Father Robert Carter, 'the Catholic Harvey Milk,' dies Co-founder of NGLTF and Dignity
 

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posted Friday, March 19, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 12

Father Robert Carter, 'the Catholic Harvey Milk,' dies Co-founder of NGLTF and Dignity
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Father Robert Carter, openly Gay Roman Catholic priest and co-founder of the NGLTF and DignityUSA, died on February 22 in New York at the age of 82.

His death was confirmed publicly on March 14 by Fr. Thomas Slon, spokesperson for the New York Province of the Jesuit religious order.

He was described by long-time activist Brendan Fay as "the Catholic Harvey Milk."

Carter helped found DignityUSA, a support group for Gay Roman Catholics. In 1972, with Fr. John McNeill, he hosted the organization's first meeting at the Jesuit chapel on West 98th Street in Manhattan.

After Roman Catholic authorities forbade Dignity to meet on church property, Fr. Carter celebrated Mass in private apartments in and around Manhattan.

He also performed blessing ceremonies for Gay couples.

Carter often drew a link between his sexual orientation and his religious vocation.

"Since Jesus had table fellowship with social outcasts and sinners, those rejected by the religious establishment of his time," he wrote, "I consider myself to have been most fully a Jesuit, a 'companion of Jesus,' when I came out publicly as a Gay man, one of the social rejects of my time. It was only by our coming out that society's negative stereotypes would be overcome and we would gain social acceptance."

Carter's coming out was shocking to church authorities.

In October 1973, Dr. Howard J. Brown, a former New York City health services administrator, announced that he was Gay and that he was forming a civil rights organization for Gay men and women.

Carter was named as one of the original Board members in a New York Times article that same month.

At the time, the organization was called the National Gay Task Force. It later became the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF).

Soon after the NYT article, Carter was visited by a subprovincial - a disciplinary official - of the Jesuit order. "It seems that they were afraid I had had a psychotic break or something," Carter wrote in an unpublished memoir.

According to Carter, "Jesuits, parents and alumni of our schools" called for his expulsion from the order. He was never disciplined, however.

Fr. John McNeill, co-founder of DignityUSA, once said in an interview "I refer to him as the heart of Dignity. I was doing all the writing, but he was on the front line, meeting with people, counseling people."

Carter was both a classics professor and a trained social worker who counseled Gay priests and hundreds of lay Catholics.

"As I sought to reconcile being Gay and Catholic," Brendan Fay recalled, "Bob Carter helped me move from self-hate to self-acceptance and then to a place of Gay activism."

Robert Earl Carter was born in Chicago on July 27, 1927. His parents were Protestants who worshiped in a series of denominations as he grew up.

He was drawn to Roman Catholic theology while attending the University of Chicago, and was baptized a Catholic the day after graduation in June 1946.

Three years later, he completed a master's degree in Greek studies, and in 1953 received his doctorate.

He entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1954 and was ordained in 1963.

Carter then went on to earn a master's degree in social work from Columbia in 1981.

By 1985 he was counseling AIDS patients at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. He later became a supervisor of the outpatient AIDS program at the Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan.

He was retired and living in a Jesuit facility at the time of his death.



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