Reflecting on the life of a gay rights pioneer

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Rev. Malcolm Boyd, an Episcopal priest, best-selling author and gay rights pioneer, died in Los Angeles last month at the age of 91. Early in his career, Boyd became a prominent voice in the civil rights movement, and later, a champion of gay rights. In 1976, Boyd also became one of the first high-profile religious figures in America to come out publicly.

According to a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, Boyd died of complications from pneumonia.

After leaving behind a career in Hollywood and completing seminary studies in Berkeley, California, Boyd became a budding social activist, often speaking about racism and race relations in coffeehouses. Boyd also traveled to the Deep South as a Freedom Rider, an experience he credited in a 2014 Huffington Post column as galvanizing “a lifetime of involvement and active participation in civil rights.”

Reflecting on Boyd’s life, Chris Freeman, a USC English professor and friend of Boyd, said the reverend remained visible and active into his later years. “Malcolm was always bridging that gap between young gay people and older gay people. They felt his warmth; they felt his concern. [He continued to] write, by giving speeches, by giving sermons. He was accessible; he was approachable.”

In late 2014, Boyd sat down individually and later with his husband, the writer Mark Thompson, for interviews conducted by It Gets Better and the ONE Archives Foundation, a repository for LGBT historical materials located at the University of Southern California, to reflect on his public and personal life. The filmed conversations with Boyd – who was constantly interviewed – would be his last.

“Malcolm Boyd is an example of the brilliant, compassionate and courageous minds that have been working to better LGBT civil rights for decades,” Ted Farley, Executive Director of It Gets Better, told msnbc in a statement. “His work as a faith leader and activist speaks to a brave life and vibrant spirit that will be dearly missed.  Our hope is that ostracized and isolated youth can hear his story and take pride in knowing they are part of a community that has changed the world.”

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Reflecting on the life of a gay rights pioneer

Updated