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Rev Otis Charles, first Christian bishop to come out, dies

Episcopal bishop the Rev Otis Charles, who became the first Christian bishop to come out as gay to fight for LGBTI rights in 1993, passed away 26 December
The Rev Otis Charles (right) marrying Felipe Sanchez-Paris (center)
Photo by Vimeo

The Rev Otis Charles, a prominent advocate for LGBTI rights from the US Episcopal Church has died following a brief illness.

Charles passed away 26 December in the company of family members at San Francisco’s Coming Home Hospice aged 87.

Charles became the first ever bishop to come out publicly as gay in 1993 soon after his retirement and became a vocal proponent for LGBTI equality from within the Episcopal Church.

After retiring and coming out Charles continued to be a voting member of the Episcopal House of Bishops and in 2003 was one of those who voted to approve the election of the Rev Gene Robinson to be bishop of New Hampshire – the first openly gay man elected to such a high rank within the church.

Only four years earlier Charles was arrested and lead away in handcuffs at the Episcopal Church’s national convention as part of a protest action against the church’s historical treatment of LGBTI people.

In 2004 Charles told the San Francisco Chronicle about his decision to come out publicly.

‘I was ashamed of myself for remaining silent when the church was involved in an acrimonious debate about the whole question of gay people in the life of the church. I couldn't live with that any longer,’ Charles said.

Charles came out to his wife Elvira in 1976 and the couple divorced shortly after he came out publicly in 1993.

The couple had five children together, who in turn have produced ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Charles found love again at age 76 when he met retired professor Felipe Sanchez-Paris and the couple were married in a church wedding in 2004 and then again legally in 2008.

Sanchez-Paris died in July of 2013.

A memorial service is scheduled at 2pm, 11 January at St. Gregory of Nysaa Episcopal Church, 500 DeHaro Street, San Francisco.

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