Pride and Why We March

June is Pride Month for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities across the country, and parades abound.

With advances such as hate crime laws and civil unions, we have come a long way since the first Pride marches three decades ago. Also, with the AIDS epidemic no longer ravaging our community as it once did — an epidemic that galvanized us to organize — and with the Religious Right becoming more of a political liability than an asset to political candidates these days, our backs appear to not be slammed up against a brick wall, like they used to be.

As LGBT people, many of us would argue that we have moved from our once urgent state of “Why we can’t wait!” to our present lulled state of “Where do we go from here?”

With the LGBT community being the fastest disenfranchised group to touch the fringes of America’s mainstream, we seem stuck in a holding pattern. Unlike the revolutionary decade of the 1960s, we LGBT people appear to be residing in a sanguine time; thus, appearing to be rebels without a cause, a context and an agenda.

Jeff Soref, the co-executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda in New York City, told The New York Times last year, “I don’t agree with the people who say there’s no agenda anymore. . . I think it’s an expanding agenda, and maybe it’s more nuanced and subtler because the definition of who is considered part of the lesbian and gay community is now much more complex and much more challenging.”

And indeed it is. Our gift and our struggle are that we are a diverse community. However, our diversity as an LGBT community should not dilute our commitment, but rather our diversity should teach us more about its complexity, and by extension teach the larger society. Racism, sexism and classism run as wild in our community as they do in the larger society, but they should neither destroy nor diminish our prophetic call.

As a prophetic people we are called forth in this time to spread the good news that our bodies and sexualities are an essential part of being human and that God affirms the inherent goodness of all sexualities as part of creation. We have not reached the Promised Land on this issue. And, the fight to live out that affirmation is still going on from our courtrooms to our bedrooms.

For many in our heterosexual communities Pride is viewed as a conspicuous parade of unbridled hedonism. And from this community the event always spawns moral condemnation. Right-wing televangelist the Reverend Jerry Falwell shared his views about Pride with the Associated Press, “There’s a lot of talk these days about homosexuals coming out of the closet. I didn’t know they’d been in the closet. I do know they’ve always been in the gutter.”

But the views on Pride are also mixed in the LGBT communities. For many in our LGBT communities Pride is a bone of contention. Many once thought the celebration was too political and that it had lost its vision of what it meant for people to just have a good time. Others now think of it as a weekend bacchanalia of drinking, drugging, and unprotected sex, where the history of Pride is desecrated.

However, Pride is about remembrance, thanksgiving, and an invitation for community.

As a sign of remembrance, Pride lets us not forget the “reparative therapies” to cure our homosexuality: like testicular castration, electroshock therapy, and lobotomies. Today we have the Exodus Ministries, an ex-gay movement, which aims to “cure” us of our “perversion” with the right spiritual dosages of God and damnation.

During the summer months of 1998 the country was hit with an explosion of “ex-gay” ministry ads that appeared in major newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today. The “ex-gay” ministry ads were sponsored by a coalition of 15 right-wing Christian organizations calling all LGBT people, along with our families and friends, to convert us to heterosexuality. The ad stated: “Please, if you, or someone you know or love, is struggling with homosexuality, show them this story. If you truly love someone, you’ll tell them the truth. And, the truth that God loves them could just be the truth that sets them free.”

Pride is an act of thanksgiving. It allows us and our heterosexual allies to commemorate the Stonewall Riot of June 27-29, 1969 in Greenwich Village, New York City where two nights of rioting sparked the advent of our queer liberation movement. On the last day of the street riots, crowds gathered outside the Stonewall Inn to assess the damage, and to read the graffiti sprawled on its bricks — “Legalize Gay Bars” and “Support Gay Power.” Such were the earliest expressions of queer public theology.

Pride is also an invitation for community. It is one of the loci of the ongoing battle in the LGBT community for inclusion into mainstream society. And because of the ongoing struggle, Pride challenges society’s exclusion of us by inviting everyone to join in the parade.

Pride need not be viewed as either a political statement or a senseless non-stop orgy. Such an “either-or” viewpoint creates a dichotomy which lessens our understanding of the integral connection of political action and celebratory acts of songs and dances in our fight for our civil rights.

The Bible is replete with examples of oppressed groups parading in the streets while struggling for their freedom. For example, “The Song of Miriam” in Exodus 15:19-21 is in celebration of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea while they are still journeying in the Wilderness toward the Promised Land.

Pride binds us all as Christians to a common history, struggle and celebration for acceptance. Pride affirms our uniqueness as individuals and communities as well as it affirms our commonality as the varied expressions of the life of God’s people. In other words, Pride helps us to create a multicultural democracy where no one is left behind, and every voice is lifted up. Pride is about social transformation; thus, it is a symbol of the incarnation of the risen Christ.

In the midst of our journey as Christians through a homophobic and heterosexist wilderness, Pride is our Passover symbol from total intolerance to gradual acceptance.

Pride is a reminder to us all of how far we have come down the road as the people of God, but it is also a reminder of how far down the road we still must travel.

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