January 2022 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

The Rev. Jerry Sloan, a California religious leader and vociferous critic of Christian nationalism, died on Nov. 15.

Sloan, an Americans United ally, was one of the nation’s earliest advocates of LGBTQ rights. A native of Kansas City, Mo., he came out as gay in 1960 and participated in early marches and demonstrations for gay rights. In 1980, he relocated to Sac­ra­mento.

Sloan captured national headlines in 1984 when he successfully sued Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell Sr. Sloan and Falwell were doing a televised debate, and during the event, Falwell was asked about comments he had made concerning the Metropolitan Community Church, an LGBTQ-friendly denomination.

Falwell had called members of the church “brute beasts” and alleged that the church was “a vile Satanic system.” He denied saying these things during the debate and vowed to pay Sloan $5,000 if Sloan could offer proof on tape.

Sloan did just that, but Falwell refused to pay up. Sloan filed a lawsuit and won. After Falwell turned over the money, Sloan used the funds in 1986 to open a gay-rights center in Sacramento, which still operates.

Sloan knew Falwell before the Moral Majority founder became a household name. The two were classmates in the 1950s at Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo.

In 1993, Sloan spoke at a national conference on the Religious Right sponsored by Americans United. At the time, many California communities were dealing with “stealth candidates” – men and women who would run for public offices like school boards by highlighting fiscally conservative positions while covering up their far-right views on social issues.

Sloan, who in a pre-internet age was known for his research skills, urged the crowd to expose stealth candidates by using publicly available information, such as campaign finance reports.

“No matter where you’re from, a lot of these records are available for you,” he said. “They’re free to look at; they’re public records. Don’t let any bureaucrat tell you you can’t see them. It’s our right to look at these things. It’s our right to have copies at low cost.”

David Heitstuman, CEO of the Sacramento LGBT Community Center, hailed Sloan’s legacy.

“Jerry will be remembered as generous, influential, and a tenacious activist in Sacramento’s LGBTQ+ community,” Heitstuman said. “He held nothing back, making sure you knew what he believed, demanding equal treatment under the law, and just as importantly, treating people with dignity and respect in daily life. His contributions and legacy [are] a testament to how far Sacramento’s LGBTQ+ community has come. Jerry embodied the spirit of the movement and will be missed.”

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