Marches and Parades

A couple of months ago, I was having breakfast with a friend of mine and the conversation turned toward my experience as a gay man.  Because this woman is a friend and because she showed a genuine interest in hearing about my experiences, I was happy to share some of my story with her.  After we talked for a while, she said something along the lines of, “I love and support gay people, but I just don’t understand why they need to fly those rainbow flags outside their houses.  Why do I need to know what goes on in their bedrooms?”  

June is upon us, so we are all likely to see more rainbow flags flying around the city.  CMC is even getting a group together to participate in the Columbus Pride Parade on June 20th.  So what does it mean to ‘fly those rainbow flags’ and how does this connect to us as people of faith?

For ‘young’ people like me, rainbow flags and Pride celebrations seem like they have simply always been a reality.  Because of this, they have begun to lose some of their history.  If we want to truly understand the significance of Pride, then this history must be reclaimed.  There is far more history than can be adequately unpacked in a midweek blog post, but I think one of the most important things to understand is that these parades were started as a way to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969 where a group of gay customers (many in drag) at the Stonewall Inn in NYC took a stand against ongoing police harassment and violence.  This initial night of resistance sparked almost a week’s worth of demonstrations of varying intensity that included over 1,000 participants.  While this is certainly not the first or only instance of LGBTQ individuals organizing for resistance, the Stonewall Riots were a unifying force that helped foster wider discussion of civil rights among the LGBTQ community. 

Today we have parades and flags, but we should never forget their antecedents were marches and picket signs.

In response to my friend’s question/comment about rainbow flags, I attempted to convey to her how meaningful it was to me to see these flags as a symbol of refusing to remain silent in the face of oppression.  I attempted to explain that rainbow flags and Pride celebrations are not just about what goes on in the bedroom, but about reclaiming the goodness of our identities in a world where we have known only shame for far too long.  I attempted to explain how much farther we have to go in a society where 40% of all youth who are homeless are those who identify as LGBTQ, where more than half of transgender individuals report being sexually abused or assaulted in their lives, and where LGB young people are approximately 4 times more likely to self-harm than their straight peers.

American society has come very far since Stonewall and we have much to celebrate.  Columbus Mennonite Church has also taken some very important steps recently, so participating in the parade this year seems like a great way to celebrate this work and offer our support for the underlying cause of justice for the LGBTQ community. 

I know the organizers of Columbus Pride attempt to make the event as overall “family-friendly” as possible by carving out spaces for activities oriented towards children, but “family-friendly” still remain pretty subjective.  I will say that from my experience, the parade itself is actually quite tame in that it is largely dominated by banks, churches, and politicians.

No one will deny the fact that some of the more sexualized elements of the event may make some people uncomfortable.  I think, however, that when we place Pride within its historical context of working for a more just community, we can begin to claim our own identity as a ‘queer’ church in the sense that we are refusing to be silent or stifled in the face of unjust and outright harmful notions of sexuality and gender identity that often dominate religious discourse.  My hope is that as we learn to celebrate our own uniquely ‘queer’ identity, we would not be afraid to stand alongside a diverse array of people doing this work in their own unique ways. 

If you have questions about Pride or would like information on how to get involved with CMC’s float, let me know, and I will be happy to point you in the right direction.