuberculosis and Cancer will be Homosexual tendencies. Or it will say a Practicing Homosexual. I said, no, no, I'm going into the military. I'm not a practicing homosexual. I've got it down pat. I don't need to practice it anymore. That's exactly what I did. I spent two years in the military. Served with distinction, was a Vietnam Veteran. Came home with no problems whatsoever in the military. The military was finishing school for me.
Troy Perry: [00:49:30] I was the protest that happened in 1968.
Mason Funk: [00:50:00] Really? Okay. So tell us about The Patch. And that story which I don't think has been as widely told.
Troy Perry: [00:50:30] But I mean, this thing with which one came first. What it was, I just again corrected someone who asked me the story. I said, no. The Black Cat played no role, none whatsoever in my starting Metropolitan Community Church. I didn't hear about it until years later. That was from Jim Kettner not from anybody else. I mean it's so bizarre when I look back. But Jim claimed that was the first time and he was the historian who left so much to the gay community that when incorporated now, his collection is what started the big collection there. I'm not trying to ... But for me, it was very, very interesting.
Mason Funk: [00:51:00] Okay. Okay.
Troy Perry: [00:51:30] Before we get to that. After I tried to commit suicide, after God spoke to me, I started dating again. It was very, very interesting. I ended up dating a young man, Tony Valdez. Tony on our second date, we had heard through friends of ours about a new gay dance bar. The first one in Los Angeles that was public.
Troy Perry: [01:02:00] 'Cause their gay brother and his partner had invited them that morning to come and hear Troy Perry because he came from a Pentecostal background just like we did. She was Catholic, that was her background and he was the Pentecostal, the straight couple. But it was a view of things to come for us. Everybody was welcome at MCC. I look back to that time and I really didn't know, some of those nine people I'd gone to bed with. I thought, you know we've shared very ... we've shared as close as you can for human beings and yet you know, I felt this is going to be interesting because I've met a lot of people here. I'm like every gay man, I've gone to bed with folks. I've certainly been to bath houses and everything else that gay men did, back in those days. You know, that was sort of unbelievable to me, that people who had shared with me still came to church. Still was there and faithfully when I got up and told them my three-pronged gospel.
Mason Funk: [01:05:30] Wow! Wow! Let's take a little break.
Troy Perry: [01:06:00] It was very interesting to me. Our first demonstration after I founded the church, was a small demonstration. I received a phone call from San Francisco telling me that there was a brother who was fired from his job because he was gay, at the States Steamship Company. They called and said they have offices in L.A. what are you gonna do about it? I said, we're gonna picket. Saying and do it were two different things.
Kate Kunath: [01:13:00] Can you use the year when you are marking these things?
Mason Funk: [01:13:30] So after.
Mason Funk: [01:14:00] Okay. Now I have a question for you. In these early days of activism when you were getting a few people together to go protest, the first thought that crosses my mind is how did you know it would work? Didn't you ever worry that it wasn't going to work.
Troy Perry: [01:14:30] It was very interesting because from the first demonstration I was involved in, I knew it was going to work. Because of the African American Community. Dr. Martin Luther King was leading demonstrations all through the South. I knew from having watched that, that they had a coloration, I didn't. Gay folks didn't. But with a color and being a minority they still kept fighting back. They kept holding demonstrations, all kinds. So for me my real mentor was Dr. Martin Luther King. I didn't know anybody gay but when I saw what a man could do. And he was a clergyman also. That just opened my eyes.
Troy Perry: [01:16:00] It was very interesting, after God spoke to me in that still small voice, I never ever ... I knew without a shadow of doubt that God loved me. I didn't play old tapes anymore. My biggest thing was this though. I prayed and asked God, God I still don't understand. You love me and I know that. What about scripture? I know sooner or later somebody's gonna ask me about scripture. God doesn't tell you everything that's gonna happen to you in your life, I always tell people. I wish it was that way, but I can't say it is. I'm not a person who hears the voice of God every day of my life. Normally, when I say that still small voice, it's in my guts. It's knowing somethings right. I know after prayer, after mediation, after reading that something is right. Even though I don't understand it just yet, God will explain it in the long run or God will send me somebody. I tell people that God speaks to me more out of hearing other people speak sometimes. I prayed for something and all at once somebody says something and that's my answer from God.
Troy Perry: [01:26:30] Yes.
Troy Perry: [01:27:00] Okay. Barbara Gittings was an interesting friend of mine. She was part of a homophile group. She was editor of one of the early Lesbian homophile. She was a young woman. She's deceased now. But Barbara was in the first march held at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1966 when the homophile groups, a little group of them marched and started marching every year in front of where the Liberty Bell is at. Again, trying to get freedoms and Barbara and I.
Mason Funk: [01:32:00] Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Great, Great.
Troy Perry: [01:32:30] Okay but Kate, I'm a little hard of hearing and your behind the camera so, he may have to say it for me again.
