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Carl Bean (1944–2021), “I Was Born This Way” singer who inspired Lady Gaga

by Linnea Crowther

Carl Bean was a minister, AIDS activist, and singer known for his 1977 dance club hit, “I Was Born This Way.”

Spreading positive messages

Bean, a gay man, was singing in gospel groups and appearing in Broadway shows when Motown Records asked him to record a cover of “I Was Born This Way,” first recorded in 1975 by Valentino. Bean’s version became a hit on the dance music charts and was a groundbreaking early LGBTQ anthem, notable for its bold chorus: “I’m happy, carefree, and I’m gay – yes, I’m gay.” Lady Gaga has said that her 2011 hit song and album, “Born This Way,” were inspired by Bean’s song.

“I Was Born This Way” was Bean’s only hit song; not long after its success, he was ordained as a minister and founded the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church in South Los Angeles. He later founded the Minority AIDS Project, offering HIV/AIDS education and support to people of color. In his ministry and his activism, Bean offered a positive message, assuring people that “God is love and love is for everyone.”

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Notable quote

“I attempted suicide and landed in the mental health ward of a big hospital. There was a doctor there, a female exchange student from Europe. She said, ‘There are many people like you. I can’t do what your parents want— make you a heterosexual—but I can help you accept who you are and go for your dreams.’ That gave me enlightenment and the chance to accept myself. If I had another doctor, I might have been a different animal.” —from a 2016 interview for Vice

Tributes to Carl Bean

Full obituary: The Washington Post

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