Stephen McNeil was born January, 1950 in Plymouth, Massachusetts to Mary Stuart Elwell and William Merton McNeil. He was the youngest of four children—one brother and two sisters. He spent his first nine years on a farm and enjoyed solitary time exploring the environs. At age nine he moved with his mother and one sister to live with family in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. This was a tough urban neighborhood and his school classmates were largely African-American.
While Stephen was raised Irish Catholic, he lost interest in the church because of the racial segregation he saw in Washington, D.C. parishes. In 8th grade, Stephen’s best friend Karl Stanley applied to Sidwell Friends, a Quaker school in Washington, D.C. While he passed the exam, he was not admitted because he was African-American. This furthered Stephen’s interest in the Civil Rights Movement. In 10th grade he visited a Quaker Meeting in the Maryland suburbs. That particular meeting had some racial diversity, largely due to interracial couples affiliated with the University of Maryland. Stephen found that Meeting enjoyable and began attending regularly.
Stephen studied at Georgetown University from 1968-1971 majoring in Theoretical Linguistics and German. But when his involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement led him to turn in his draft card, his federal student grant was terminated. So Stephen left college.
In 1976, he interned with the Friends Committee on National Legislation and has stayed involved with that group, serving as a grant consultant and on committees, until the present day. In 1977, he organized the Interreligious Coalition on Health Care that held a conference, ecumenical service and lobbying day around the call for national health. He was recorded as a prison minister by the Baltimore Yearly Meeting (Quakers) and worked for seven years organizing five Quaker Meetings to go into Petersburg Federal Prison to hold worship and fellowship. He was an early supporter of the Post American and the Sojourners community. From 1981-1982 he served as an editorial assistant with Sojourners magazine.
Throughout his adolescence and early adulthood, Stephen totally repressed any sexual desires or feelings. He had his first sexual experience with a man around the age of 30. Shortly thereafter, he connected with Daniel Joseph McTeague, a lawyer who had spent 11 years in the Society of Jesuits, but left the order when he came out. McTeague was fascinated with northern California and moved there to take the bar exam. He invited Stephen to move and join him there.
Stephen moved to San Francisco in 1983. He worked for a short time as a freelance copy editor and then with Harper & Row religious book division. Then he became the administrative assistant to the executive secretary Tom Henry of the San Francisco office of the American Friends Service Committee. He has served on the AFSC staff to this day, in a variety of positions. Currently he is the Wage Peace Director working on police militarization, US/Mexico arms trade, and supporting veterans and active duty military personnel through the GI Rights Hotline housed in the AFSC San Francisco office.
In 1985, his lover Daniel died in the first decade of the AIDS pandemic, along with 17,000 other San Franciscans. This spurred Stephen’s passion for AIDS-related services. He volunteered as a Kaiser Hospital AIDS Chaplain from 1985-1986. He volunteered for five years with the St. Martin’s Soup Kitchen, a Catholic Worker effort with a large LGBT volunteer presence. From 1989-1995, he served with the AIDS Emergency Fund that provides financial support for low income people with AIDS. He volunteered with The Family Link, an Episcopal effort to provide hospitality to people visiting adult children with life-threatening illness in high cost San Francisco. From 1994-2001 he volunteered on the Board with Home Care Companions, Inc. that trained family caregivers of the terminally or chronically ill.
From 1999-2009 he traveled and worked in Japan with the Sotoshu Zen group, Shanti Volunteer Association (Tokyo) and NPO-Pocket (Hamamatsu) as a Fellowships Creating Partnerships Fellow of the Japan-US Community Education and Exchange organization. In 2008, he gave the Inzao Nitobe Memorial Lecture at the Japan Yearly Meeting (Quakers) on AFSC and Japan.
In his AFSC work Stephen was a member of the LGBT Rights Task Force that sponsored many activities to diversify the LGBT local movement. He presented a week-long daily workshop on the contributions of African-American Quaker Bayard Rustin at the large Quaker gathering known as the Friends General Conference held in 2012 in Rhode Island.
McNeil is a member of Strawberry Creek Monthly Meeting (Berkeley, California), Pacific Yearly Meeting. His husband of 26 years, Brian Mailman, is a retired chef and writer on Jewish food.
(This biographical statement was provided by Stephen McNeil.)
Biography Date: May, 2016
McNeill wrote this article, "Proclaiming Love and Justice: American Friends Service Committee and LGBTQ Rights," published in The Friends Journal, May 2016. ©2016 Friends Publishing Corporation, republished with permission. Subscribe at www.friendsjournal.org/subscribe/
Friends/Quakers | Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns | Activist (religious institutions) | AIDS | California | San Francisco