A small group of students and faculty gathered to remember the late Reverend Peter J. Gomes at a tea in the basement of Memorial Church.
The conversation gave members of the Harvard community the opportunity to reflect on the personal impact Gomes had on their lives. For an hour and 40 minutes, attendees took turns sharing their own personal thoughts and experiences at the tea.
Timothy P. McCarthy ’93, a lecturer on History and Literature and on Public Policy, recounted the story of Gomes climbing the steps of Widener Library in 1991 to come out to a crowd protesting the homophobic remarks published in what McCarthy described as “a right-wing version of The Salient,” Harvard’s conservative opinion magazine.
The crowd erupted in applause when Gomes told the protestors that he was a Christian minister who happened to be gay.
“That’s the last prejudice standing, and I’m going to challenge it,” Gomes told Harvard Foundation Director S. Allen Counter, Counter said.
McCarthy said Gomes’ revelation made the issue of equality for gays and lesbians much more prominent on campus.
“Here was a man who wasn’t possible to put in a box. He showed that if there’s anything that should be exploded, it is the box,” McCarthy said.
Harvard College Women’s Center Director and Assistant Dean Susan B. Marine was a student at a conservative Kentucky college when she heard that Gomes had come out. While Marine said she had never heard of Gomes, she said the experience had a profound impact on her.
“Maybe I’m not going to hell,” she said she thought. “I knew there was something really powerful about someone who was a Christian minister coming out at a place like this.”
A teary-eyed Evelynn M. Hammonds, Dean of Harvard College, highlighted Gomes’ ability to encourage diversity while at the same time honoring tradition.
“He demanded that the institution remain true to our values and created a community that could celebrate diversity and tradition,” Hammonds said.
Gomes opened his house for tea on Wednesday afternoons, one of many long-standing traditions that he maintained while at Harvard.
Harvard student organization GLOW—Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever—hosted the event with support from the Black Students Association, Memorial Church, and Queer Students and Allies.
At the tea, Memorial Church Epps Fellow Nathaniel P. Katz stressed how Gomes was an approachable figure for people in times of trouble.
“This is a place where every single person on this campus is welcome,” he said of the Memorial Church. Katz jokingly said he wished that he could post a giant “safe space” sign on Memorial Church.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at email@example.com