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Paying Tribute to LGBTQ Activist, Robert Wood

With great sadness, the Congregational Library & Archives notes the passing of the Reverend Robert Wood who died on August 19. The CLA's friends and followers may already know Rev. Wood's name, as he donated his papers to us in 2004, and I've written about him a few times in the past. In June this year I was honored to have been able to visit him for at Havenwood-Heritage Heights, the United Church of Christ's retirement community in New Hampshire. While there I presented a brief lecture with a Q&A on his collection to the residents, visiting friends, and the UCC's New Hampshire Conference. The event served as an opportunity to ask Rev. Wood directly about his life and experiences.

For those new to his story, Rev. Robert Watson Wood was born May 21, 1923 and is known among the LGBTQ community for his steadfast dedication to civil rights. That journey started with his book, Christ and the Homosexual, published in 1960 under his own name as an ordained United Church of Christ minister. He was part of the first group to picket a federal building in 1965 and he argued in favor of same-sex marriage decades before Obergefell.

One of the biggest defining aspects of Wood's life was his relationship with his husband, Hugh "Buck" Coulter. The two met in New York City in 1962 and remained devoted to each other until Coulter's death in 1989. Coulter was a World War II veteran, a rodeo cowboy, and an abstract artist. Circumstances kept the two from ever sharing a house or being legally married. Despite that, they made the most of their time together. Wood's collection includes significant representation of Coulter's life: photographs, correspondence, and samples of his art, particularly.

Another major facet of Wood's life and identity was as a decorated combat World War II veteran. Wood knew he was gay when he was in high school. Before he could truly navigate the ramifications of coming out, the US joined the war. Wood was open about his anxiety over being discovered and punished. Nevertheless, he volunteered, fought for our country, and survived with a strong sense of duty that he directed towards LGBTQ civil rights. During this past June's presentation, someone asked why he risked his safety and well-being, coming out and fighting for equal rights. He answered that he did it because nobody else was. It's that sense of purpose, service, compassion, and bravery that I celebrate as I remember him. I'm proud to have known Robert Wood and even more proud to care for his personal papers. Moreover, I do not take his sacrifices and hard work for granted.

Rev. Wood's memorial will be at Havenwood on Wednesday, October 3, at 2 pm.

Those interested in learning more about Robert Wood and his life and work are welcome to visit the Congregational Library & Archives. His papers are open to the public and the CLA welcomes all visitors interested in research. My trip in June included adding new material for Rev. Wood's collection and I've spent a great deal of time reviewing what we already held and integrating the photos, letters, original diaries, and so much more for our patrons. That new material is not yet reflected in our current guide, but stay tuned.