Troy Perry: [01:33:00] Mm-hmm (affirmative)- The one group of people who have worked with me over the years has been the African American community. It was really, really interesting for some of them they caught it immediately. Also, homosexuality was not something that was talked about in the African American community. They didn't even talk about sex. Most church in the broadest sense, homosexuality ... They didn't talk about heterosexuality, so homosexuality for a long time, they couldn't talk about it. But having said that, right off the bat, I had African Americans who attended Metropolitan Community Church who joined our church. I always wanted a multi-cultural church, I mean that's what I wanted to see MCC growing into. For me it was to make sure that I reached out every time I could and I met people.
Mason Funk: [01:42:00] Wait a second. Start by saying Phillip used to tell me.
Troy Perry: [01:42:30] Phillip used to tell me, be careful Troy you have a bad habit. When a man tries to attack a woman you run right in there. Well, when you've seen people do that to your mother ... He said, “somebody's gonna kill you one day.” He said, “Be careful.” I said, “Well I'm not gonna be one of those people who runs the other way.” Yes, I guess that's the one place in my life where I'm still a sexist. I'm not gonna let men that are around me ... I mean, I find that's the biggest cowards in the world. To beat up on a woman, I just don't get it.
Troy Perry: [01:43:00] It's okay, it's all right.
Kate Kunath: [01:43:30] When you were a kid going into those small African American Churches in your neighborhood, do you remember them talking about Civil Rights Movements or any kinds of plans or things like that? Do you remember that? Was it Faith Based taught mostly?
Troy Perry: [01:44:00] I did never, ever as a little boy remembering ... Of course, I wouldn't have known as a little boy what Civil Rights even the word would have meant probably, when I was a child. I'm sure they did. I'm sure they gave ... Because African Americans learned to read, one of the big tools that in the South during Slavery was not teaching African Americans to read. Because the day they could read, they could read scripture for themselves.
Mason Funk: [01:48:30] I have a question. We interviewed a woman on Monday who grew up here in Los Angeles and she was steeped in the Catholic faith. She's not so attached to the Catholic Church anymore, but and she was an early activist. A little younger than you, but she watched the formation of the LGBT community, the early meetings. And she compared the early LGBTQ community to the early church. I wondered if you've ever thought about similarities between ... The church before was The Church, when it was just people meeting.
Mason Funk: [01:49:00] Meeting in secret and sometimes on penalty of death. Have you ever thought about that? Does that make sense to you?
Troy Perry: [01:49:30] You know, I have thought about early church history. MCC lived it and so did other groups. When you have 21 of your churches have been arson and burned down to the ground, when you've had eight of your clergy murdered violently, when you've had members burned to death in a fire you're the early church. No matter what they say to you, you really are in some ways.
Mason Funk: [01:51:30] No, just a truck. Carry on.
Troy Perry: [01:52:00] This is, third time’s the charm.
Mason Funk: [01:55:00] If someone comes to you and says they're about to come out. Whatever that might mean to that person. What advice or guidance do you give them? Try to keep this one simple and short. What's your advice?
Troy Perry: [01:55:30] Coming out of the closet is one of the best things you can ever do in your life. Now there's different ways of coming out of the closet. If you're coming out to mom and dad and they're both 90, I'm not sure you have to come out of the closet. But you might want to, that's up to you and how you feel. Once you come out of the closet though, you're out. Don't ever go back in. Because all mommy and daddy really wants to know is that you're happy. If they can see that you're happy that you're yourself. Your not doing violence to yourself, it will make all the difference in the world.
Mason Funk: [01:56:00] Great. Great. What is your hope, when you look to the future, short term, long term, what is your hope? What do you hope to see in the future?
Troy Perry: [01:56:30] As a gay man who lives in America, my hope has always been, to be treated like every other citizen in my culture. I don't fight for anything more but I don't fight for anything less. I demand you treat me like everybody's expected to be treated under the Constitution of this country. I refuse to accept anything less. That's why in 1968 in December, I started marrying couples. I knew that if heterosexuals didn't see us getting married, we would never get to marry. So for me, it's to be an example. Go out and do it. Be natural in the way you do it. I kiss my partner, not to prove anything to anybody, but because we're affectionate. We don't go around kissing in public all the time, but if I want to, I can.
Troy Perry: [01:58:30] It's important to me to tell my story because I think it's important for everybody to tell their story. Our stories are so important, it helps us get through. It's helps other people to get through to the other side, as I say. As we push towards freedom. People need to hear our stories. I'm so thankful for the gay straight alliances. Young people today ... I go to high schools, my God, when I founded MCC I could no more envision being able to talk to high school students. Yet today, I go and I talk to kids all the time and their parents are there with them. That's the important thing, I want their parents there. Of course, I tell those kids to listen to their parents. While you're in mommy and daddy's house, you listen to mommy and daddy. You're very fortunate, your parents are with you here tonight. That means they love you and they care about you. When they talk to you about growing up its because they do love you. They just want you to have a great healthy sense of humor, a good mind, make a difference, not let anybody use you.
Troy Perry: [02:00:30] OUTWORDS, I'm sorry.
Troy Perry: [02:01:30] Okay.
Mason Funk: [02:02:00] Which is just recording the sound of this room with no one talking for 30 seconds.