A few years ago I attended Church with my parents in Springville, Utah. It just so happened the Sunday I was there, during Sunday School a member decided to report on what he had recently witnessed at the San Francisco Pride parade. He told a lurid story about public nudity and sex. Of course the point of his story was to reinforce the trope we've all heard about homosexuality being evil and satanically inspired, and gay pride being a sign of public wickedness that precedes the end times, and gay rights activists being the kind of people who call black white and who call evil good, etc.
What was interesting to me was how my parents reacted. After Sunday School was over, my dad specifically mentioned to me this guy's description of two guys engaging in public sex at the Pride Parade. Of course Dad thought the public sex was terribly inappropriate. But he basically said that these are the kinds of behavior that people engage in when they feel utterly rejected and unloved by their family and their church, and when they have unhealthily low self-esteem. Dad felt certain that if the young men who had been engaging in this act had felt the love and support of family and church friends, had they been encouraged to see their sexuality as an aspect of the wholeness of who they are, they would never have engaged in this kind of shocking public display. He understood it as an act that came from a certain kind of rejection, and the desperation that rejection inspires.
Dad saw with crystal clarity how moral behavior exists in a contextual framework. More importantly, he wasn't about to let someone quote a few isolated, unhealthy acts out of context for the purpose of issuing a blanket condemnation of all gay people, all gay relationships, and the entire gay community. It was so cool to me that my dad so totally got that on his own. Actually, both my parents completely understood what was going on, and both of them found appropriate ways to immediately reassure me of their unconditional love and of their understanding and support.
As a postscript to that incident... I also understood that the person who told this very lurid San Francisco Gay Pride story was not necessarily a bad person. He certainly had witnessed some shocking behavior. The problem was, he had no context for interpreting it. My parents had a context for interpreting his experience that he didn't have: their experience with me, their gay son. Because we understood the context of this man's story, AND we also understood the context of his reaction, we were able to react in a way that was not defensive. Frankly, I was also assisted in my reaction to this situation by the reassuring, comforting, calming presence of the Spirit.
When this man told his story, instead of getting up and walking out of the room -- which I felt a strong desire to do! -- I stayed. I continued to attend the rest of the meetings at church with my parents, including a priesthood lesson taught by the same man who had recounted this episode. It was a good priesthood lesson, and I realized this man had many positive qualities, and I said so to my dad afterwards. That provided a context for my dad later to speak to this man about me -- about his gay son -- in a way that might help him have a different context for his understanding of homosexuality. And dad was able to do this in a way that was loving, non-confrontational, not defensive, and more likely to reach and touch this good but uninformed man.
Yes, there is stuff that goes on at Pride that is reflective of spiritual brokenness, and that is not positive or functional. I have often felt ambivalent about Gay Pride, less because of nudity/semi-nudity and emphasis on sex (which actually is increasingly rare), and more because of the commercialism and materialism (which seems to be a bigger and bigger thing lately). I stopped attending the block parties many, many years go (long before I became active in the Church again) because I'm uncomfortable around large groups of people, especially when numbers of them have been overindulging in alcohol. Lately, I also hate that Twin Cities Pride conflicts with Church. I would like not to have to choose between attending Church and participating in Pride. For me both acts express an important part of who I am and what I believe in. But that's another story.
There are aspects of Pride that I do participate in and that I believe in. The basic idea of Pride itself is about promoting healthy self-acceptance that enables us to live up to our full potential. Overall, the parade and festival are an opportunity for religious, social, civic and service groups to come out and celebrate the diversity of the community, and the elements of the community that make us stronger. Of course we can and should participate in the stuff that is reflective of the best values, and pass over the other stuff.
A gay LDS friend recently emailed me and shared a story on this count, a portion of which is worth sharing here:
I [had volunteered to help out with Pride and] was involved in cleanup and take down of tents, railings, etc. of the festival site... We worked long hours and weren't done until near midnight. There was a retired couple, husband and wife in their 60s, working along side us. They had traveled several hundred miles to volunteer to support their daughter who is a lesbian. They worked cheerfully right until the end. It was a privilege for me to be there, in an atmosphere of cooperation, tolerance, and unconditional love. I had a very good feeling, tired tho I and most of us were. Are gay people the new "Samaritans" of our time... to be looked down upon, despised and derided? Or are they people with needs and hopes just like anyone else, who can and should be supported to help them improve their lives?
As a gay guy... who is striving to rebuild his spirituality after thinking he had to abandon it, experiences like that BUILD me, not the opposite. I live in a rural area with few LDS and even fewer functional LGBT people. I feel a healthy emotional/social/spiritual lift from being part of this... the part that is RIGHT for ME. It helps take away the cravings and feeling so alone, and wanting to act out in ways that are harmful to me. I've had numerous discussions with my bishop about my homosexuality. He was quite concerned when I told him I was doing volunteer work for Pride. His attitude noticeably softened when I related the above experience to him.
I was really moved by this friend's account of LGBT Pride, which reminded me that we have the power to make Pride a positive thing if we want, by getting involved in constructive ways, and reinforcing the values that mean the most to us. The best way we can celebrate Pride is to do what we can to make it reflective of us, of our pride and our values and our love for one another.
Recently, I was having a conversation with a fellow local gay Mormon, and we were wondering if we shouldn't try to organize a Pride contingent of active Mormons -- both gay and straight. Why couldn't we march together and find some way to make it our own unique statement of love for others, and of our commitment to the Gospel?
Anyone else game?