REVERENED ROBERT CROMEY
THE COUNCIL ON RELIGION AND THE HOMOSEXUAL

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  • Reverend Robert Cromey, a now-retired Episcopal priest, moved to San Francisco in 1962. Although he is a heterosexual married with kids, he has devoted his ordained life to fighting for LGBTQ people and their oppressed brothers and sisters’ rights. 

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  • In 1964, he co-organized the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, which included representatives from the Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, and United Church of Christ denominations. In December of that year, the Council on Religion and the Homosexual became incorporated and was the first organization to have the word “Homosexual” in its name. The group actively engaged the major homophile organizations of the time, including the Society of Individual Rights (SIR), the Daughters of Bilitis, and the Mattachine Society. Reverend Robert Cromey was also an earlier celebrator of gay marriage (1968) and in the 1970s had a private practice as a therapist where he extended his help to LGBTQ people in need. By the 1980s, Cromey's church held funerals for over 70 men who died of AIDS.

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  • He still maintains a blog where he actively posts. His most recent post from November 6, 2021, reads in part: I am asking the question, “What is the meaning of my life at 90 3/4 years old.” I have arthritic pain, poor balance, impaired hearing and eyesight. I take a dozen pills a day, plus vitamins… I have fought the good fights for peace, justice for blacks, LGBTs, women and abortion… I really have no complaints. The thoughts about the meaning of my life just swim into my consciousness. I am not suicidal. (Terrible coward) I have everything to live for… ​​I am a Christian Existentialist. I am a follower of Jesus and I accept what is. It is like being a pacifist. I know wars will never cease, but I will always be against war. I accept what is. Oh, well on to wash the pans from last night’s dinner. 

  • “I pray LGBT people are smart enough to know that religion, and its sources, are very complex and that to understand the liberal approach to a religious activity means understanding the intellectual and emotional possibilities of all religions in the world, in spite of the fact that some people have used religion to persecute LGBT people. 

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  • I was called a homosexual sympathizer in the early 1960s, but ‘fag priest’ was the only nickname I really loved. Because I became a fag priest and outspoken advocate for gay rights, it made me relatively famous. In the Bay Area and San Francisco, I was on every radio and TV show and interviewed innumerable times by the newspapers. These nicknames helped because I had a reputation, and I got a great deal of attention because of them—they were a good thing. 

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  • I think my upward mobile ability in the church was hampered by my advocacy for all kinds of things. I was criticized from time to time by the hierarchy, higher-ups, but I didn’t care. Being criticized meant I had a chance to respond, and if I was criticized publicly or in the media, it was an even bigger advantage because I could respond publicly. 

  • I thought the Council on Religion and the Homosexual was a great thing. It was brand new, and nobody was dealing with the issues we dealt with. About six of us got together regularly, and we criticized the police and did all kinds of controversial stuff—it was a lot of fun. 

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  • Most of us original members grew up with a liberal approach to the Bible. We didn't take the Bible literally, we saw that there were things in the Bible that were erroneous and wrong and certainly prejudicial. The initial group of us came out of that liberal tradition, no matter which denomination we were. Our individual denominations didn't make a huge difference. All of the denominations involved moved at different speeds: Episcopalians and the Methodists were kind of ahead on certain things, and the Lutherans and Prebersterians were a little behind on some. We varied on the denomination, but we, the clergy, all sang the same song. 

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  • We organized a ball to be held on New Year’s Eve 1965 to raise funds for our group and the community, and we met with the police to tell them about it. I remember one of the cops said, ‘Well, you know, these queers are using you,’ and we said, ‘Well, we're using them—we're trying to raise money to do our work.’ We also negotiated with an assembly hall to host the event.

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Sponsoring ministers for the Council on Religion and the Homosexual fundraising ball at a press conference on January 2, 1965. From left to right: Lewis Durkham, Rev. Cecil Williams, Canon Robert Comey, Rev. Fred Bird, Rev. Charles Lewis, Rev. Clarence Colwell, and Rev. Ted McIlvenna. Credit: Joe Rosenthal, San Francisco Chronicle.

  • When the police showed up with their cameras and tried to invade the event, we were appalled. A couple of the clergy members and myself tried to get arrested, but, of course, they wouldn’t arrest the clergy. They arrested several lawyers. In the end, of course, those cases were thrown out, and the police were humiliated by the judge.

  • We had a press conference the next day. Are you kidding me? All you had to say was Episcopal and Methodist clergy were going to sponsor a ball and advocate for gay rights—with what was going on in the 60s! All you had to do was blow your nose with those words, and you would get on TV. That is how prejudiced people were. They were just so shocked that any party would get involved in such a thing, but there was just never doubt in my mind that this is what I was called to do in that moment.”