Samuel E.Loliger was born into a Swiss family in Canton, Ohio, in September 1937. Two sisters came into the family after him. His father was a mill worker who had an eighth-grade European education. His mother was a 1928 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University—a rare accomplishment for a woman in those times.
Sam was baptized and confirmed in the Evangelical & Reformed Church, which merged into the United Church of Christ in 1957. He has maintained church membership in the UCC ever since then, except for a couple years as a member of a Presbyterian congregation.
Sam was graduated from Heidelberg College in 1959 with a major in social studies education. After graduation he married a college classmate, and three sons were born into the family in the following years. After a year of teaching junior high school students in Amherst, Ohio, Sam and his wife moved to western New York where he taught public school grades 7-12 for four years.
In 1964 Sam began teaching at Niagara County Community College (part of the SUNY system). He earned a masters degree in sociology from the University of Buffalo and subsequently taught sociology courses at NCCC including the introductory course, courses in social problems, Industrial relations, marriage and family, and sex roles. He helped develop an integrated course called Experiencing the Liberal Arts, later co-teaching and administrating it. He also co-taught classes in the English department, including a class on nonverbal communication. He retired from NCCC in 1999.
Sam began dealing with his sexual orientation in 1976. Several elements converged to bring this to the fore. Homosexuality was much in the news with the Anita Bryant campaigns. He was researching the new course on sex roles that he would later teach. He participated in a self-examination retreat, called Koinonia. And he met Donald Behr that same year.
Sam served on the pastoral search committee at Zion UCC (Tonawanda, New York) that called Don to be their pastor. The weekend before Don was to be installed, Sam came out to him as bisexual. A week later, Don came out to Sam. The mutual attraction was strong and they began an intimate relationship. Both were married and had children at the time—Sam had the three older children and Don had two young children. In September 1977 they moved in together. Thirty-five years later, on October 1, 2012—with same-sex marriage now legal in New York state—they married in the living room of their home in Kenmore, New York.
Sam and Don met Bill Johnson, founder of UCC’s Gay Caucus, at the first National Gathering for LGBT persons in the UCC in Rochester, New York in 1981. At the second National Gathering a year later in Columbus, Ohio, Sam was elected to the Coordinating Council. At the next National Gathering before General Synod (1983) in Pittsburg, he was elected national co-coordinator, joining Loey Powell who was already serving in that capacity. Loey retired after a year and was succeeded by Jan Griesinger. Sam and Jan then served as national co-coordinators of the UCC Coalition for Lesbian & Gay (later LGBT) Concerns from 1984 to 1997 with Jan in Athens, Ohio and Sam in Buffalo. Sam notes that they divided tasks based upon what they each enjoyed and did not enjoy doing—the difference in personalities and style was a boon to The Coalition.
Sam’s proudest achievements in Coalition leadership were insisting upon diversity and inclusiveness in The Coaltion and establishing a new and different relationship with the UCC national offices. He took trips to New York City in order to meet and work with denominational leaders. Former denominational president Paul Sherry’s address upon his departure noted that relations with The Coalition had become more business-like and official while nurturing collegiality. During a period of denominational restructuring, the question of where and how The Coalition fits in arose. Noting that LGBT persons are connected to the church in all aspects, Sam’s encouragement led to The Coalition being given a voting seat on each of the denomination’s five new ministries.
Sam’s Coalition leadership put him in places where he never expected to be, working with the UCC General Minister and President and other church leaders in the UCC and beyond. He participated in the first meeting of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s National Religious Leaders Roundtable in Los Angeles. Sam played an important role in the Witness our Welcome conferences (2000 and 2003) and other ecumenical efforts. At the first WOW national event in 2000 he was recognized as one of the founders of the Welcoming Movement.
Loliger has been an active layperson in the UCC at Association, Conference and national levels by election to boards and councils, working groups, task forces, ad hoc committees and served as chair of the UCC’s Affirmative Action Council for a couple of years. He was elected conference delegate to the 1983 and 1985 General Synods. In all these settings he was “open and out” as a gay man.
Sam has been active in local and regional initiatives for LGBT and broader human rights. He served as co-convener of the Affirmative Action Committee at his college of employment. That group developed a policy prohibiting discrimination based upon sexual orientation before it was adopted in the whole SUNY system. He also served as advisor to the LGBT student/staff group and MASH (Make Aware and Serve the Handicapped) at NCCC.
Locally Sam served on the New York State Division of Human Rights Advisory Board and has held different leadership positions with HOME (Housing Opportunities Made Equal, a western New York agency promoting non-discrimination in housing). The latter continues to the present time. When hate-talk became prevalent on Buffalo talk radio, Sam became active with a group addressing this problem.
Sam is proud that he has been open and out since 1977 in all endeavors. Avocational pursuits include “stringer” journalism, reading, crossword puzzles, theatre and opera. Over the years Sam and Don have attended approximately 550 opera performances. Sam and Don each have four grandchildren that fill out their family. Sam died on January 2, 2014, following a lengthy illness.
(This biographical statement was written by Mark Bowman together with Sam Loliger.)
