The Rt. Rev. Otis Charles, born April 24, 1926 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, died peacefully on December 26, 2013 at San Francisco’s Coming Home Hospice following a brief illness. Charles was with family at his bedside at the time of his death.
Charles was the eighth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. Soon after his retirement in 1993 he came out as an openly gay man, making him the first openly gay bishop of any Christian denomination in history. Soon after he and his wife divorced. He relocated to San Francisco, where he helped to found Oasis California, the LGBT Ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of California. which seeks to open dialogue between LGBT communities and the congregations in which they worship.
Originally from New Jersey, he served first as a priest in Washington, Connecticut. From 1968 until 1982 he was a member of the Standing Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Church, which developed the 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. In 1971, he was elected Bishop of Utah. He was active in the peace movement, and opposed Nevada and Utah being launching sites for the MX missile. In the >House of Bishops, Charles was chair of the Prayer Book Committee and a member of the Bishops’ Committee on Racism. Charles became Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in 1985. Charles also has significant academic achievements, including a Doctorate of Divinity, and a Doctorate of Sacred Theology.
Following his coming out, Charles retained his voting seat in the 300-plus member House of Bishops. Before and following his announcement, he was an active and forceful advocate on behalf of LGBT communities. In 1979, Charles was one of 17 dissenting bishops when the Episcopal Church’s General Convention stated that practicing homosexual clergy were prohibited from ordination – a decision that continues to generate controversy to this day. In 1999, Charles was arrested and led away in handcuffs for his civil disobedience at the Church’s General Convention in Denver, Colorado during a protest against what demonstrators described as the Church’s long history of oppression against lesbian and gay peoples.
Charles married Dr. Felipe Sanchez-Paris on September 29, 2008. Sanchez-Paris died on July 31 of this year. The two appear in the documentary film Love Free or Die, testifying about a resolution directing the Episcopal Church to create a provisional rite for the blessing of same-gender relationships at its General Convention in Anaheim, California, in 2009.
Charles is survived by his first spouse, five children, 10 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, four children of Sanchez-Paris and his San Francisco family.
A memorial service and celebration of the life of Otis Charles will be held at on Saturday, January 11, 2pm at San Francisco’s St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church (500 De Haro Street).