Local Hero Albert Ogle Advocates for LGBT Human Rights
LGBT Pride Month 2014 Honoree
As a child in Belfast, the Reverend Canon Albert Ogle grew up in a place where being gay was criminalized. It was a violent time, filled with sectarian rioting, when Irish Catholics and Nationalists were demanding an end to years of discrimination. Ogle, a 2014 LGBT Pride Month Local Hero, wryly observes that despite the hostility between the factions, there was at least one item both sides could agree on.
“One of the issues that united the Protestants and the Catholics was opposing the repeal of the anti-sodomy law that was on the books in Ireland since the 19th century,” Ogle remembers. “Both religions could find their unity in hating us even more. I knew I was gay and that law was a huge stigma.”
For Ogle, those days left an impression on him that helped shape his values and beliefs and led him to become an openly-gay Anglican priest living in San Diego.
“It’s a calling,” he reveals. “You feel connected to this work. Other people saw it in me as a young person. My parents went through a very nasty divorce when I was about 15, and the church community I grew up in in East Belfast became my extended family. They kept me stable and the clergy became like uncles to me, looking after me. It was a very caring community.”
Today he travels the world as an advocate for LGBT human rights in countries such as Uganda. He believes fighting for human rights in such countries is where he can be of most use.
“The Christian right has been working for many years in most of Africa, in South and Central America, even in places like Eastern Europe and Russia,” explains Ogle in a 2012 interview for GayTalk Tonight. "Often the churches are in sync with the government in creating these very draconian laws. For instance, just us talking about gay stuff…that would be deemed illegal. Uganda has helped us put a face on what’s going on throughout the world, and there are people fighting these laws, from the legal perspective, human rights perspective, from a faith perspective who think these laws are really harmful. So we have to help these people to raise their voice.”
Because of the church’s involvement in anti-LGBT laws, there is often a general mistrust of the religious community. Even Ogle has experienced it when his calling has come into question.
“Sometimes I get in front of people, including people from the gay community, and they'll start attacking me because I'm wearing a collar,” Ogle explains. “I hear it from communities that have traditionally suffered because of the church, but if we all abandon the church, we give up on the core values of Christianity, which are really cool for us to live by.”
Early on, Ogle felt it best for his career not to disclose his sexual orientation to members of the church.
“I was in the closet,” reveals Ogle. “I was in Belfast and my partner was in London. We moved in together when I moved to a parish in Dublin. A friend of ours leaked one day to my boss that we were a couple, thinking that he knew. But he freaked out and went to the archbishop. We lost our home and I lost my job all at the same time.”
When Ogle came to America in the 1980s he settled in Los Angeles where he worked with youth and soon found himself caught up in the AIDS epidemic.
“We had lots of runaway and throwaway children who would leave the Midwest and come to the coast and would be involved in survival prostitution. The Gay and Lesbian Center helped through a big outreach program. A year later I became the youth director of the Center, working as an openly gay priest. It was 1983, and many of these kids were getting AIDS and dying.”
In 1985, Ogle learned that his former partner had been diagnosed with AIDS.
“We had split up when I moved to the States,” he recalls. “So I went back and spent two weeks with him. And at the time, when you were diagnosed with AIDS, that was it. So he died and I came back devastated.”
Returning to the U.S., Ogle joined AIDS Project LA as their first planning director. He quickly saw that to help the victims of AIDS, he first had to convince civic leaders that there was a crisis.
“I was saying, ‘There’s a train coming down the track and we need to address it,’” he recalls. “Many were in denial. The association was that street kids died of AIDS, not upper middle-class gay white men. Members of the board of supervisors would turn their backs on our staff, but my collar actually helped to bridge, and allowed me to go in as a credible witness.”
Ogle recalls, “Not only were we dealing with major loss and also afraid that we might be affected, you were facing your own mortality in your twenties and your friends were dropping like flies. Nationally, the Episcopal Church began to create this compassionate response. Insurance companies had been canceling insurance, people were losing their jobs and the church said this is not appropriate.”
Ogle became responsible for creating the first AIDS plan for California that addressed what a prevention model would look like as the disease worked its way out of the city and into into other areas.
“It was a five-year prevention and care plan for the California War on AIDS, which we released in 1987,” he notes.
Today, Ogle is founder and president for the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, an organization that addresses human rights, health and education through the prism of faith. It also empowers grassroots organizations in many countries to advocate for LGBT rights and AIDS prevention. He also is a contributor to a blog, Erasing 76 Crimes, which addresses the human toll of 76 countries’ anti-gay laws and the struggle to repeal them.
“We are witnesses to the reality that you can have straight people love us and accept us and that may help these other emerging places,” he notes.
Ogle, who is also working on his memoir about “being an openly gay priest in this climate right now,” writes a column for the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News called “RGod2,” which explores faith and religion from an LGBT perspective. “RGod2” happens to also be on his license plate, serving as a reminder that God accepts all children, including those who aren’t straight.
“I want to do more writing, preaching and mentoring young people,” Ogle admits. “I've been spending a lot of time around young activists who are extraordinary, intelligent and courageous. It’s very important for them to see there are people of faith at their side, that we're not the enemy. So much of the damage is being done by people of faith so it’s very important to show that there's another voice which may never be the majority voice.”
A friend once said, ‘Albert, our job is to dye these threads in the most amazing colors in our lifetime that others will weave. We will never see the cloth completed.’
For now, Ogle continues to work for LGBT rights around the world, with the hopes that he can change the mindset of the church from within.
“I want to see the faith communities in those countries become more compassionate and not persecute their own children, which is what they're doing right now,” he says. “A friend once said, ‘Albert, our job is to dye these threads in the most amazing colors in our lifetime that others will weave. We will never see the cloth completed.’ He’s right. A cathedral isn't built in a generation. It takes several generations adding to this sacred space. Hopefully many of the things we're struggling with now, in 20 years, may not be an issue. The younger generation is going to be more worried about climate change and employment than they will be about equality. We will have done our work.”