November 18th marks the 40th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre.
The mass murder-suicide was the largest casualty of American citizens
forty years since the Jonestown massacre, a more disturbing image of
the Revered Jim Jones’s treatment toward his LGBTQ parishioners
was the charismatic white founder and cult leader of the Peoples
Temple, a San Francisco-based evangelical church. And, he was the
founder of the “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project,” a
utopian socialist commune in a remote jungle outpost in Guyana, South
America. Also, Jones was a megalomaniacal bisexual and sexual
a sympathizer with the oppressed and social outcasts, it is not
surprising Jones developed a large and loyal following of African
Americans. He also developed a large following of LGBTQs.
900 members of the People’s Temple died in the Jonestown
massacre in 1978. Of the 900 plus, approximately, 75 percent of
Peoples Temple congregants were African American, 20 percent were
white, and 5 percent were Asian, LatinX, and Native American. The
majority of its black congregants were women, while its core
leadership was predominantly white as too is the historical records
and visual optics of the event. And, as in the Black Church, black
women were “the backbone” of Peoples Temple. Sadly, the
majority of Jonestown ’s victims were African American women,
Americans San Franciscans loved Jim Jones and his outreach ministers
to help the poor, especially at a time when many felt the Black Civil
Rights Movement died with the 1968 assassination with MLK, and the
COINTELPRO assault and decimation the Black Panthers. Wilie Brown,
the first African American mayor of San Francisco (1996–
2004), depicted Jones even after
his death and destruction as “a combination of Martin Luther
King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein [and] Chairman Mao, “ in
“Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People.”
and the Peoples Temple were a ubiquitous presence in the Bay area.
As an influential church body in city politics, the Peoples Temple
had a public pro-LGBTQ and civil rights image in San Francisco in the
an “open and affirming” church that welcomed LGBTQs in
the era of the Florida sunshine homophobe poster-girl Anita Bryant
and her “Save the Children” campaign, the Peoples Temple
was a safe and sacred sanctuary. The Peoples Temple marched in Gay
Pride and embraced a social gospel of radical inclusion. Jones had a
sizeable LGBTQ following that kept growing as did his African
American audience. The LGBTQ community followed Jones and expanded
in numbers at each church he had from Indiana, Ukiah, San Francisco
to Guyana. LGBTQ parishioners were involved in every aspect of church
life, governance, and activities. So accepting was the People’s
Temple that the lead soloist had an open relationship with the church
organist. In Guyana, the community was actively involved in building
Jones’s utopian town. Sadly, many of his LGBTQ parishioners
died along with him.
number of LGBTQ deaths in the Jonestown massacre is not presently
known. Their stories about Jim Jones as ex-Temple parishioners and
Jonestown survivors, however, are now emerging.
would argue that Jones public pro-gay persona was both strategically
political and personally self-serving.
and his church were pivotal in the 1975 mayoral election of George
Moscone who subsequently appointed Jones as chairman of the San
Francisco Housing Authority Commission. Before Jones was chair of the
housing commission Jones’s activism intersected with Harvey
Milk’s, the first openly gay to be elected to the city’s
first district elections for Board of Supervisors in November 1977.
Milk was a frequent speaker at rallies at the Peoples Temple and
wrote to Jones frequently afterward expressing his thoughts.
Exhilarated from one of the rallies he spoke at the Peoples Temple
Milk wrote Jones the following:
Jim, It may take me many a day to come back down from the high that I
reach today. I found something dear today. I found a sense of being
that makes up for all the hours and energy placed in a fight. I found
what you wanted me to find. I shall be back. For I can never leave.”
Jones’s and Milk’s death were nine days apart in November
1978. Paul VanDeCarr wrote a somber piece about their deaths in “The
Advocate” titled “Death of Dreams,” stating San
Franciscans spirits nearly broke when two revered icons who preached
radical equality in an era of little hope and activism were now gone.
Jones was quickly becoming America’s beloved civil rights
warrior for the downtrodden, he also had a Dr. Jerkyll and Mr. Hyde
persona that skillfully fooled and manipulated the people who trusted
him the most.
ask myself “was Rev. Jim Jones, a closeted gay? Were the many
heterosexual dalliances with women and the family man image with
dozens of children around him merely his gay coverup?”
had occasional sex with male followers” but “never as
often as he did with women”, according
to Jeff Guinn’s book “The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.”
However, it’s ex-Temple followers and Jonestown survivors who
can give first-hand accounts.
said that all of us were homosexuals,” Joyce Houston, an
ex-Temple follower, said in the “Jonestown" documentary.
“Everyone except [him]. He was the only heterosexual on the
planet, and that the women were all lesbians; the guys were all gay.
And so anyone who showed an interest in sex was just compensating.”
sexual ambiguity and animus toward homoeroticism were impulses he
could neither closet nor control. Instead, he used sexual assault on
men as one of his weapons. For example, Jones openly and in public
sexually molested a male congregant in front of followers to “prove
the man’s own homosexual tendencies.” Other times when
Jones engaged in gay sex, he purportedly was doing it as a symbolic
act to have men connect with him.
Jones was a man of many contradictions, especially if trying to
assess his relationship with the LGBTQ community. Michael
Bellefountaine’s book, “A Lavender Look at the Temple: A Gay Perspective of the Peoples Temple,”
attempts to tackle the issue.
little is publicly disclosed about ex-Temple LGBTQ parishioners and
Jonestown survivors. It’s time their stories come out.