Biography Date: December 2012
United Church of Christ/Congregational Church | Griesinger, Jan | Johnson, William Reagan | Powell, Loey | National Gay & Lesbian Task Force | Open and Affirming in the UCC (ONA & formerly UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns) | Activist (church change) | Buffalo | New York
“April 2, 2001 RE: Nomination of Samuel E. Loliger for Burning Bush Award
On behalf of our whole congregation, I am pleased to nominate Samuel E. Loliger for the Burning Bush Award sponsored by Christians for Justice Action.
Coming from a congregation of activists, this nomination signifies the especial esteem in which Sam is held. It reflects our recognition of the steadfastness and dedication that life-long struggles for justice require.
Sam’s devotion to inclusiveness, fairness and truth is the foundation on which his advocacy lies. Sam is probably best known for his work on behalf of rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in society and in churches. (He served as national coordinator for the United Church Coalition for Lesbian/Gay Concerns for 14 years and was largely responsible for the Open and Affirming [ONA] program of the UCC.) However, his efforts for the achievement of human and civil rights in arenas such as affirmative action, criminal justice, and housing have also spanned decades. I first worked with Sam in the STOP (Stop The Olympic Prison) campaign over twenty years ago. He was then a member of the Mattachine Society in Buffalo—which, at that time, subjected him to some physical danger as well as social and psychological assault—and became the first advocate of rights both for gays and prisoners that I had known. Oppression can be educational in unfair and difficult ways; those who can make connections across race and gender lines immeasurably strengthen our struggles for justice.
Sam’s work on behalf of rights for gay people found him engaged at many levels—e.g., testifying (to the Carey Committee on Discrimination in New York State on Sexual Orientation, as well as to the SUNY Board of Trustees); membership in many groups (Mattachine Society, Gay Professionals, SAGE [Senior Action in Gay Environments], an early leader in GALE [Gay And Lesbian Educators], librarian for Gay Fathers); editorial work for Open Hands Magazine (part of the ecumenical, welcoming church movement) and Gay Theological Journal. Sam was also on the Advisory Board of the WNY Region of the NYS Division of Human Rights; served H.O.M.E. (Housing Opportunities Made Equal) as President, Chair of the Board, etc., for 12 years; pulled together CHHTR (Coalition to Halt Hate Talk Radio).
Sam was named a “master teacher” at a conference in Austin, Texas, because of his creativity in the classroom. That creativity and love of learning/teaching spanned far more than formal classrooms and organizations. He has always, in my knowing him, been devoted to truth and to honesty in dealing with issues and people. An inherent sweetness and devilish sense of humor enable him to challenge dogma without becoming arrogant. His five years of public school teaching, thirty-six years of teaching at Niagara County Community College (the longest ever!), and guest-lecturing at UB, Daemen College, and at Buffalo State College honed his skills to a fine point. He also manifests his commitment to teaching by his continuous learning—e.g., in classes about homelessness and addictive behavior and nonviolence training.
Nor has Sam avoided administrative and bureaucratic engagement: both in the UCC and in the SUNY system, Sam has actively pursued structures for justice and fairness. At the national level of the UCC, he was among the first to serve on the Council for Health and Welfare Services (CHWS); as well, he served on the Board for Homeland Ministries (BHM) and now its successor, Local Church Ministries (LCM). He chaired the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee for John Thomas, President of the UCC. He was also a member of the Multi-racial, Multi-ethnic (M & M) Task Force on cultural pluralism. At the State UCC level, he has served as Delegate to two Synods, Chair of the Nominating Committee, and Consultant to the Affirmative Action Committee. And at the Local UCC level, he has been a representative to local meetings and the Conference, Secretary/Registrar, Vice-Moderator and Moderator, a part of the Criminal Justice Task Forces (“Welcome Home” and the local STOP campaign).
In the SUNY system, he represented Niagara County Community College (NCCC) on the SUNY Faculty Council, which he also served for three years as Secretary, and as a representative from the SUNY Faculty Council to the SUNY Board of Trustees. On the SUNY Faculty Senate, he served on Affirmative Action and Student Life committees. He also served on the Chancellor’s Task Force on Improving the Quality of Student Life across the University. Sam was the NCCC representative to the WNY Higher Education Consortium Project on Developing the East Side of Buffalo and part of the WNY Church-Campus Coalition.
In each of his many roles, Sam has been the quintessential proleptic, living as though the ideals he seeks are real. He is a weaver of a special sort, bringing together people and places isolated by oppression, by entitlement, or both. By speaking truth to power and by putting sexual orientation at the core of broader human rights challenges, this educated white male has identified ways in which we may all work to emerge, in rather complex ways and often together, from systems of personal and institutionalized disrespect. Often standing alone for political and personal truths, Sam has at once stopped both genocidal policies and quotidian assaults on the self. He has shown us that success is in the world we create while struggling.
We recommend him most highly for your Burning Bush Award.
June E. Licence, Board Co-Chair
Grand Island, NY”
– as remembered by June Licence on January 6, 2014
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