Chicago Pride 2012 was my first exposure to any significant gay pride event, and as you may have expected, participating in a Pride weekend for the first time was momentous and exhausting. There was no shortage of new experiences for me, some pleasant and some a bit less pleasant, and I was thankful for the context (my internship, our purposes for the weekend, the friendships I’ve developed here, etc.) in which the weekend occurred and the framework it provided for my experience. In addition to a few other events (including a 5k!), my primary involvement came on Sunday afternoon at the pride parade, where The Marin Foundation once again made a statement of apology through its “I’m Sorry" campaign.
It was difficult to read the general atmosphere at the parade in terms of attitudes toward Christians. On the one hand, there were many churches and Christian organizations with prominent positions in the parade, and they received loud applause; one particularly powerful procession consisted of Chicago’s LGBT-affirming churches, with each church carrying a sign displaying its name in a gesture of welcome and inclusion. On the other hand, there were also religious anti-gay protestors along the route (though I didn’t walk around to explore how vicious were their attacks), and their involvement certainly didn’t help the Christians’ case. In spite of the cacophony of voices, our impact at the parade was visible in the reactions from parade participants to our signs as well as in the conversations we had with people passing us. I wish I could say all of these conversations ended with “Eureka!” moments of tangible forgiveness and healing—and there were plenty of hugs, thanks in part to Laura’s “Free Hugs” sign—but the depth of the pain many LGBT people feel as a result of bad history with Christians means reconciliation is going to be a slow, difficult process with frustrations and defeats in addition to the triumphs. (You might want to check out my friend and co-intern Michael’s post-Pride reflection about the “I’m Sorry” campaign at The Marin Foundation blog.)
I’m embarrassed to admit I was anxious and bashful identifying as a Christian that day, especially since I was wearing a shirt that acknowledged my guilt in harming the LGBT community. It’s not that I was ashamed of Jesus or his gospel or the ministry of reconciliation we bring to the world; it was the realization that, for many in the crowd, I was the concrete personification of an abstract villain, and the weight of that resentment hung heavy. I suspect the fear I felt walking around in my “I’m Sorry” shirt is at least a bit comparable to the fear an unbelieving LGBT individual might carry when most of the people around are Christians, whether in a church or a Christian school or even a small town in the Bible Belt: I wasn’t ashamed to be who I was (i.e., a Christian), but I was afraid others might filter their perception of me through their baggage with Christians and the worst negative stereotypes against Christians. I was afraid that label would prevent others from engaging me as a human worthy of time and respect. Where that comparison fails, though, is my conviction that the burden of reconciliation falls squarely on the shoulders of Christians, that we and not the LGBT community are the ones at fault. (I argued this in a previous post.) In short, walking into Pride as a Christian meant placing myself at the mercy of a community of people I have helped to oppress, and I felt terrifyingly vulnerable.
I’m aware some wonder about the appropriateness of Christians attending pride events, which have come to represent for many (even for many LGBT people) the fringes of (for lack of better words) indulgence and debauchery in the LGBT community. “I know not all gay people are the kind you see dancing in pride parades,” someone might say. And while I used to live in that same skepticism, I was surprised how plainly evident it felt to me at the parade—even as the occasional floats full of Speedo-clad dancers rolled by in between the politicians and NGOs—that Jesus belongs at a gay pride event as much as he belongs in a megachurch worship service or a soup kitchen or a lonely hospital room. By “belongs,” of course, I mean “is already present.” I’m hopeful we, with our shirts and signs and cards and (in my case) nervous attempts to engage strangers in conversation, were active participants in the coming of God’s kingdom at Pride and agents of God’s ministry of reconciliation.
Today, I am grateful that the work of reconciliation does not depend on every conversation ending well and that small victories come along the way.