The Rev. Robert W. Wood, author of the first book published in the U.S. on
Christianity and homosexuality, was born May 21, 1923, in Youngstown, Ohio, to
Edith and Harold Wood. Robert enlisted in the army after Pearl Harbor, was
called to active duty in February, 1943, and participated in the invasion of
Italy that fall. He was wounded during battle on Mt. Maggiore and spent almost
two years in recuperation and rehabilitation. He was honorably discharged in
November, 1945, and received numerous decorations including the Purple Heart and
a Bronze Star for "heroic achievement in combat."
Subsequently, Robert went back to school on the G.I. Bill and graduated from
the University of Pennsylvania in 1948 and Oberlin School of Theology in
1951. Robert acknowledges having his first homosexual experience in the military
and later met a man at Penn who "brought him out."
Wood was ordained in the Congregational Christian denomination on June
17, 1951 in Fair Haven, Vermont. He served on the staff of Broadway Tabernacle in New
York City for two years and then as pastor in Spring Valley, New York, for 11
years; in an inner-city congregation in Newark, New Jersey, for 13 years; and
finally in Maynard, Mass. for eight years. During this time, he served six
years on the United Church of Christ's Board for Homeland Ministries and another
six years on the Board for World Ministries.
Robert engaged Christian attitudes toward homosexuality throughout his
ministry. In 1956 he wrote an article entitled "Spiritual Exercises" for a gay
physique magazine Grecian Guild, in which his photo in a clerical
collar appeared. After meeting Donald Webster Cory, author of the
ground-breaking 1951 book The Homosexual in America, Robert started
writing a book on Christianity and homosexuality. Christ and the
Homosexual was published in 1960 by Vantage Press. Wood's photo appeared on
the dust jacket and his congregation was identified in the book. All 5,000
printed copies were sold. A review in ONE magazine
said: "Sparkling, intimate, compassionate and well-informed--this book is among
other things probably the best and most readable description of gay life
currently in print...This is the first book written by a responsible clergyman
to welcome homosexuals into the Church without demanding that
they give up the practice of homosexuality." Wood was honored with Awards
of Merit from the Mattachine Society and The Prosperos that year. In
August, 1962, Wood was a featured speaker at the Ninth Annual Conference of
the Mattachine Society. He was the only clergy among 18 gay men and
7 lesbians who picketed in front of the Civil Service Building in Washington,
D.C. on June 25, 1965, in a protest organized by Frank Kameny.
In 1962, Robert met Hugh Coulter, an ex-Air Force man, artist and cowboy who
was touring in a rodeo. They lived openly as a couple in all three of Wood's
parishes over the next 27 years.
Wood retired from parish ministry after serving
continuously for 35 years and 1,610 Bible-based sermons and now lives in a
retirement community in New Hampshire. In 1993 he provided written testimony on
behalf of lifting the ban on gays in the military before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. In June, 2001, he was honored as a
gay pioneer and author by the Christian Association at the University of Pennsylvania.
He is the only clergy included in the television documentary "Gay Pioneers" produced as
a part of the National History Project. In July, 2004, he received the Pioneer
Award from the UCC Coalition of LGBT Concerns that honors those "who have
worked with courage, prophetic vision and often times with little support to
pave the path for this current generation of LGBT folk." His biography,
written by Steven Law, is awaiting publication.
(Some of the above information taken from an article on Wood by Michael
Bronski that appeared in the December 4, 1990, issue of The