This was my first pride parade, and I was not in the best of moods about being in a gay parade. I anticipated an unfavorable reception from the crowd, or at best, only some support. I did not expect what happened; the crowd was wildly supportive and very emotional. Instead of “boo’s” or negative shouting the exact opposite happened. I was overwhelmed with joy. The church universal has sinned against the gays to the point that persons are asked to leave (silently or openly) from churches. The church universal seems to have developed a harshly negative connotation to gay with vehement opposition. I did not attend because I was a supporter, but because I was asked to represent my church. Now I may be radical enough to call myself a supporter. I say radical since other than gays themselves, I never hear people say or show through their actions that they support gays; I can count those people on my hands.
The next day when I realized that I had been in the parade, emotions of compassion emerged. I became broken while reading Wesley’s prayer; “put me with whom you will” came alive. I saw that I would have had nothing to do with this movement and stayed in my comfort zone if I had not been led by the Holy Spirit to bear the banner of the United Methodist Church to live out “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” I can open my heart and mind to the people of the lower ninth ward in New Orleans during a mission trip, or to the homeless who attend Open Door on Saturday mornings, or to my small collection of gay friends from classes or former churches. But in those cases I put myself with whom I will. Supporting the gay community with my presence in the parade was shocking for me when I realized the next day I really did go and how significant presence is. I know too few people who support gays with their presence. Most seem to offer only words (or silence which is often viewed as better than negative statements). I was one of them. Several gay friends from school were moved by my participation in the parade and have stopped saying God hates gays.
In many ways I am still processing the event and its meaning as I recall the many people who shook my hand, shouted gleefully, and the exceeding joy I felt at the exuberant reception as I carried the banner of the cross and flame. I felt the Holy Spirit at the gay pride parade, of all places. It wasn’t a church sanctuary, a mission project in hurricane ravaged New Orleans, a soup kitchen of a church, but gay pride parade in my own community. For me it was risk-taking mission and love beyond boundaries and opening my heart and mind as I hope we showed them that the doors of the church are open to them.
I am still learning how to speak this witness as it covers very turbulent ground in American society, harsher acceptance in churches, and shock by my most liberal and open minded friends, Christian or secular. My support is more than words now, it is supportive actions.