Johnny Peden has committed himself to honoring and celebrating other people’s lives and choices. Sadly, there was a time in his life when who he is was neither honored nor celebrated. After graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Peden was an associate pastor at a Baptist church in Houston. During his tenure there, he was unceremoniously outed and fired.
Peden had come out to a fellow student in college years before. When that student’s brother, who is also gay, came out to his own parents, they were none too happy. “His parents were giving him a hard time about being gay,” Peden explains. “In an argument with his parents, he said that if they thought being gay was so bad, guess who else is gay: Johnny Peden.”
It was a moment that would forever change the trajectory of Peden’s life.
The parents of the young man who outed Peden were involved in the Baptist church. Very involved. In fact, his father was a deacon, Peden explains. Once he was outed, Peden says that was all it took. “Phone calls were made and before you knew it, I was fired.”
Peden then decided to call a gay friend still in seminary in Fort Worth. “He offered his spare bedroom to give me time to come to terms with what was going on in my life. To survive, I took various sales jobs there in Fort Worth and later in Houston.”
After he moved back to Houston, Peden also joined Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church. “I preached there on a regular basis. The late Rev. Ralph Lasher and I alternated speaking at the early morning service. Ralph and I also started a support group, Crossroads, for LGBT church workers and allies.”
The LGBTQ community was deep in the throes of the AIDS crisis in those days and, sadly, Peden was asked to officiate for many funerals. Later, when AIDS deaths thankfully became much less frequent, Peden’s friends suggested that he begin officiating weddings once again. “And that is where I am today,” he says, “hopefully bringing joy into the lives of hundreds of people on their very special day. Thus, I named my website Your Special Day.”
Peden has been officiating weddings since he was in college. For the past several years, he has officiated around 100 weddings per year. “It is very rewarding to see the look in couples’ eyes when they are exchanging the wedding vows. Their faces are gleaming with love. Weddings for LGBT couples are a very important rite of passage. They can have true happiness in their lives with whomever they love. It gives them the profound opportunity to know real happiness and joy.” He also does speaking engagements at Unitarian Universalist churches in the greater Houston-Galveston area, as well as in Victoria.
For Peden, “not discriminating against anyone for any reason is the driving force behind my sincere desire to be of service to all people—those of different faiths and backgrounds, not just Christians.”
And nowhere is his commitment to serving all more apparent than in his volunteer work, of which he does a lot.
As a member of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Peden has served on its board. In addition, he was a member of Executive and Professional Association of Houston (EPAH). “I have been a political activist all of my life, doing volunteer work for Texas Governor Ann Richards, Houston City Controllers and Mayors Kathy Whitmire and Annise Parker, Controller and Council Member Lance Lalor, and many other City Council members as well as State Representatives Debra Danburg and Ron Waters.”
He also works to register voters as a deputy registrar for Harris and Galveston Counties and an active member of the Bay Area Democratic Movement and the Bay Area Association of Democratic Women. Previously, he was an active member of the Greater Houston Partnership, where he served on the Economic Development Council and the World Trade Council. He’s also been invited to serve on the Board of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “I am awaiting confirmation of that later in June,” he says.
Peden himself is not married or partnered. “Bobby died before it was legal for gay people to marry. Thus, we could never have a ceremony, but I did give him a ring. I will never forget the night that I gave it to him. It made him so very happy—and me, too. He cried and cried tears of joy, and so did I.”
Celebrating Pride Month is incredibly important to Peden. It only makes sense, with his lifetime commitment to serving all kinds of people in all kinds of ways, as well as devoting himself to honoring the ultimate celebration of love—marriage.
It’s been many years now since he was outed and fired. Today, Peden is committed to living as authentically and proudly as possible. “It means that I can be my true self as a gay man without any shame or apologies,” he emphasizes. “I don’t need anyone’s permission to be my true self.”
Johnny Peden can be contacted about officiating weddings at yourspecialday.co
This article appears in the June 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.