Gary Miller was born in the Hillcrest section of San Diego, California in 1949, but was raised in Kansas City, Missouri. Gary had a half-brother who was 12 years older, enough older that Gary did not spend much time with him as a child.
Gary was liberal/progressive in his political views from his early years. His mom and stepdad were Protestants and registered Democrats. However, they bought into the argument electing a Catholic president would mean turning the country over to the Pope, so they supported Richard Nixon over John Kennedy. Gary’s parents did not approve of his early involvement in the Black Civil Rights Movement.
Gary and his mom attended Troost Avenue Methodist Church in Kansas City. As the neighborhood changed, more Black families began coming to the church. Gary’s mom moved her membership to another Methodist Church on the other side of town, while Gary stayed at Troost Avenue. On a Youth Sunday, while Gary was in high school, he was invited to give the sermon and spoke about race relations. In his preparations he had written out that “sometimes love crosses racial lines.” That was heresy in his family. His mom stole his notes in hopes of discouraging him from giving the sermon. Before the service started, Gary wrote down as much from his notes as he could recall and spoke anyway.
Gary remembers—one year around Thanksgiving time--telling his parents he wanted to become a minister. His mother was thrilled. She announced to the entire family “Gary has decided to become a minister just like Billy Graham.” Gary was so embarrassed. Billy Graham’s religion had little in common with what he believed in. So he immediately spoke up and said “not like Billy Graham, more like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was his boyhood hero).” At which point, Gary’s mother was embarrassed.
Gary had a girlfriend in high school, but he always knew he was different. He liked men. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, he had no one he felt he could talk to about his feelings. He was afraid to talk to his minister, teachers, parents or buddies. He had to keep these feelings hidden inside him. There were no role models for him.
The summer between high school and college, he encountered a Southern Baptist minister who indicated he had gay people in his church. Gary went to see him about once a week during summer break. The bottom line was the minister convinced Gary he was not gay, but straight. He went off to college looking for the woman of his dreams.
Gary enrolled in Central Methodist College (now University) in Fayette, Missouri, thinking that would prepare him for becoming a minister. While at Central, he joined several of the clubs on campus, including a religious club where members would discuss the social issues of the day. In early 1968, he met Rev. Vann Anderson, a Methodist minister and the chaplain of a gay rights organization (the Phoenix Society in Kansas City) when Vann came to Gary’s religious group to talk about gay people. Rev. Anderson said they were our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, ditch diggers, doctors, and, yes, even ministers. The light began to turn on inside Gary's mind. During spring break he went to visit the Phoenix Society. There he met people like him. who were attracted to people of their own gender. He fell in love with a Ron Bentley and they began to build a life together. Ron was in the Air Force when the two of them met. He lived above the Phoenix Society and was editor of its monthly magazine.
While the two of them were in Kansas City, Phoenix Society held workshops for Methodist ministerial students to help them to understand LGBT issues (at the time, the word was homophile). The two of them decided to move to San Francisco, gay Mecca, in 1970. Neither had jobs or a place to stay. Both were able to get jobs. They both began to work as volunteers for the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) which was, at the time, the largest gay rights organization in the nation, comprised mostly of men. They were also involved in an organization called Council on Religion and the Homosexual.
During his years at Central Methodist, Gary realized his theology was shifting. In reading the Bible he had become convinced Jesus was not THE Son of God, but A Son of God and that all of us are children of God. That philosophy was not going to work within the Methodist Church. So he began a spiritual search, which lead him to the Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers.
Gary connected with the Universalist Friends or Liberal Friends. This group has no creed. They attend worship in a Friends Meetinghouse. Worship is done in silence waiting to hear God’s voice which could be a thought that comes to a person or listening to a vocal ministry of someone else in worship. The more he learned about Quakers (Liberal branch) the more Gary realized this was his spiritual home. He started to attend in Kansas City and continued to attend in every city where he lived thereafter. Universalist Friends do not have a minister in the traditional way. However, they have a “Clerk” who is appointed for a year or more to oversee the life of the community and to conduct the business meetings. Quakers believe all opinions are valid so no action is taken on any subject until unity is found among those Friends attending business meetings. Gary served as the Clerk in San Francisco and Sacramento.
Every few years the different branches of Friends join together in a conference to share their religious beliefs with each other. Gary attended one of these conferences in the early 1970s at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. He sent a letter in advance asking for a display table and to lead a workshop on gay issues. This resulted in a major controversy. The evangelical Friends threatened to pull out of the conference if this was allowed. Eventually the workshop on gay and lesbian issues did happen, but at another location.
During the 1970s, there was no protection for gay couples. Ron and Gary went to see an attorney to help them write wills. The attorney also suggested one of them should adopt the other. They thought that was crazy, but they took the attorney's advice. Ron adopted Gary. They threw the adoption papers in the file cabinet and never thought more about it for decades.
Gary began working for the Friends Committee on Legislation in California. (A Quaker lobbying group which worked on prison reform, civil rights, among other social justice issues.) The organization asked Gary if he would mind moving to Sacramento, the capital of California in 1976.
While in Sacramento, Gary served as the Sacramento campaign manager to fight the Briggs Initiative. The Friends Committee on Legislation paid his salary of doing this. The Briggs Initiative would have prohibited LGBT individuals and their supporters from being employed by California public schools. The voters rejected this measure.
Gary began to get involved in politics. He organized the agency employees to form a union. He became president of Local 146 American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. He ran for political office several times and finally becoming the first gay person to win a political office in Sacramento County. He served on the Robla School Board for almost 20 years. Several election cycles, he had anti-gay campaigns against him. One year a candidate against Gary said the only reason he was running was to get the "fag" off the school board. Gary won anyway. Gary attended the 1992 Democratic National Convention as a delegate supporting Bill Clinton.
In 1994, Ron started getting sick. The doctor told Gary, Ron had about six months to live. They had been together for 26 years. Gary's employer, at first, refused to give Gary sick leave because they were not related. Then Gary remembered Ron adopted him decades ago. He took the adoptions papers into work and showed his employer that Ron was Gary's father and was able to use sick and bereavement leave.
Gary was single for about eight years after Ron’s’ death in 1994. Then he met his new partner who lived in a suburb of Sacramento, a city called Roseville—a different county and more conservative. They have been together since 2002.
Gary had to resign his seat on the Robla School Board, when he moved to Roseville to be with his new spouse. Gary decided in spite of how conservative Roseville was, he would run for the school board. To everyone’s surprise, he won. He has served on the Roseville City School Board since 2008. The last time he ran for re-election, conservatives tried to get him defeated because they said he was destroying their values.
Gary says his political activity is based on his religious belief that everyone is a Child of God and each needs to be respected.
(This biographical statement provided by Gary Miller)
Biography Date: April 2019