By Kirk Petersen
Dr. Louie Crew Clay, an English professor who advocated for gay and lesbian Episcopalians for most of five decades, died peacefully on November 27 with his husband, Ernest Clay, at his side. He would have turned 83 on December 9. The announcement was made by the Rev. Brent Bates, rector of Grace Church in Newark, NJ, where the Clays worshiped.
Louie Crew, as he was known most of his life, founded IntegrityUSA, a gay-acceptance group within the Episcopal Church, in 1974. This began a career as both a champion of the LGBT community and a target for opponents of the burgeoning gay rights movement.
Episcopal News Service reported in 1976 that the vestry of a church in Georgia, where Crew worshiped at the time, sent him a letter reading: “We would all be pleased if you would find some other place of worship that may be more in sympathy to your thinking and efforts towards Gay people.”
But attitudes on human sexuality were beginning to shift in both the Church and in society. Crew lived long enough to be able to legally marry Ernest Clay and take his name in 2013, and to see the 2015 General Convention approve the use of marriage rites for same-sex couples.
At that convention in Salt Lake City, House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings said: “Many of us here tonight have never known an Episcopal Church without a strong, steady voice supporting LGBTQ people.” She cited his accomplishments, including a term on the Executive Council and six General Convention appearances as a deputy for the Diocese of Newark.
“I’m proud to say Louie is my friend,” she said, while awarding him a House of Deputies medal “on behalf of your distinguished, creative, courageous, persistent, prophetic service and witness to The Episcopal Church that you love so dearly.”
Just two days before Crew’s death, the most recent president of Integrity USA stepped down, citing health and family reasons. ENS reported that the Rev. Gwen Fry was resigning at a time when “the organization’s volunteer board faces members’ accusations of mismanagement and lack of transparency.”
The Rev. Susan Russell, a former Integrity president, marked Crew’s death by posting on her blog a tribute video she produced for the 2015 General Convention.
Erman Louie Crew Jr. was born December 9, 1936, in Anniston, Alabama. He received English degrees from Baylor, Auburn and the University of Alabama, and taught at colleges in Georgia, Wisconsin, Hong Kong and South Carolina, and retired in 2002 as a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He is survived by his husband Ernest Clay. Memorial services have not been announced.