Bishop Charles was the first openly gay bishop in any Chrisitian denomination.
Since 1979 he has been among a growing number of bishops who have spoken out for full and complete inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the church without restriction, recognizing their calling to ministry and rejecting the notion that a baptized homosexual must live a celibate life. In 1980, he was the recipient of the national Integrity Award. He is represented in Out in the Workplace: Gay and Lesbian Professionals Tell Their Stories.
Upon his retirement in 1993, Charles publicly announced his homosexuality, becoming the first openly gay bishop of any Christian denomination. That September he sent an epistle to his colleagues in the House of Bishops that said, in part: “I have promised myself that I will not remain silent, invisible, unknown. After all is said and done, the choice for me is not whether or not I am a gay, but whether or not I am honest about who I am with myself and others. It is a choice to take down the wall of silence I have built around an important and vital part of my life, to end the separation and isolation I have imposed on myself all these years.”
John McNeil, former Jesuit and author of Freedom, Glorious Freedom speaks of Bishop Charles’ coming out as “an extraordinary example (of the) public exposure… required… to… provide an image… of what it is to be mature as Christian and as gay” (pp.82-83). In Last Watch of the Night, Paul Monette wrote of Bishop Charles’ coming out as “an important moment in gay and lesbian history, and a ringing challenge to the status quo of invisibility” (p. 304).
The Sunday edition of the New York Times (October 10, 1993) as well as both gay and straight press around the country reported the bishop’s action. Boston’s Bay Windows editorialized: “the news of a 67 year old bishop coming out of the closet is something at which to marvel. Charles puts it less grandly, however, saying simply that it was a matter of integrity.”
After making his public witness Bishop Charles, who appreciates being addressed by his baptismal name, Otis, has welcomed the opportunity to share his story. Whether in an informal gathering or the pulpit, he characteristically begins, “I am a gay man, an Episcopal (Anglican) bishop, a queer who only just mustered the courage to publicly acknowledge the truth of my life.”
Charles has continued as an active and voting member of the Episcopal House of Bishops taking many stands on behalf of his community. In 1995, Charles co-founded Oasis/California, the Bay Area Episcopal Lesbian and Gay ministry. In 1998, Charles was appointed Interim Dean of the School for Deacons serving northern California. During this time he also served as Bishop-in-residence at the Church of St. John-the-Evangelist in San Francisco and a founding editor of Millennium3, an on-line and print publication distributed to all 13,600 Episcopal clergy. He was an Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of California until 2004.
Charles is currently working on his memoirs and editing a collection of personal reflections on the contribution of entheogens as an opening to mystical experience. Since 1993 he has been a resident of San Francisco where he lives with his partner, Felipe Sanchez Paris.