12-08-1994

The Reverend James Lewis Stoll

REV. JAMES LEWIS STOLL, M.Div.a Unitarian Universalist minister, died (b: 1936). Stoll was the first ordained minister of any religion in the United States or Canada to come out as gay. He did so at the annual Continental Conference of Student Religious Liberals on September 5, 1969 in La Foret, Colorado.

Born in 1936 in Connecticut, he was educated at San Francisco State University and the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, CA. In the words of his friend, Leland Bond-upson, Mr. Stoll took a flat in the Eureka Valley neighborhood in San Francisco with three other friends. In September 1969, Mr. Stoll went to the La Foret Conference Center in Colorado Springs to attend a convention of about 100 college-age Unitarians. On the second or third night of the conference, Stoll got up to speak. He told the assembly that he’d been doing a lot of hard thinking that summer and that he could no longer live a lie.

He had been hiding his true nature—from everyone except his closest friends. “If the revolution we are in means anything, it means we have the right to be ourselves, without shame or fear.” And then he told the group he was gay, and it wasn’t a choice, and he wasn’t ashamed anymore and he wasn’t going to hide it anymore. From now on he was going to be himself in public.

He led the effort that convinced the Unitarian Universalist Association to pass the first-ever gay rights resolution in 1970. He founded the first counseling center for gays and lesbians in San Francisco. In the 1970s he established the first hospice on Maui. He was president of the San Francisco chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in the 1990’s. He died at the age of 58 from complications of heart and lung disease, exacerbated by obesity and a life-long smoking habit.