“Does the gay community really need to have a parade? Why do they have to be so ‘in your face’ about their sexuality?”
I’ve been asked these questions several times and since most of the time when I talk about a gay pride parade, many people I know have a visceral or condescending reaction (scoffing, chuckling, or eye rolling), I want to help shed some light on why a gay pride parade feels necessary (essential?) to the LGBT community.
I certainly don’t know every reason someone might celebrate this way, but I do know the feeling I had when I went to my first pride parade when I was 18. I felt that I belonged somewhere; I felt I wasn’t alone with this experience….and I was relieved.
I grew up hearing about “fags and queers”….and then I realized that that was me. I identified as gay when I was about 12 and came out at 17. During that time, the only feelings that accompanied being attracted to the same sex were shame and confusion which either caused denial or isolation. I heard no positive messages, nor did I hear any redeeming ones. As someone who did not choose to feel this way and couldn’t seem to shake it, I felt I had two options: live in the shame that was being heaped upon me, or turn the tables, rise up, and embrace what many hated and shamed me for.
So holding my boyfriend’s hand as I marched down the streets of Columbus, OH., I felt empowered for one of the first times in my life. I felt good. I liked me. And I could see where I belonged in a larger community of people. I finally had a voice.
The LGBT community is a minority group. They’ve been ignored, turned away from, pushed away, and pushed down. Generation after generation of the majority have not only been satisfied that they’ve remained in their corner of the city (out of sight, out of mind), but they’ve actively kept them there. You can’t continually push a group of people to the margins and not expect them to be pissed. You also can’t expect them to not do something about it. Decade after decade many straight people have said (either actively or passively), “I don’t care if you are being consumed with shame” and have refused to come alongside, to pray with, to support, or even to listen.
And because shame is toxic to the soul, mantras like, “Just be who you are” and “Out and proud” have been born. I was determined to be out and proud, not because I felt pride for being gay, but because I wasn’t going to let one more straight, majority opinion determine if I liked myself or not. So I took away their power to shame me for something I didn’t ask for.
This seems to be what happens with many (or maybe all) minority groups. Whether you are in the minority because of your sexuality, race, disability, gender, religion, etc., there comes a time when you have to say, “I’ve had enough – If I don’t push back, I’ll die in this shame”. At that point in my life, being out and proud was the best I could do; to be anything less would mean being eaten alive.
I am a white able-bodied man from a middle class family in the Midwest; without the experience of a minority sexuality, I may have never known what it was like to be shoved to the side. And I probably would have never had the slightest inkling when I was the one doing the shoving. This has enlarged my ability to be empathic and I can’t imagine being a pastor without it.
I get that most straight people are annoyed at the thought of the gay pride parade. I understand that some of my Christian brothers and sisters see this event as a time where gay people “shove their lifestyle’s in our faces” and “revel in their sin”. I get it and I understand it, but I don’t agree with it. Because I’ve been the gay man at the pride parade and celebrating my sexuality and seeing others like me was like coming up for air in a world that kept trying it’s best to drown me.
I’m not asking you celebrate with them, I’m asking you to empathize with them.
Until I met Jesus, I had no other way to deal with my shame or to even understand my identity. Because he allows me to be imperfect, glory in my weakness, and because he removes my shame, I no longer feel compelled to take back power, stand up for my rights, jockey for position, or convince myself I’m valuable. I get to just be….a man, a son, with a fallen sexuality walking with Jesus.
So I’m not writing to advocate for gay pride, I’m writing to say I understand why. For many, it’s a means of survival. I know some will roll their eyes as soon as they read that, which means they’ve likely never been the targets of repeated marginalization. And I would contend that if the majority, and more importantly Christians, hadn’t turned their backs on an entire community of people, there may not have been such a determined need for the grandeur of a pride parade. Please don’t lament the ills and trajectory of the culture and then divorce yourself from being part of the cause and the remedy. It’s at least worth considering. I’m not placing the sole blame on one group of people or another, but I am encouraging repentance for us all so that God’s kingdom would come and impact the individual riddled with shame and the society that needs a savior.