Carl Bean, the preacher, performer and activist who inspired Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” has passed away at the age of 77.
A statement from the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, which Bean founded and of which he was the archbishop, said he passed away Tuesday after a “lengthy illness.”
"Our hearts go out to all as we mourn the loss of this trailblazing leader and legend in the worlds of activism, advocacy, AIDS, community outreach, faith, liberation theology and so much more," wrote the church.
Bean, an openly gay Motown and disco singer, released the song "I Was Born This Way" in 1977. With lyrics like "Yes, I'm gay/ It ain't a fault, it's a fact/ I was born this way" and "I'm happy/ I'm carefree/ and I'm gay/ I was born this way," it was quickly embraced as a gay liberation anthem. It appeared for eight weeks on Billboard's dance club songs chart and peaked at No. 15 in 1978.
Earlier this year, Lady Gaga publicly commented on how his song had inspired "Born This Way."
"Born This Way, my song and album, were inspired by Carl Bean, a gay black religious activist who preached, sung and wrote about being 'Born This Way,'" wrote Gaga in May, alongside photos of herself celebrating "Born This Way Day" in West Hollywood, California; the local holiday celebrated the 10-year anniversary of Gaga's second studio album.
"Thank you for decades of relentless love, bravery, and a reason to sing," Gaga continued. "So we can all feel joy, because we deserve joy. Because we deserve the right to inspire tolerance, acceptance, and freedom for all."
After his music career, Bean moved towards religion and activism. In 1982, he founded the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, which was later recognized as the first Black church for LGBTQ+ people, according to a release on its website. The church focuses on an "all-embracing progressive theology," with a focus on social activism and a message that "God is for everyone," notes a website for his autobiography.
In 1985, Bean founded the Minority AIDS Project, which continues to provide comprehensive services for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care for low-income people of color in Los Angeles.
In 2019, an intersection in Los Angeles was designated "Archbishop Carl Bean Square."