If you didn’t know, June is traditionally LGBT Pride Month across the country. It’s ok, I didn’t know either, until this June. If you’re interested, I would recommend reading Obama’s proclamation from this year, it’s pretty interesting.
Seattle has traditionally held the Gay Pride Parade the third Sunday of June for the last 47 years. I guess I knew that the parade happened, but didn’t know the details.
When I heard about the parade this year, I went back and forth on whether I wanted to go or not. As an evangelical Christian, the idea of gay pride is a completely foreign concept. We’re not supposed to be prideful, much less gay, so I guess it’s like a double whammy to be prideful about being gay. I’ve been personally trying to recognize pride in my own life, heart, thoughts and actions, and to be mindful about reducing it, so Gay Pride Month and the Gay Pride Parade came at a particularly interesting time for me.
At first I really didn’t want to go, just because it seemed like the cliche gay thing to do, and I hate cliches. Then I decided I should go, just because I have been trying to learn and grow from a variety of different experiences that have pushed me out of my normal comfort zone and routine this year. I didn’t want to go alone, so I checked with the handful of people I know that would even consider going to the event with me. None of them could make it, so the night before the parade I made a last ditch effort and reached out to a lesbian couple I had met once before months earlier through a mutual friend. They were happy to include me in their plans, so I met with them and watched the parade from a friend’s office, just a couple stories above the street where the parade took place.
Like every experience I’ve had within the gay community this year, the parade was far from what I expected. It’s interesting that every single thing I’ve expected and predicted of the Christian community throughout this year has manifested exactly as expected, and everything I’ve expected from the gay community has been pretty much the exact opposite. Maybe because I knew one community very intimately, and only knew the common misconceptions stereotypes of the other.
I guess I expected the parade to be a lot more raunchy and sexual than it was. I refused to dress in rainbow clothes, and I thought I would stand out as the only one dressed “normally.” Wrong again. Pretty much everyone was dressed “normally,” and there were only a few decked out in rainbow attire or prancing around scantily clad. Most floats were extremely mild. There were floats and processions from major corporations, with LGBT employees marching to represent Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft, Walmart, and many others. There were a lot of pro-LGBT politicians, a lot of health care companies, a lot of groups that advocate for the LGBT community, and a variety of others. Out of a four hour procession with who knows how many floats, there were probably less than five that were overtly sexual, and two of them weren’t even gay groups. One group was for furries- people who like to dress up in animal costumes as an expression of their sexuality, and one was a group of people who are into leather and bondage. The parade is an expression of all different types of sexualities, and I guess these groups feel most comfortable expressing what makes them unique in this particular setting. I don’t really understand how dressing up in animal costumes or getting whipped and beaten could be anyone’s “thing,” but it kind of just is what it is, and who am I to judge?
The parade definitely wasn’t the raunchy, sexual, “weird” experience I expected- and it was way, way bigger than I expected, too. I pictured a small little rinky-dink parade on Capitol Hill, and was surprised to see that 400,000 people flooded the main streets of downtown Seattle to watch a four hour parade supported by many, many large corporate sponsors, politicians, mainstream groups, and specifically LGBT groups. I was encouraged when I saw several Christian groups marching to support the community, including groups of Methodists, Lutherans, and even Mormons. I kept hoping to see a group of Evangelical Christians, but it never came, as I predicted.
At the end of the parade, a lot of people head toward the Seattle Center, where the event continues. I wasn’t sure what to expect about that either, but it was basically Bumbershoot- probably just with more LGBT people. Hundreds of thousands crowded the area to see music groups, stand up comedians, and drag shows on three different stages. Food vendors sold food, and a bunch of booths were present to represent a wide range of interests, some particularly LGBT-focused and some not. There was nothing particularly sexual, raunchy or overall gay about it.
During the parade there was a group of about ten people dressed in matching shirts with Bible verses, holding signs and wading through the crowd preaching turn or burn sermons on megaphones. It was interesting to see the reactions- most people just didn’t pay attention, and the ones that did just took pictures with them like you would take a picture with goofy mascot or street performer. No one took them seriously, they were kind of like novel jokes.
At the Seattle Center, it was a little different. There were five or six individuals wearing Bible verse shirts holding up confrontational signs, and either preaching through megaphones or just yelling at people as they walked by. It didn’t seem like they knew each other or like they were representing any particular group- they were just individuals out spending their weekend in what I can only assume they thought was the best use of their time.
It was kind of stressful, but I sat and watched for almost an hour to observe and learn from what was going on. From what I could see, the LGBT people just walked past without paying much attention, and it was usually their straight friends that engaged in confrontation or debates with these guys. There were definitely points when it got heated, and I saw one guy grab one of the signs and throw it to the ground. The guy holding the sign fell down as well- I’m pretty sure he was being dramatic, but I definitely don’t want to minimize his experience. Each guy with a sign had their own cameraman who was filming everything going on, I’m sure so they could take back the footage back to whoever would listen and show them, like “this is what all gay people do and how aggressive they get when we simply try to love them and share God’s truth with them.” Most have figured out that engaging with these people only fuels the fire and further validates their preconceived prejudices. From the few gay people I saw engaging with them, it was very clear how much hurt and pain they had endured from people who, like these men, had rejected and shamed them, showed them their worth by outcasting them, and, worst of all, did it all in God’s name, either silently or publicly.
