The Rev. Harry Knox was born in 1961 to Harry Francis Knox and Sandra Sue Hyde. Harry’s father served in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict, and then decided to make the military his career. Harry was conceived while his father was stationed in Arizona, but was born at Fort Devens in Massachusetts. Harry’s father died suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage after coaching a basketball game when Harry was four months old. Harry’s mom became a single mother at age 19 with only a high-school education. She took Harry back to Ohio to live with her parents.
Harry’s grandparents had migrated from the mountain areas of eastern Kentucky and northern Georgia in the 1920s to get mill jobs in Ohio’s Miami River Valley. This provided an economic base to attain middle-class status. Much of the family’s life revolved around the Ross Avenue Church of God (Anderson, Indiana).
The family moved to Cordele, Georgia in 1962 where Harry’s grandfather took a job working on the construction of Interstate 75. The family settled into a comfortable life in the Cordele community where their social connections and status grew over the years. Harry’s mother married Jack Lawrence Windham, Sr. in 1965. Harry developed a deep bond with his stepfather who became a dearly loved dad. “Mr. Jack” was raised in New Orleans in Trinity Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod). Since a church from neither of his parents’ tradition existed in Cordele at the time, they joined Cordele First United Methodist Church when friends invited them there. Harry’s mom is an accomplished musician so she quickly became a leader in the church’s music program.
Harry grew up steeped in Wesleyan theology, particularly the “quadrilateral” that framed theology as the interplay of reason, scripture, tradition, and experience. He felt a call to ministry as a youth along with questions about his sexuality. He enrolled in the University of Georgia in 1980 intending to pursue ministry while suppressing his personal needs, i.e., staying in the closet.
However, Harry soon came to an understanding, as he states, that Jesus was not interested in crucifying but in empowering. He recalls hiding in the stacks at the university library reading seminal books of the time: Is the Homosexual My Neighbor by Virginia Mollenkott and Letha Scanzoni, The Church and the Homosexual by John McNeill and The Lord Is My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay by Troy Perry. Secrecy was paramount so he dared not check these books out and instead placed them inside larger books and read as quickly as he could. The complexity of his life questions at the time led Harry into long periods of depression but he managed to graduate from college with a BA in Political Science. From there he enrolled in graduate school at Miami University (Ohio) to study religious politics. He completed classwork but again depression took hold and he was unable to complete his master’s paper.
Slowly Harry was coming to grips with self-acceptance as a gay man. He began further studies at Emory University in Atlanta’s Candler School of Theology. The dean of students at Candler, Rev. Dr. Helen Pearson, who was clergy in the United Church of Christ, encouraged Harry to pursue ordination in that more liberal denomination. Harry joined Central Congregational Church (UCC) in Atlanta which was very supportive of him and affirming of his call to ministry as a gay man. However, a new pastor arrived who was not supportive. This pastor served on the Church & Ministry Committee of the UCC Association which oversaw the ordination process. Harry’s relationship with this committee became quite hurtful, even abusive. Harry was now enrolled in Lancaster Theological Seminary, a UCC school in Pennsylvania. Harry would be told to appear before a committee meeting in Atlanta and would travel there only to learn that the meeting was canceled. Harry was incredulous that this happened again and again until a colleague, Rev. Dr. Richard Ward, pointed out the actions of the committee were intended to be hurtful and Harry should be rightfully angry at this. Although the committee eventually denied his ordination in a 3-2 vote, Harry understands that the holy anger he claimed during this time was his “ordination” and it motivated his ministry thereafter.
Harry graduated with a Master of Divinity from Lancaster Theological Seminary (LTS) in 1989. LTS provided him the first safe professional and spiritual space he had ever experienced. He credits mentors Rev. Dr. Lloyde V. Hartley, Rev. Dr. Francis Ringer, and Rev. Dr. Allen Kroehler with developing him as a public liberation theologian.
Harry joined the American Cancer Society, Georgia Division in 1990 and ran several different programs there over the next seven years. Harry served on the boards of the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus and Atlanta Interfaith AIDS Network during this time. He was also an active member and leader of St. Mark United Methodist Church.
He became one of the first board members of Georgia Equality as it was forming and eventually served as co-chair of the board along with Cherry Spencer-Stark. When the executive director left, Harry was asked to serve as interim executive director in 1998 and became the permanent executive director the following year. During these three years Harry developed a reputation for being the public figure in the southeastern U.S. who would talk about gay politics and Jesus in the same conversation. He was recognized as being an unapologetic Christian who was working for gay liberation and equality. Looking to expand his experience, Harry moved on to Equality Florida in 2002. He helped lead that group through a reorganization which meant doing away with his own job.
In 2003, Evan Wolfson, the founder of Freedom to Marry, invited Harry to New York to become the first program director for that organization. Harry brought his expertise and experience in building state and local networks that helped Freedom to Marry build a base of support that could be mobilized for action. Harry also assisted in discerning where financial resources entrusted to the organization were distributed around the country.
Then in 2005, the Human Rights Campaign invited Harry to be the founding director of their Religion & Faith Program. This position combined the experience and skills that Harry had developed over the past several years. There he developed a generative working partnership with Dr. Sharon Groves. Together they worked to help LGBT people of faith regain their voices as advocates for equality. They built coalitions of religious leaders around the U.S. who would mobilize to speak out for equality. They created new resources like Out in Scripture and the first-ever trans-inclusive resources from HRC. Harry’s regular appearances in the national media helped him become viewed as a national opinion leader. The greatest challenge of the time was helping HRC weather the repercussions of supporting efforts to pass in Congress an Employment Nondiscrimination Act which did not include transgender persons, though Harry and Sharon had advised against that course of action. The healing work of the Religion and Faith Program in the months that followed was often done through tears, but Harry counts it among the best work he and Dr. Groves accomplished.
Harry married Atlanta civil rights attorney C. Michael Bozeman at All Saints (Episcopal) Church, Pasadena, California on August 8, 2008. Rev. Canon Susan Russell officiated. Harry and Mike thus became one of the 18,000+ couples impacted by passage of Proposition 8 later that year and were among those justified by the ultimate US Supreme Court finding that marriage is a civil right open to all.
Harry was appointed to the White House Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships by President Barack Obama in 2009. He played an important role in helping the Obama Administration create rules conforming to First Amendment protections; particularly to protect persons from spiritual abuse at the hands of religious providers of government funded services.
Through these years of success and gratification in his professional life, Harry felt he was missing the opportunity to serve in pastoral ministry. He had had a brief, satisfying year pastoring a small church in rural South Georgia while he was studying at Emory. The longing for a pastoral ministry remained with him since that time. So in January 2011 he agreed to accept a call to be senior pastor of Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church in Houston. MCC Moderator Nancy Wilson ordained Harry in extraordinary fashion before he began this ministry there. However, Harry quickly realized that the combination of some personalities and duties there was not going to work, so he departed after six months. He moved on to become the interim executive director of Integrity USA and guided that board through the process of hiring a new executive director.
Harry served as the president and chief executive officer of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) from 2012 to 2015, when he retired due to AIDS-related disability. Under his leadership, RCRC returned to financially security and fully embraced its mission to be the nation’s leading interfaith religious voice for reproductive health, rights and justice.
At the time of his retirement, Harry was a proud member of the Board of Trustees of Lancaster Theological Seminary. Having been honored by LTS with the Robert V. Moss Medal for Excellence in Ministry was a personal high point in Harry’s career.
(This biographical statement written by Mark Bowman from an interview with Harry Knox and edited by Knox.)
Biography Date: October, 2015