Elmhurst College has named its annual LGBT Guestship in honor of an esteemed alumnus, the Reverend Dr. William R. Johnson. A member of the Class of 1968, Johnson is a United Church of Christ minister and vice president for member relations of the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries. In 1972, he became the first openly gay person in modern history to gain ordination to the mainstream Christian ministry.
“For four decades, he has worked tirelessly and effectively on behalf of the rights and dignity of all people and, in particular, of LGBT people of faith and their loved ones,” said President S. Alan Ray in announcing the William R. Johnson Guestship. “He has provided counsel and support to hundreds of LGBT seminarians and clergy in the UCC and beyond.” Ray noted that a scholarship in Johnson’s name supports openly gay UCC seminarians studying for parish ministry.
A resident of Cleveland, Johnson returns to the College frequently to work with faculty, staff and students on issues related to health, education, and human rights. He founded and coordinates the work of the Elmhurst College Gay and Lesbian Alumni organization.
"I am deeply humbled that the annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Guestship at Elmhurst College has been named in my honor,” Johnson said. “As the LGBT communities continue their struggle for full equality in church, industry and society, visibility and an end to silencing is essential.”
Johnson said that the guestship will bring “distinguished scholars and community leaders to the campus for years to come to publicly address LGBT heritage and culture, contributing significantly to the expansion of understanding not only of the injustices my people have suffered, but also the remarkable contributions that LGBT people have made for the common good.”
The inaugural Johnson Guestship will take place on October 11. Johnson and President Ray will participate in a panel discussion on Christian theology and the LGBT person with the Reverend Alice Hunt, president of Chicago Theological Seminary, and Riess Potterveld, president of the Pacific School of Religion. The following day, the keynote Johnson Guestship lecture will be presented by Michael Schiavi, associate professor of English at the New York Institute of Technology and author of Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo.