Sunday, June 24, 2012

Twin Cities Pride

I never really felt that I had any choice but to try to organize a Mormon contingent to march in Twin Cities Pride this year.  Three hundred fifty LDS marchers in Salt Lake City Pride on June 3, 2012 changed everything for me.  To me that event signaled something seismic in the Mormon collective consciousness.  And I knew I wanted to participate.  I couldn't be at Salt Lake Pride, but I knew I wanted to march in Pride as a Mormon, with other Mormons.

Minneapolis and St. Paul seemed like a really unlikely setting for something like this to happen.  The Minnesota religious landscape is dominated by Lutherans and Catholics.  Mormons are a tiny minority here, and LGBT Mormons a tiny minority within a tiny minority.  But ultimately, we had about thirty marchers, five of whom were gay or lesbian, and the rest of whom were straight supporters.

There were a number of miracles associated with the parade.  The first miracle -- for me -- had to do with who participated: entire families, including mom, dad and young children.  We had a "Primary" contingent within our contingent.  Adorable kids carrying signs like one memorable one adorned with a rainbow and the phrase, "I want to be like Jesus."  Miraculously, the kids made it through an hour of waiting and two hours of marching in the hot summer sun without the least bit of fussing.  It was a no tears march, at least for the kids.

One of the families marching with us included a gay family member.  Mom carried a sign that read: "I love my gay daughter and her girlfriend, and I'm a Mormon."  That sign melted a lot of hearts.  People ran up from the crowd to hug mom and thank her in person.  It was deeply moving to me to see the entire family rallying around this young woman.  A younger sister joined her mom in support by carrying a sign that said, "I love my lesbian sister."  Later, Mom told me tearily, "She was going to march in Pride anyway, on her own.  But when we heard that there was going to be a Mormon contingent, we realized we could all march as a family." I could barely find the words to express how moved I was by this show of support, but Mom countered, "We're her family.  It's our job to support her.  What really mattered to us was that she could see all these other people from our church out here to support her as well."

A sizable portion of our contingent included members of the young single adults ward.  I remember speaking to one of them in the weeks running up to the parade, and she commented how this just wasn't even an issue any more for her generation.  Two of them brought guitars with them to the parade so we could occupy ourselves as we walked by singing hymns like "Come, Come Ye Saints" and "The Spirit of God," and Primary songs like "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam," "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree," and "Families Can Be Together Forever."  The noise of the parade probably drowned out our singing for the vast majority of parade watchers, but it didn't matter.  Those hymns were for us.

Fellow Mormon bloggers Ren and Reuben were there. Ren got held up with a work crisis the night before, and had sent out a disconsolate message in the wee hours of the morning with the disappointing news that it was unlikely she could make it to the parade.  She showed up anyway, a bit bleary eyed for having only gotten about four hours of sleep, but ready to show her support.  She kept pinching me throughout the parade.  "This is just so you'll remember that this is real," she grinned.  It was real.  Though the reality of it didn't totally sink in until I got home a few hours ago.

We got a wonderful response from the crowd.  I knew we would.  Prior to the parade, I had received a glowing email from a member of the Pride committee.  She wrote: "I have had so many people tell me I'm nuts for loving LDS folks after what happened with Prop 8 in California, and I always confidently reply, 'Well, that may be... but that wasn't the LDS people I know and love because they wouldn't be a party to that sort of thing.'...  I'm not a particularly religious person, but I find it heart-warming that there are so many people of faith who get what God's love is purportedly about."

Minnesota Gay Pride attendees are notorious for giving a warm welcome to the groups that are least expected.  So members of conservative religious groups are especially loved.  As we were lining up before the parade, a crowd of "Minnesota Atheists" descended on us.  "Mormon Allies!" they shouted, "Can we get our picture taken with you?"  People would cheer as we passed.  "Mormons!"  I overheard a teenage girl shouting gleefully, "I love the Mormons!"

Some were a bit more skeptical.  My partner, who was marching with us carrying a sign that said, "I [heart] my Mormon husband" got a shout from an African American woman.  "I wanna talk to the Mormon brother."  She kept shouting it until I waved him over there.  She wanted to know what an African American could want to have to do with Mormons.  I guess she ultimately approved of him being there to support his spouse!

But there was a more painful story too.  Inspired by Marni Zollinger's sign in the Portland Mormon Pride contingent, Amelia N., a member of our contingent, decided that she too wanted to carry a sign reading, "Sorry We're Late."  An older man stepped forward out of the crowd to take a picture of her.  Then he approached her, wanting to say something.  He was gay, and had once been a member of the Church.  He told her "I was excommunicated three days after my lover died.  I love you people.  But get the f**k out."

Later, after the parade, as Amelia recounted this incident to other members of the contingent, there was a sense of heaviness, of sadness.  We all agreed.  As wonderful as it was to receive the cheers and the accolades, it was this heartbreaking story that reminded us most why we were there.

We were late.  Far too late.  And "sorry" just doesn't cut it.  Though we still felt we had no choice but to start doing the work.


Shortly before the parade began, our contingent gathered in a circle for a prayer.  I expressed a desire to be the voice.  "I don't usually get to pray with other Mormons," I said -- a consequence of being excommunicated.  Everyone present smiled and nodded approvingly.  So I prayed for safety, for protection from the heat of the sun, for the Spirit to be there with us to help us be an example and a source of hope.  Later Ren hugged me.  "I'm glad you prayed," she said, "It's about time."

Organizing for Pride was a spiritual experience for me.  I had my ups and downs with the whole thing.  There were days when I was ecstatic, and days when I was completely terrified and despondent.  At one of my low points, I heard Christ speaking directly to my mind and heart: "I'll be there."  That experience inspired my "Dear Faithful, Active Mormon Pride Participant" post.  It kept me buoyed up through the following ups and downs.  Whenever I felt discouraged, I remembered: I have an appointment with Christ that I have to keep.

There had been so much to do, so much "stuff" to be done, actually marching in Pride was finally a tender mercy, a grace.  There was nothing more left to do but to be.   To walk.  To sing.  I was so grateful for the hymns.  (Thank you, Ranell and Julia!!)  Sam, the other gay man in the contingent besides me and my husband, was effervescent.  "This is the most spiritual experience I've ever had outside of Church on a Sunday," he exclaimed.  To be there, surrounded by our straight brothers and sisters, the ones who were really willing to put themselves on the line for us, who were willing to risk the skepticism and disrepute that to march in gay Pride of course risks in Mormon circles, for us that was sheer gift.

One of our key organizers wasn't able to be there with us.  Just days before the parade she came down with what at first seemed like a cold, but progressed into something serious enough that she spent this morning in the emergency room.  She wore her "Mormon Allies" t-shirt to the doctor's office, and was following us avidly on Facebook as we posted pictures and quips from the parade.  I was so heartbroken she couldn't be there in body as well as spirit, but it was clear to me what a gift this was to her as well.

Amelia, who had helped with the transportation of parade props, gave me a ride home at the end of the day.  I turned to her to try to thank her, and I just couldn't hold it in any more.  I just broke down weeping.  "You don't know what this means me," I said.

It will take me a while to fully process everything.  It feels historic.  Part me says we'll look back decades from now, and remember 2012 as the year Mormons marched in Pride.  But right now, I just feel exhausted and incredibly grateful.

Thanks everyone, and good night!


Mungagungadin said...

As a straight Mormon ally marching in the Portland event last week, I feel your post with you.

When I realized what Prop 8 was and what we had done, I was heart-broken. Something in me literally throbbed. I couldn't back away from it, and I couldn't heal it. Last week while we marched my two tall sons held the Mormons for Marriage Equality banner and looked just like advertizements for the Mormon church. Because we were at the very front of our entry, the "tip of our spear" my sons and I got the blast of emotion as we approached every foot of the parade route: faces that were happy, fell; faces that were peaceful pulled back in fear - the Mormons were at the parade! A painful asp was our first reaction, with every single person of many thousands. Then, a split second later they would finish *reading* our banner, and take in our people and signs and understand that we were there in support-- complete support. Thank you's were called from all sides, clapping and cheers and whistles of happiness.

But that gasp, that traveled with us like a sonic wave, hurt, because I felt that we were known for giving pain. That we came to give love was hard for some to believe, and that is a terrible thing. But I am happy to report that I have been healed. The whole event was healing in its way, but a gay man spotted my teary eyes and walked up out of the sidelines, and wrapped me in a hug of forgiveness.

I feel better.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

KUATO - What you've said here, and something you said on Facebook reminded me of a spiritual experience I had after the Prop 8 vote.

I remember just feeling heart broken, angry... All that stuff. And the Spirit spoke to me and comforted me, and basically said, "Be of good cheer. Be patient. Be forgiving. We will fix this."

Today I felt like that promise the Spirit made was starting to be fulfilled.

Thank you so much. Much love to you from Minnesota.

Ned said...

I wiping away tears as I type this. Thanks for sharing John. Thanks for persisting and going through the highs and lows. I think you're right. I think we'll all look back on this some day as a time history was made. **big hug**

Lorian said...


Thanks for this.

Neal said...

Thank you for this stirring account. Tears of joy are flowing...

Kevin Barney said...

Thanks for the great report.

Beck said...

This is way cool!

Matthew said...

Totally awesome - this was such a moving report. I am thrilled that everything went so well for you, John!

Anonymous said...

Impressive... after a long day of marching and at the Pride Festival you still had the (physical and mental) energy to put together such a well written blog entry.