In 1997, in Atlanta, Georgia, the Rev. Dr. Mel White was awarded the ACLU’s National Civil Liberties Award for his efforts to apply the “soul force” principles of Gandhi and King to the struggle for justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. Mel’s best-selling autobiography, Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay And Christian In America, published in 1994 by Simon and Schuster, has inspired thousands of people. His books, Religion Gone Bad: the Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right (Penguin, 2006) and Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tells to Deny Gay Equality (Magnus, 2012) provide sobering detail to the strategies behind the religious right’s campaign of misinformation against LGBTQ people.
For 30 years, Dr. White had served as a pastor, seminary professor, best-selling author, prize-winning filmmaker, communication consultant and ghost writer to the most famous and powerful leaders within the religious right. His ghost-writing clients included Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Ollie North, and Pat Robertson.
Mel and Gary Nixon met and fell in love 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. In 1993, Gary and Mel began their activism and have worked together full time since then.
On Pride Sunday, June 27, 1993, Mel White was installed Dean of the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, with 10,000 congregants, the nation’s largest congregation with a specific ministry to LGBTQ people. After almost 3 decades of counseling and “anti-gay” therapy including prayer, fasting, attempted exorcisms, and even electroshock therapy, Mel White was able to reconcile his Christian faith 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’s story was featured in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and in print media across the nation. 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 Mel’s former wife, Lyla, were featured on 60 Minutes. Mel had come out publicly to give hope to others, to confront the misleading anti-LGBTQ rhetoric of the radical right, and to launch his own fight for justice and understanding for LGBTQ people.
On January 1, 1995, Dr. White was appointed national Minister of Justice for the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), a Christian denomination with a primary outreach to LGBTQ people. The Reverend Elder Troy Perry, founder of the UFMCC, and its Board of Elders, asked Dr. White to represent the denomination’s 300 churches in the nationwide struggle on behalf of justice for all people in need, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. 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 granddaughter, 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 a prayer vigil that God would change the minds and hearts of Senators about to pass the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.” When the Senate passed DOMA and advanced to President Clinton for his signature, White moved his Fast for Justice to the White House 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?’”
While completing his B.A. at Warner Pacific College (1962) and his M.A. 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 a 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 prize-winning motion picture and TV documentaries. Since 1972, Dr. White has also written 16 books, 9 of them best-sellers including David, the story of David Rothenberg, (adapted into an NBC movie of the week starring Bernadette Peters in 1988) and A Gift of Hope: The Tony Melendez Story, a 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 and a fascinating analogy for the AIDS crisis. Mel’s Aquino (Word Books, 1989) is the biography of Ninoy and Cory Aquino and the amazing spiritual story of the People’s Revolution in the Philippines.
After studying the lives of his nonviolent resistance heroes – Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, Audre Lorde, and Corazon Aquino – Dr. White founded Soulforce.
Mel White and Gary Nixon have retired from their work with Soulforce and make their home in Southern California.