It was interesting for a lot of reasons, but maybe mostly because I could probably understand the mentality behind both positions in a way that most can’t. From the religious perspective, I can definitely understand the divine sense of burden God puts one’s heart for the lost, broken, and unsaved. That burden has driven most of my life and motivated me to build relationships with people with the hope- not the expectation- that I may be able to communicate God’s love and character to them in meaningful ways. At the core of that is deep understanding of the difference of a life and an eternity lived with and without a relationship with God, and I want to see as many people as possible live in relationship with God. Many feel that burden, and many go about communicating their best efforts of Godly love in a wide variety of ways. As I watched the men with the megaphones, it was clear that they felt a sincere burden, that they thought what they were doing was “right,” and that they genuinely believed God’s love was motivating them to do what they were doing and say what they were saying. I genuinely believe that is true of most Christians, and most Christians at this point still outcast gay people, treating them as worthless and less than, unclean, ultimate sinners, lost causes, etc., and all in God’s name. It’s easy for LGBT people, and most reasonable people, to say that that’s not love, but it’s weird to think that that really is love to them. It really is what they believe God would have them do, for whatever reason.
From the gay person’s perspective, I can definitely see that too. Being ostracized and outcast, looked down upon, treated differently, damned to eternal separation from God, and slandered based on something that is as much a choice and as changeable as one’s skin color, is probably the most hurtful thing anyone could ever endure. To be treated that way by people who genuinely, wholeheartedly believe their actions are representative of our own Creator makes it a million times worse, especially when you have a deeply personal and meaningful relationship with that Creator. That kind of hurt causes all kinds of other emotions, and the frustration and anger seem to come through the clearest. I get that too. In the same way Christians feel a deep burden for the lost, gay people and gay Christians in particular also feel a deep sense of burden to help other people in the midst of that rejection, and to prevent others from having to endure it as well. There are lots of ways to go about that, but engaging with a guy at Gay Pride event with a megaphone probably isn’t going to be very productive. What’s interesting, though, is that it doesn’t have to be a Gay Pride event, and the Christian doesn’t have to be holding a sign or screaming through a megaphone. If you try to engage with any Christian who holds an opposition to homosexuality, it will probably be just as productive.
So, what does gay pride mean to me? I’m definitely not ashamed to be gay, becuase logically that would be the same as me being ashamed of being half white and half Mexican- I didn’t choose it, and I can’t change it. It just is what it is. It might be like people saying they’re proud to be American, whatever that means- because it means so many different things to so many different people. It just is what it is. I’m not proud, not ashamed, but not really indifferent either.
Most people know about a psychology experiment performed at an elementary school. One week, the teacher told her class that all people with brown eyes were not as smart as everyone else. No one knew why, but they just weren’t. Within a week, the students with brown eyes began to perform more poorly on assignments and tests than they ever had before. The next week, the teacher announced that she had made a mistake, and all people with brown eyes were actually smarter than everyone else. Within a week, all the students with brown eyes began to perform better on assignments and tests than ever before, surpassing all of their peers with different colored eyes. Some of the students with different colored eyes began to perform more poorly than they previously had. Was any of it true? No. Eye color does not determine or affect intelligence or academic performance, but words, preconceived notions, and deeply ingrained prejudices and fears do. The psychological implications of this experiment are far-reaching.
Let’s take that concept and imagine what gay people face throughout their lives. From the time we are born, we are impacted by societal expectations that construct deeply ingrained ideas about who and what we can and should be, and we learn that anything outside the norm is less than, unworthy, and undesirable. Gay men in particular grow up hearing “fag” and “gay” thrown around as slurs with negative connotations almost every single day. Being gay is commonly seen as being effeminate, less masculine and generally “weird.” Gay Christian men are bombarded with the idea that they are unnatural abominations. People compare homosexuality to beastiality, and also think it’s no different than pedophilia. Imagine what those daily messages throughout your lifetime can do to your psychology. Just like the kids in the classroom, it’s no wonder why so many gay people begin to believe all those lies and misconceptions. I honestly believe that the reason why many (not all) LGBT people seem to treat themselves and their bodies pretty poorly is because they have grown accustomed to believing that they are gross, detestable, dirty, unlovable, unsavable, damned to hell for all of eternity, etc.
You would not imagine the mental, emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual strength it takes to overcome all of that deeply ingrained psychological burden. If I’m proud of anything in regards to being gay, it’s that. I am proud that I have been able to understand, love and accept myself the way I believe God does- maybe because I know that is different than they way many others believe God does. I am proud that I have been able this year to make my mental, emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual well-being a priority, and that I have used all the goods and bads of this experience to learn and grow. I am proud that I am still able to separate God from The Church, and The Church from its people, and to not be so jaded and bitter than I abandon my faith like so many others do. Gay pride looks different for everyone, but that’s what it looks like for me.