William Astor Kirk, a social and religious activist for black causes and gay rights, died Aug. 12. He was straight but saw precedence in LGBT rights in the earlier civil rights struggle.
Kirk was born Oct. 5, 1922 in Harleton, Texas. He met his future wife, Vivian Tramble, while working a switchboard at Howard University in Washington. He earned a master’s in government from Howard, taught in Austin, Texas, and later assumed a leadership role in a regional NAACP chapter. In 1958, Kirk became the first African American to earn a doctorate in political science from the University of Texas.
He eventually pursued an executive career in the federal government and was recruited by President Lyndon Johnson to be deputy regional director of the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity. After retiring, he ran his own organizational development consulting firm.
A Christian from an early age, Kirk was active in the United Methodist Church. At the denomination’s 1964 annual conference, he successfully championed an amendment that ended segregation within the church. In his final months, he prepared an omnibus resolution for the church’s next general conference that, if successful, would “abolish ecclesiastical institutional discrimination” against gays within the Methodist church.
Kirk and his family were active at Foundry United Methodist Church, a gay-friendly parish in Washington, for 25 years. The author of six books, Kirk was preceded in death by his wife Vivian, daughter Marie Altonette Dunn, son-in-law Reginald Dunn and sister Jenny Kirk King. He is survived by a son William, daughter-in-law Hilary, a sister Beatrice Kirk-Harris and several grandchildren.