Anthony Clemente, the first formally installed minister for the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit and a longtime substance abuse counselor in the metro area, was born in Dearborn, Michigan, on August 31, 1933. He attended St. Alphonsus High School. At age 17, he joined the brothers of the Holy Cross. He graduated with a B.A. in 1956 from the University of Notre Dame. By that time, he had realized he was gay, but hoped that a life of religious devotion would subsume his sexual feelings.
He subsequently taught high school and in the early 1960s landed a job back in Michigan at Cranbrook Preparatory School in Bloomfield Hills. In a 2004 Detroit Free Press article about his long relationship with Allen Gary Jeroy, Clemente told a reporter that he let the order in 1967 after 16 years when he could no longer reconcile his sexual orientation with a faith that rejected him.
In the early 1970s, while participating in a workshop on “Homosexuality and the Church” held in Birmingham, Clemente encountered John Kavanaugh, a friend he knew from his years with the Brothers. At the time, Kavanaugh was a lay leader with MCC Detroit, which has been granted the status of Mission Church after its earlier beginnings as the Christian Caucus of the Detroit Gay Liberation Front.
Kavanaugh invited Clement to join him for an MCC Detroit service. The small congregation was then meeting in the basement of the home of Joe Aubit, a local postal worker. The Rev. Robert Cullinan, a Lutheran minister, led the weekly worship. Clemente began to attend regularly. Soon thereafter, the congregation moved to Trinity United Methodist Church in Highland Park.
Given Clemente’s religious training, Cullinan asked him to represent the young congregation at a world assembly of the Fellowship in September 1972 at the Mother Church in Los Angeles. There, founder Troy Perry informed him that the members of MCC Detroit had asked that Clemente be named as their minister. Before he left LA, he was credentialed as an MCC clergy. “I went there as a parishioner and came back as a pastor,” remembered Clemente in an oral history interview in 2010.
Affectionately known to congregants as Pastor Tony, Clemente headed MCC Detroit from 1972 to 1975. While pastor of MCC Detroit, he officiated at more than two dozen commitment services and led a special memorial service in Detroit to help bury victims of a devastating arson attack on a New Orleans gay bar in 1973 that took the lives of thirty-two people.
Pastor Tony became a public voice for the Detroit gay community in local media, although he did not use his last name, He appeared on the WDET radio show, “Gayly Speaking” in early 1974 to discuss gays and religion. He was also featured in the Detroit News, along with Brian McNaught, shortly after McNaught helped found Dignity Detroit.
As a consequence of his visible leadership role with MCC Detroit, Clemente lost his day job as a substance abuse counselor and crisis center counselor for the suburb of Garden City when town officials learned he was gay. Because MCC Detroit was a small church, Clemente needed outside employment to order to make ends meet. Financial constraints eventually forced him to leave the helm of MCC Detroit in late 1975.
When the Rev. Nancy Wilson and the Rev. Heather Anderson were hired to replace him, Clemente chose to step away from the church to allow the new co-pastors to lead without a former pastor in their midst. Four decades later, MCC Detroit continues to hold weekly service in Ferndale.
Clemente and Jeroy met at the Town Pump, then a popular gay go-go bar, in late 1972 and began dating just as Clemente’s ministry with MCC Detroit was getting underway. The two built a life together in the years that followed.
After leaving MCC Detroit, Clemente was employed as a social worker for the City of Detroit. He later opened his own clinic, offering a methadone program that served the Oakland and Macomb area and providing therapy to the local gay community.
Clemente and Jeroy moved to Ventura, California in 2009. They became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in their county in 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning California’s ban, known as Proposition 8, made marriage equality legal in the state.
Clemente died July 19, 2016 at his home after battling leukemia for several years. The Saturday before his death, he and Jeroy were married again by their friend, Father Manny Edgar-Belgram, who came to their home to conduct the ceremony, “He wanted to get married in front of the eyes of God,” Jeroy told the Venture County Star.
(This biographical statement was adapted from the obituary written by Tim Retzloff and published in Between the Lines on August 4, 2016.)
Biography Date: February 2022
Catholic (Roman) | MCC | Ordination/clergy | Detroit | Michigan | McNaught, Brian | Wilson, Nancy | Kavanaugh, John
“Anthony Clemente | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed February 25, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/anthony-clemente.