The Rev. James Stoll was born in 1936 in Connecticut. He studied at the Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, at San Francisco State University and at the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California. He was ordained in the Unitarian Universalist tradition and pastored a church in Kennewick, Washington, fromn 1962 to 1969. Church records indicate that he was asked to resign this pastoral position at which time he moved back to the Bay Area.
According to the writings of Stoll's colleague Leland Bond-Upson, Stoll took a flat in the Eureka Vallery neighborhood of San Francisco "with three others (me the draft counselor, Nick the cabinet maker and Peter the communist revolutionary), and for a full year we four hosted an unending stream of young visitors, all come to look for America or something."
In September 1969, Stoll, Bond-Upson and two colleagues went to the annual Continental Congress of Student Religious Liberals, a gathering of about 100 American and Canadian Unitarian Universalist college students, at Camp LaForet, near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Stoll was one of the adult advisers attending the conference.
At this conference Stoll became one of the first ordained clergy in an American religious tradition to publicly declare his sexual orientation. Bond-Upson wrote in a 2005 sermon: "Before deciding to take the action, Jim had sought advice separately from six trusted friends, of whom I was one, and Ron Cook, who happened to be Dean of this Conference, was another. The stakes seemed high. What would the Unitarian Universalist Association's Department of the Ministry do? Would Jim have his Fellowship revoked? Would Ron get in trouble? Would Student Religious Liberals get in trouble? Was it illegal in Colorado to be an 'avowed homosexual'? What would the effect be on Jim's family and friends?"
"On the second or third night of the conference, after dinner, Jim got up to speak. He told us that he'd been doing a lot of hard thinking that summer. Jim told us that he could no longer live a lie. He'd been hiding his nature--his true self--from everyone except his closest friends. 'If the revolution we're in means anything,' he said, 'it means we have the right to be ourselves, without shame or fear.'
"Then he told us that he was gay, and had always been gay, and it wasn't a choice, and he wasn't ashamed anymore and that he wasn't going to hide it anymore, and from now on he was going to be himself in public. After he concluded, there was dead silence, then a couple of the young women went up and hugged him, followed by general congratulations. The few who did not approve kept their peace."
Over the next year, Stoll wrote articles about gay rights and preached sermons at several churches. In July 1970, at their annual meeting in Seattle, Washington, the Unitarian Universalist Association passed a resolution condemning discrimination against homosexual persons. The Association took no action against Stoll, so he remained a clergy in good standing the rest of his life. But he did not pastor a congregation again. Letters in archives at Harvard from 1970 between members of the Kennewick congregation and Unitarian Universalist officials indicate that Stoll was suspected of drug abuse and inappropriate sexual advances toward young persons.
Stoll worked as a substance abuse counselor at San Francisco General Hospital, started a hospice in Maui, Hawaii, and taught at Starr King School for Ministry. He also served as secretary of the San Francisco chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He died December 8, 1994, not quite 59 years of age.
Again Bond-Upson writes: "He died not of AIDS, but of worn-out heart and lungs. He was never able to lose much weight, nor quit smoking. When it was known he was dying, a stream of friends came to say goodbye. Friends arrived from the ACLU, from inner-city social services, from Hunters Point, from drug abuse treatment centers and from the ministry. Yet despite all this matchmaking, and though his romantic side often found expression, Jim never had for long the all-embracing love he longed for."
(This biographical statement primarily taken from a September 18, 2010, New York Times article, "Haunted Man of the Cloth and Pioneer of Gay Rights," by Mark Oppenheimer. Additional information from a 2005 sermon by Leland Bond-Upson, at the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Petaluma, California, and a 2009 sermon by Rogers Fritt, http://www.cedarlane.org/09serms/s091011.pdf.)
Biography Date: September, 2010
Unitarian Universalist | Activist (religious institutions) | Gay Liberation Movement
“Rev. James Stoll | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed January 26, 2022, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/james-stoll.