When I was a young parent, the beach we frequented hosted a Pride Festival once a year. On that day we would go to a different beach. I can’t remember all that we were afraid of, but the answer is probably somewhere close to everything. We didn’t know what our young child might be exposed to, so it was avoided. (To be fair, it also wrecked the parking)
As that very child came of age, the ineffectiveness of protectiveness was revealed. She is attracted to other women, and covering her young eyes would not change that. And so, twenty years later, I found myself volunteering alongside her at that very same Pride Festival. How did I get over myself?
I had unconsciously built up a characterization of what being gay was like, with very few relationships to tell me otherwise. I had some rough sketch of people choosing their orientation, living a wild gay lifestyle, thumbing their nose at God, and infiltrating public classrooms with their gay agenda. I figured a Pride festival probably combined all these into a sinful soup served with a spoonful of defiance.
I was wrong about all that, but I would have to get uncomfortable to figure it out.
I walked alone into the Pacific Pride Foundation for a training session earlier in the week. I don’t know what I expected, but it was a regular conference room in a new office downtown. I sat in the backrow behind a dozen people, 10 of which had dyed at least some of their hair blue. My introverted-self imagined the organizer pointing me out, asking me to say something: everyone would turn around and in one side-eyed glance just know that I was straight. Their gaydar would intuit that I was a straight white male — the seeming enemy of the moment — and I would be cast out. I thought about feeling uncomfortable, but decided against it. Surely they would know that I am also an ally, and that might that offset my other two adjectives? I also decided that if I did feel out of place, then it was only fair that I should, for one moment, be in the minority.
I needn’t have worried of course, we were soon shaking hands, picking out t-shirts and dividing up the work over pizza. But the real test would come Saturday at the festival.
Arriving early on a foggy day, we signed in. We were quickly swept into all the setup required to host hundreds of people in a park. Over the next four hours we chatted over clipboards and moving dollies. We checked in over 50 businesses, churches, nonprofits, and food trucks. Having a job helped, and it felt like so many other school and church events. Pretty soon we were setting up the rainbow balloon arch over the entrance to signify the day was ready.
Being at vendor check-in gave me lots of conversational opportunity. When PFLAG volunteers arrived, I walked them to their booth so I could learn more about how parents can get support. I confessed I’d looked at their website a couple years earlier, but didn’t have the guts to go into a support meeting. Now I knew two people and was personally invited. Then an old acquaintance came, clearly stunned that I was there sporting a “With Pride we Rise” volunteer shirt. I walked with him and shared some history. He had his own story, and we agreed to meet in the coming weeks to talk more about how his church had gracefully considered his journey. Another volunteer and I stumbled onto conversations about our adult kids’ coming out. We laughed about the awkwardness with which we are learning to use “they” pronouns.
There were so many young people helping and attending, and in their eyes I saw questions familiar to all young people. Instead of an agenda, I sensed some trepidation. I may have imagined too much, but seeing their eyes look down at my outstretched handshake, my pastoral heart heard, “Will you love me anyway?” I thought back to the prior year’s festival when we’d tried to attend. My daughter’s own anxiety had mirrored my own, about the public nature of such a walk. (Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special has a hilarious bit refuting the notion that all LGBTQ people must be flamboyant extroverts, given the parades)
As if seeking to answer those insecurities, an interfaith alliance held a “Love. Period.” service of sorts from the main stage. Knowing several clergy involved, I learned there would be a “glitter blessing.” Anyone could come for prayer or a glitter anointing. (!, right?) One told me of the tension in his denomination for him to serve at this event. He was not speaking from the stage, but along the edges serving, praying, and listening.
As someone who has been in the church my entire life, I was surprised to feel right at home every moment of that day. If anyone knows about volunteering, it’s church people. Volunteering feels natural after so many camps and retreats: wiping down tables, unloading cars, and handling whatever comes up.
But it was deeper than that, and I felt more than just comfortable: I was moved. The park was filled with people — real people — with joys and anxieties, with secrets and now freedoms. And I had ignored them for years. I had assumed they were so different from me, what with their supposed gay agenda and wild lifestyle. How had I missed this?
And here I was, my heart filled with love from guess who — that God of Love that I’d worshipped for decades. And now it was spilling over. Where — or from Whom — did I get the idea of shedding my shiny religiosity to go hang out with those whom religion has excluded, to simply share Love? And the question on its heels is, why did it take me so long?
The park was filled with people — real people — with joys and anxieties, with secrets and now freedoms.
It wasn’t just Love flowing through me either — it was TO me. I needed the support being offered there. I needed to hear more people’s stories, and know that my daughter wasn’t alone. And I needed to talk with other parents who’d been brought into the story.
Much of what I had to fear that day and others was melting. I considered how much work it took my daughter and others to shake off the shame, come true to themselves, and thrive in this sometimes binary world.
And I was glad for the Pride Festival. I have a long way to go, but first steps always seem to involve moving from comfort to discomfort. If I do that enough, I might just get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and that seems like a moment Love can really move through me.
♦ weekendswell ♦
This article was originally published at The Ascent, a Medium Publication
You may also like my article, The Haircut : “When my daughter came home from college this year in boyish clothes, she asked me to cut her hair. Short.”
You may also like Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special. It’s funny, rough, and poignant, but be warned, as it crosses the halfway mark, it may convict you like a solid sermon.
If you think reading this might help the parent of an LGBTQ person you know, please forward and invite them to reach out to me.