OK, so I am drawn to what is controversial. I want to be there, to see for myself, to make my own judgments. If an event divides decent people into sides that condemn each other, I want to understand both perspectives from their own voices. When presented with the newest fad in teaching, I cautiously weigh it against my 25-year collection of fads and pick and choose what will best prepare my students for life outside the classroom. When confronted with Biblical arguments, I am not satisfied to be told what the Bible says. I carefully read it cover to cover, taking lots of notes and recording many questions; and even attain a master’s degree in ministry. When I study other religions, I’m not satisfied to learn about them from the biased perspective of my own religion, but I want to hear directly from a real Mormon, a real Muslim, a real Jehovah’s Witness, and if possible, visit their worship centers. I wonder if I’m the only Baptist to have ever spent an afternoon in Salisbury’s regional training center for JWs. Fascinating really.
Still, as an introvert who is quite uncomfortable going alone to somewhere new, I probably would never have walked into a Pride event (or any other community event) without having some “job” to do there. I tend to back out at the last minute otherwise. So I volunteered to work the PFLAG* table for a couple of hours, donned my “God loves us all” button, and off I went. As an aside here, if you have read many of my writings, you know that I have come to adamantly believe the Church’s teachings on homosexuality are misguided, although having spent 49 years as an active Southern Baptist, I have struggled, studied, prayed, and listened firsthand to hundreds of personal stories to get to where I am.
Now, having never attended such an event in any other city, I am no Pride expert, and I offer the following observations as just that, observations. Impressions of my personal experience as recorded through my own tinted glasses. (We all observe the world through our own experiences, our own religious and academic teachings, our own biases, and we all grow by taking those glasses off once in a while and looking directly at them.)
First, here’s what I didn’t see. I saw nothing that alluded to sex, except for one young man’s T-shirt. I saw no lewd behavior. I saw no nudity, actually even less nudity, despite the almost 90-degree temperatures, than I see every day in my college classes. I did see one other T-shirt that I don’t think I’d ever see in a Baptist church, and there was one teenage girl wearing an attention-getting but body-covering black outfit, like maybe a biker would wear? As she walked around holding her boyfriend’s hand in the high temps, I imagine she questioned her own choice of attire.
What I did see:
1) I saw face-painting, balloon sculpture, art displays, a drum circle, a rollerblade team, food/drink/ice cream venders, information and/or freebies provided by a local grocery giant, a local medical provider, a local political party, two churches, a local animal shelter or two (with adoptable pets I think), even a gourmet doggie treats vender. I saw a center stage from which speeches were made by leaders of Equality NC, PFLAG*, etc., and local dancers, musicians, and drag queens entertained the crowd. If you’re from this area, by the way, and have never heard the Ashley Jo Farmer Band, watch for an opportunity!
Related by Ian Ebright It is Time for the American Christian Church to Surrender the Gay Marriage Fight, Apologize & Share Love
2) I saw families. Gay teens walking around with their parents. Straight couples with small children in strollers. A couple of people separately walking their dogs. Gay adults sharing the event with a parent or a sibling. Gay couples. Straight couples. Friends. I saw a lot of laughter, happy greetings, and hugs.
It was a family-friendly atmosphere, and most of what I observed could very well have been a county fair or any other community gathering. I noted, however, three observations that distinguished it as a gay pride event:
3) There was a lot of rainbow-colored attire – shirts, jewelry, headwear, I saw 2 people wearing rainbow colored tights . . .
4) I saw 2 or 3 drag queens who were a part of the entertainment, one acting as the event emcee. I admit I don’t quite get drag queens, but they are an entrenched part of the gay culture, an art form of sorts perhaps, and probably we all have to admit if we’re honest that we have enjoyed drag queens at some time. Look at the success of womanless weddings and womanless beauty pageants in any local community. Look at the success of the Madea movies, or Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire. Even as a young child I remember loving Flip Wilson when he was in his Geraldine character.
5) The biggest indicator that this was not just any other event, however, was not inside the event, but the religious protesters outside the gates. Just a handful of them and mostly ignored, but they held up their Bibles and their protest signs and shouted warnings and damnations to hell for all who were there. It was easy to walk by them without even acknowledging them, but you might guess that I didn’t. I attempted to engage three different ones in dialogue, as if it could have possibly made any difference. I wanted to tell them that they were not turning people toward the Gospel but away from it, giving them a distaste for church people in general for preaching something those who are gay know to be wrong. But the protesters had no ears, only mouths. They seemed to be “professional” protesters, all from out of town, traveling from one Pride event to another, well practiced in their responses, most refusing to give the name of their church, where they’re from, etc. One did tell me he was from Taylorsville, and the only female I saw told me she was married to the man who couldn’t even have a conversation with me, with no one else around, without shouting Ezekiel verses at the top of his voice as if he were a robotic foghorn. They were from no particular denomination, they said. All three told me I was going to hell for supporting such a sinful event. The woman said God revealed that to her. I told her that she has been deceived, and that I was glad my destiny did not depend on what she thought.
Her comment reminded me of the four men when I was in seminary, who told me, separately of course, that God had told them that they would marry me. I jokingly say that was when I learned God was a polygamist. I told them all that when God told me the same thing, we’d get married. Or the time I was serving on a pastor search committee and one of the committee members was ready to hire an applicant because the applicant said God told him we were supposed to hire him. We Christians put so many words into God’s mouth. It’s like a power tool. Ministers use it. We use it. What a dangerous disservice to God.
Church people, are you listening? Is it enough for you to continue oppressing 1 in every 15 people you meet, because your church leaders have repeatedly quoted to you that homosexuality is an abomination? Have they also told you that, according to the same Bible, eating shrimp is an abomination, and would they reward you for warning everyone heading into Blue Bay Seafood that God loves the sinner but hates the sin and that they are all destined for hell? (Surely you would not eat in such a place yourself!) Have they also told you that it’s a sin for women to adorn themselves with gold and pearls, and would they applaud you for protesting in front of Kay Jewelers at the mall?
Please hear me, my brothers and sisters. God created us as thinking beings. Please don’t accept everything you are told, even by someone in a trusted position. Do your own thinking. Ask your own questions. Have coffee with someone whose views are the opposite of yours, and listen closely to his story, closely enough to hear his unspoken pain. Go home and pray alone, just you and God, not for an immediate miracle answer, but with openness to hear however God might speak over the rest of your lifetime. Oppressed people are hurting. Allow God to work in you.
*PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is a support organization for anyone who has a gay loved one. (That would be all of us. Some just don’t don’t know it.) Check for a chapter near you, and be brave enough to step that first time into a meeting.
Kathy Vestal is a college educator in Salisbury, NC. She has a Master’s of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master’s of Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. An avid writer, gifted teacher, and occasional public speaker/preacher, her passions include civil rights, social justice, church reform, and education. She has traveled to Mexico, Honduras, Argentina, Ecuador, and The Gambia, Africa, and enjoys reading, nature, and history.