The Damage Religion Does: Little Richard, 1932-2020

Little” Richard Penniman died on Saturday, age 82.  Writing an obituary about a rock and roll legend should be an act of reminiscing.  Instead, I’m disgusted by the poisonous self-loathing and hatred that religion drummed into him.

In the 1950s, “Leave It To Beaver” cis hetero binary lifestyles were being imposed on the US socially and culturally.  Little Richard was gay or perhaps bisexual, with a penchant for exhibitionism, caught more than once having sex in a car.  He wore makeup and expressed flamboyance that only one other musician of his era (Screaming Jay Hawkins) could compare to.

Sadly, Richard was also a baptist christian, and repeatedly through his life switched between music and preaching.  His particular form of religion was vile, labelling homsexuality “evil” and a “sin”, causing him to live in denial.  As Transgender people gained higher profile in the 2000s and 2010s, he spewed religious-driven hatred against them as well.

A retrospective on his life should have been a positive one, and many will write it that way.  But given his own self-loathing and the hate he spread towards others, I can’t write a positive word.  Difficult truths need to be said, and he died a bigot.  From The Advocate, 2017:

Little Richard, Once Gay, Is Now Antigay — Again

Little Richard, the iconic and influential early rock and roller, has gone back and forth throughout his career on whether he’s gay or antigay — and now he’s back on the antigay side.

[. . .]

Over the course of his career, the singer’s changes of tune on homosexuality have included the following:

“If your brother’s a homosexual, you must protect your little boy from him. Homosexuals are sick. And lesbians are sick too. What real woman would want another woman to touch her? She’d feel like something was crawling on her.” — 1980, to Rolling Stone

“I’ve been gay all my life and I know God is a God of love, not of hate.” — 1995, to Penthouse

“We are all both male and female. Sex to me is like a smorgasbord. Whatever I feel like, I go for. What kind of sexual am I? I am omnisexual!” — 2012, to GQ