The Rev. Cecil Williams and Glide Memorial Church have been at the forefront of LGBTQ advocacy work for 60 years. You can learn more about this in Glide Pride: Celebrating 60 Years of LGBTQIA+ Leadership, 1963-2023.
In Cecil and Jan’s book, Beyond the Possible, Cecil rights a first hand account of some of his experiences working with the LGBTQ community.
“It’s my experience that black and white churches are full of gay people who remain closeted because the church doesn’t want to see them. Why not welcome them, as you do everyone else, for the original creations they are? That’s what my real training consisted of during childhood: my family was friendly with enough gay people (white and black) to know that sexual orientation meant little or nothing when it came to choosing trusted friends. A vision of a church for all the people began forming in my mind at age ten, when I saw how much everybody loses if conditions of acceptance are placed on any one of us.”
Some of the historic ways Cecil worked to provide advocacy and support to the LGBTQ community can be explored below.
1964 – Council on Religion and the Homosexual Formed
The Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) was a group of LGBTQ community leaders and clergy that worked together to advance the rights of LGBTQ individuals. This group helped to educate faith communities, psychologists, law enforcement and other groups that had power and impact over the rights of the LGBTQ community in the 60’s and 70’s. You can learn more about Glide work forming and in partnership with CRH here.
1965 – Raid on California Hall
In order to publicize and raise funds for CRH, Jose Saria helped the council plan a New Year’s drag ball at California Hall. At the time is was illegal to be gay, to gather in a community as gay individuals and to dress in the clothing of the opposite sex. The Rev. Cecil Williams coordinated with the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) before the event and was given assurance that the SFPD would not interfere with the event. Instead, the SFPD showed up with arrest wagons, photographed everyone entering the party and arrested three individuals. The events that night, propelled the CRH into the spotlight and led to major reforms in policing of the LGBTQIA+ community. You can learn more about the events at California Hall here.
1969 Cecil Williams Testifies in Court to Help Trans Individuals Change Their Name and Sex
Glide hosted the first ever Transgender group, called Conversion Our Goal (COG). Cecil actively supported the group as seen in the articles below. You can learn more about COG here.
Trigger warning: The article below and the notes that accompany it contain deadnaming and hurtful language about trans and gay individuals. It is shared for historical purposes to help individuals understand the struggles that people have faced in history. Please skip this article if you think it may trigger you.
This article from Knight Magazine, Volume 7, No 6, October 1969 was saved by the Rev. Dr. Reed Erickson
Courtesy of the ONE Archive at the USC Libraries, Reed Erickson Papers, 7-13
The same article was clipped by the Rev. Raymond Broshears to highlight the story of COG and Glide Memorial Church.
Courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society, Papers of Ray Broshears, 96-3 Carton 2
1969 – Glide Task Force for Fair Employment Practices for Homosexuals
Glide Memorial Church worked for decades to ensure fair employment practices for LGBTQ individuals. The work was led by a church committee called the Glide Task Force for Fair Employment Practices for Homosexuals. Their work began in 1969 with the creation of a non-discrimination policy at the church and foundation and a pledge to boycott companies that actively discriminated against LGBTQ individuals.
Next the committee, in partnership with organizations that met in Glide’s facilities, worked to change the City and County of San Francisco’s policies that excluded LGBTQ employees. These discriminatory laws were in part, due in part to the unjust laws that criminalized LGBTQ lives, gatherings and clothing. Catalyzed by the death of Supervisor Harvey Milk, San Francisco’s employment policies changed in 1972.
For decades after, Glide built coalitions and lobbied for federal anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ employees. These efforts served as active opposition to other faith communities and individuals who sought to divide communities. Glide actively created opportunities to unite groups and argued, as the Rev. Cecil Williams said: “”Any right that is taken from any group is a right taken from every group.” (San Francisco sentinel, June 6, 1991 19:23).
Glide Lesbian and Gay Men’s Drop-in Support Group
Glide’s LGBTQ support groups have had different names and leadership throughout the years. The poster below is from one of the church’s first groups. See more posters and learn about the current group at Glide Memorial Church here.
1987 – Caring for those living with HIV/AIDS
The video above features a congregant talking about how the Rev. Cecil Williams visited individuals with HIV/AIDS in the hospital, during a time when people where afraid and often unwilling to provide care. This video, from the Glide Archive, is an excerpt from footage for Heroes in America. You can watch the full video here.
Glide Church also participated in fundraising for the AIDS Foundation. The event featured below was called the “Gospel Musical” and included teenagers in a rap competition.
1996 – Freedom to Marry Task Force of Northern California
Officiating in LGBTQ weddings since the 70’s, Cecil’s advocacy for marriage equality amplified when laws began targeting LGBTQ individuals in the 90’s. Some of Cecil’s writings on the subject can be found below. You can learn more about marriage equality efforts at Glide here.
Courtesy of the Glide Archive
2000 & 2003 – Rev. Cecil Williams Named Emeritus Pride Grand Marshal
The Rev. Cecil Williams taught us to use our voice to radically welcome others. We continue to proclaim that radical welcome in all that we do! We celebrate the Rev. Cecil’s birthday throughout the month of September. If you would like to help us celebrate, please send a love offering in honor of his birthday. Your support helps us share unconditional love in the Tenderloin, in San Francisco and throughout the world. Contribute to our fundraiser in Honor of Cecil’s 94th Birthday here.