During the past thirty years, the Rev. Dr. Mel White and his husband, Gary Nixon, have traveled across the country, speaking on university campuses, teaching the “soul force” principles of Gandhi and King, organizing people of faith to do justice, and confronting religious leaders whose anti-gay rhetoric White believes, “leads to the suffering and death of God’s lesbian and gay children.”
In 1997, in Atlanta, Georgia, Mel received the ACLU’s National Civil Liberties Award for his efforts to apply the “soul force” principles of relentless nonviolent resistance to the struggle for justice for sexual minorities. In 1994 Simon and Schuster published Mel’s autobiography Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay And Christian In America. Much has happened to Mel and Gary since Mel’s best selling autobiography was released. On February 15, 1995, Mel was arrested for “trespassing” at Pat Robertson’s CBN Broadcast Center. The story of his arrest, the 22 day prison fast, and the “little victory” that followed, made news across the nation.
For 30 years, Dr. White had served the evangelical Christian community as a pastor, seminary professor, best-selling author, prize-winning filmmaker, communication consultant and ghost writer to its most famous and powerful leaders. From the beginning the media pictured Mel as an employee of these leaders on the “religious right.” Although Mel did not work with nor write speeches for these leaders. he was hired by national publishers to write books — primarily “autobiographies” — for his ghost-writing clients including Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, and Pat Robertson.
Looking back Mel wishes he had never been a ghost writer “but at the same time,” he adds, “it proves that God has a marvelous sense of humor. Seeing these leaders up close and personal gave me a priceless opportunity that would later be a real advantage.”
Mel and Gary met and fell in love twenty-seven years ago at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, where Mel served on the vestry and Gary sang baritone in the Coventry Choir. Gary was a property manager for the Weyerhaeuser Corporation, in charge of corporate properties across Southern California. During that brief window of opportunity when the California Supreme Court made same sex marriages legal, Mel and Gary returned to All Saints Church where they were married, June 18, 2008. On Pride Sunday, June 27, 1993, Mel was installed Dean of the Cathedral of Hope Metropolitan Community Church in Dallas. The Cathedral was and continues to be the nation’s largest gay-lesbian congregation serving approximately 10,000 congregants in the wider Dallas area.
After more than three decades of counseling and “anti-gay” therapy including prayer, fasting, exorcism, and electric shock, Mel White was able to reconcile his Christian theology and his sexual orientation. At his installation, Mel proclaimed his own, heart-felt statement of faith: “I am gay. I am proud. And God loves me without reservation.” In the months that followed, Mel and Gary’s story was featured in newspapers across the nation from the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times and the Washington Post, and in other local and national media. He was interviewed on hundreds of radio and TV broadcasts including Larry King Live, National Public Radio and the BBC. In 1994, Mel, his partner, Gary Nixon, and his former wife, Lyla, were featured on Sixty-Minutes.
In April, 1994, with the publication of Stranger at the Gate, Mel came out of the closet to give hope and healing to other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians, to confront the misleading anti-gay rhetoric of the radical right, and to launch his own fight for justice and understanding for LGBT people.
On January 1, 1995, Dr. White was appointed national Minister of Justice (an unsalaried position) for the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the only Christian denomination with a primary outreach to gays and lesbians. The Reverend Elder Troy Perry, founder of the U.F.M.C.C., and its Board of Elders, asked Dr. White to represent the denomination’s 300 churches in the current nationwide struggle on behalf of justice for all who suffer, gay and non-gay alike.In the summer of 1996, UFMCC moved into their newly acquired world headquarters in West Hollywood, California. To be closer to their families (especially Mel’s grand daughter, Katie), and to UFMCC leadership, Mel and Gary sold their home in Texas and moved back to southern California.
On September 1, 1996, Mel and Gary began a two week Fast for Justice on the steps of the United States Senate, inviting people of faith across America to join in this prayer vigil that God would change the minds and hearts of Senators about to pass the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.” Passing DOMA would be the first time in U.S. history that the entire lesbian-gay community would be singled out as second-class-citizens, denied by law the 1,047 rights and protections that go automatically with heterosexual marriage. When the Senate passed DOMA (85-14), White moved his Fast for Justice to the White House steps where he, his partner, Gary, and 7 others were arrested while praying on the White House sidewalk. Dr. White asked his critics, “How can we stand by in silent acceptance while the President and the Congress sacrifice lesbian and gay Americans for some ‘greater political good.'”
With his experience in theology and media, Dr. White is uniquely qualified for his justice ministry. While completing his B.A. degree at Warner Pacific College (1962) and his M.A. degree in communications at the University of Portland (1963), Mel produced and hosted a weekly NBC television series, “The World of Youth” (1959-1966).
While working on his Ph.D. in communications and film at U.S.C., Mel won a Rockefeller grant to begin a doctorate in religious studies as well. Mel completed his doctorate at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he also served for more than a decade as an adjunct professor of communications and preaching. In 1973, Mel was appointed Senior Pastor of Pasadena’s First Covenant Church.
In 1965 Mel founded Mel White Productions, Inc. and in the next 20 years produced 53 motion picture and TV documentaries. Since 1972, Dr. White has written 21 books, 9 of them best-sellers including David, the story of David Rothenberg, the child burned by his father (a 1988 NBC movie of the week with Bernadette Peters) and A Gift of Hope: The Tony Melendez Story, a July, 1989, HarperCollins release, condensed in the June, 1989, issue of Reader’s Digest.
White has served as consultant to major film studios including Warner Bros. (“The Mission”) and Universal Studios (“Cry Freedom”). From the beginning of his career in media, Mel has searched for stories that would inspire and inform the struggle to be human. He directed documentary film crews in Vietnam during the last years of the war, documenting the spiritual dimensions of that conflict on its victims.
Mel has produced and directed television specials in Africa, Asia, South and Central America. His book, Margaret of Molokai, is the story of the last leper to leave the Kalaupapa peninsula in Hawaii and a fascinating analogy for the current AIDS crisis. Mel’s Aquino (Word Books, 1989) is the biography of Ninoy and Cory Aquino, the martyr and the president, and the amazing spiritual story of the People’s nonviolent revolution in the Philippines. Mel’s latest book, Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tells us to Deny Gay Equality is an expose of the fundamentalist Christian war being waged against sexual and gender minorities. Across this country,” Mel explains, “our gay brothers and lesbian sisters are the victims of a tidal wave of intolerance, discrimination, and violent crime flowing directly out of the anti-gay rhetoric of the radical right. We people of faith, gay and straight alike, must take our stand to end the suffering.”
After Dr. White’s 22 day fast in the Virginia Beach City Jail, Pat Robertson visited him in jail, heard White’s plea and went on the air to say clearly that he “abhorred the growing violence against gay and lesbian people.” “Pat Robertson is not our enemy,’ White said later. “He is a victim of misinformation like we all have been. In the spirit of Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. we must go on believing that Pat and the others can change.” Dr. White has dedicated his life to a ministry of change. “Until this nation accepts God’s gay and lesbian children as full members of the human family,” White explains, “we must go on telling that truth in love, whatever it costs us.”