Here's the thing: I come from a part of the country where being gay is not very accepted or supported by many people. Where I come from, you are liable to be teased, picked on, told you are worthless, disgusting and sinful and that you will burn in Hell for your "choice". That was why when I found out I would have the opportunity to march in the parade with my church, I jumped at it. I knew this would be a way that I could potentially show God's love and maybe even heal some long-festering wounds for many people. It's no wonder, really, that so many gays turn away from God and the church. You would too if you were constantly told that your lifestyle was wrong and sinful and deviant. The church (and here I am referring to the whole church, not individual churches) has not been the most welcoming and accepting toward their GLBTQI brothers and sisters. So, small wonder that many gays feel that the church has nothing to say to them and only wants them to repent of their ways.
Marching in the Parade representing a church was my way of coming to terms with that aspect of the church's history. It has long been the one that has been the most troubling to me. It was important to me that I convey to my LGBT brothers and sisters that there are churches out there that love them and accept them for who they are. I think sometimes that message can get lost in the shuffle as so many of the most vocal churches out there are the ones that proclaim their messages of hatred. There was quite a large contingent of churches that marched in the parade, actually. It was ultimately very heartwarming to see how many churches were willing to be identified as gay friendly and welcoming.
Ultimately, however, the thing about the Parade that really got to me the most was seeing the huge crowd of people that were there to watch it. Many of these people did not know a single person in the parade. So, to see so many people cheering and high-fiving and showing their love and support for complete strangers was quite moving. The fact that they were there to cheer and celebrate a lifestyle that is denigrated by so many was really powerful to see first-hand. All these thousands (and yes, I do mean thousands) of people were there to show their support and love for their gay brothers and sisters and friends and strangers. Some of them even brought their friends, relatives, kids, grandkids with them to the parade and that made me happy. Especially to see so many children along the parade route. That will hopefully be one less child that will grow up thinking being gay is wrong or sinful. That's ultimately how it should be. Teach your children at an early age to be welcome and accepting and they will stay that way their whole lives. Hatred and bigotry are taught, not innate.
Anyway, after the parade was over, the contingent from LakeView walked back to the church and were greeted by parishioners who had stayed to watch the parade from the church lawn. What happened also was that we ended up having several people come up to us and thank us for participating in the parade. There was a lot of healing that was hopefully accomplished with the parade. People saw that there is such a thing as churches that believe that God's love extends to everyone, gay or straight. For many, that is an eye-opening revelation. The idea that there could possibly exist a church that believes that gays are beautiful just the way they are is perhaps a foreign notion to many. That's why it was so important to me to participate and march in the Gay Pride parade. Those wounds have been allowed to fester for too long.
The last point I want to bring up for discussion is the issue that some people (even ones who support gay rights) have with Pride Parades. I have heard people make the argument that Gay Pride Parades are just an excuse for gay people to flaunt their sexuality in front of everybody. Isn't who you sleep with supposed to be a private matter and not something that needs to be flaunted in front of everybody? Why does everybody need to know about it? To be honest, until this past weekend, I never really had a valid answer to those questions. Now, however, I do. The reason why Gay Pride Parades need to exist is for kids like Tyler Clementi and Asher Brown and Billy Lucas. Recognize those names? They are just three of the many youth who have killed themselves over the last year or so because of bullying. These three (and many more just like them) were teased, picked on, beaten up and generally disrespected because of their sexuality. They were told that they should be ashamed of themselves for feeling that way and that their sexuality somehow made them less human and less worthy of love. What Gay Pride Parades do is send a message to those scared, brutalized youth that they should be proud of who they are, not ashamed. They should love themselves for who they were created to be and live that life and be proud to live that life. When everyone around them is telling them to be ashamed of their feelings, Gay Pride tells them to instead embrace their feelings and accept and love themselves. Yes, who you share your life with is a private matter but being gay is not about who you sleep with. It's about embracing and loving yourself just the way you are and not being afraid to be that person. It's about accepting yourself as a gay person and taking pride in that fact. If the Gay Pride Parade saves even one life or prevents one teen from hanging himself or shooting himself or mutilating himself, it is worth it. Perhaps if there were Gay Pride parades in the cities where those teens who have killed themselves lived, they might not have done it. That's the real reason why Gay Pride parades exist. To show other gay, scared teenagers that they have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. That being gay is something that should be embraced, rather than shunned. That there are people who will love and accept them for who they are even when their own family and friends won't. There is no shame in being gay and it doesn't mean that something is wrong with them or that they need to be "fixed" in some way. Gay Pride is about all that and more. I only hope that those kids who most need to hear that message actually do. Sadly, I fear many of them don't.