Part 1 – Setting the Stage
Earlier this week I sat and thought about the weekend. Should I march in the Pride Parade? Do I belong there – as a Mormon? I’m not the most active or believing Mormon in the bunch, after all.
Yet I realized, if any Mormon belongs in the Pride Parade – it’s me. First, I think life is all about love. I will stand fiercely for equality, and I have. Second, marching is in my pioneer blood. If my ancestors can march thousands of miles across the wilderness to settle Utah, I can surely brave the wilds of Bart and San Francisco with a Jesus Rainbow sign tucked under my arm.
I sat up late Friday night with huge markers and a blank piece of foam core in hand. What should the sign say? Should I go political? Should I go for entertainment? Why can’t I think up any hilarious slogans? And what should I wear? I’m supposed to wear church dress, but my normal church dress isn’t very churchy. I wish that my clever teenager were home tonight to help make this damn sign.
I settle on a two-sided sign. One side with a rainbow and the phrase, “Jesus said love everyone”, and the other side saying, “Love is my religion.” Rainbows and Bob Marley seem befitting for the occasion. I would have made an extra sign for my son, but he insisted – via text – that he didn’t want one.
Part Two – The Build Up
My son Brandon had been out late at a friend’s graduation party the night before, and he wasn’t stirring. I let him sleep in as long as possible, but if we were going to make it to San Francisco in time for the beginning of the Pride Parade, he had better get in the shower quickly.
I knocked and poked my head into his room and urged him to get moving. He showed hesitancy and was trying to wriggle out of his commitment to go with me.
“Mom”, he said. “I’m not sure I want to go now.”
I don’t have a lot of sympathy for laziness, and the kid really wanted to go a few days before. He’s a member of the gay-straight alliance at his school, he has gay friends, he totally believes in equal rights. I know he believes in the message of pride. “Just get up and get moving”, I offered. “You’ll feel better once you’re there. You love the city.”
“Well,” he said, “It’s just that … I’m not sure that… I’m not sure that I want to go to the Pride Parade with… my Mom.” (Why do teenagers say things like this with such disgust?)
I was super tired too, and before I could edit my thoughts, I just blurted, “Well, I’m not sure that I want to march as… a Mormon. It’s just the right thing to do. It’s important, and I think you’ll be glad later. I have a good feeling about today. You don’t want to miss this.” A few minutes later, I heard the shower start. He was in.
I went downstairs to get ready and I noticed a weird feeling in my stomach. I’ve spent my life as a Mormon, and I’m used to being the odd one out. Being the weird one in a group is no biggie to me. This felt different today though – walking as a Mormon when I’m so disappointed in the church’s dealings with gay members of the church, with Prop 22, Prop 8. The politics of Mormons and Romney and all of it just don’t resonate with me. This weird feeling in the pit of my stomach seemed like more than being different, more than being the odd one out. As I sat with it, the feelings became pretty transparent. I was feeling embarrassment, with a touch of shame.
I thought about how the Pride Parade is all about being proud of who you are, letting your freak flag fly high and not being embarrassed. I realized that I did have a freak flag, and my freak flag was being Mormon. And I was about to wave it high for all to see and “come out” publicly.
Part Three – The Set Up
It was surprisingly calm on the Bart and downtown San Francisco. Brandon and I walked our way to the Mormon meeting spot, and I instantly regretted not bringing the whole family, dog and all. The crowd was friendly and fun and sprinkled with dogs and kids and rainbows. It was a sunny beautiful day and everyone was so – sparkly.
I was instantly comfortable, chatting with friends Laura and Todd Compton and sons, and Carol Lynn Pearson. I got a rousing hug from the amazing blogger Tresa Edmunds, a long time online friend, and several others who I know via the internet. I met new people – some active and devout Mormons, some gay and estranged Mormons, some college students, some children.
This feels familiar, this feels like – family, I thought. I was struck by how much I love Mormons. I can do this – I can be Mormon if it means rubbing elbows with these awesome people.
I met Mike Garcia who is running for San Francisco Supervisor, and he was the first to ask me what would turn out to be the question of the day, “What will the church do when they see you here today? Will they be upset?” My snarky response to him and others who asked the same question was to shrug my shoulders and say, “What could the church possibly do? Tell me to stop loving my neighbor, and quit paraphrasing Jesus?” Surprisingly, the crowd seemed to understand that coming out with a Jesus sign at the pride parade, was not so different than the sixty-five year old man standing next to me wearing nothing but a thong, letting his cottage cheese old ass hang out for the world to see.
I considered the freak flag unfurled and ready to hoist high.
Part Four – Marching Onward
I’m not sure how my son felt about all of it. I had given him my nice camera and asked him to take pictures of everything and everyone so he had a diversion – a job. As we started walking, he gave himself plenty of personal space from me. He looked a bit stoic.
As we rounded the first bend to start the march, we got a big holla from the crowd. We waited to start moving and a fabulous, half-dressed gay man-child started asking us some really smart questions. “What would the church think about you marching here today?” “Oh no”, I thought. “Am I going to have to answer these kinds of questions all day?”
Over and over, we were met with cheers and enthusiasm. My son was repeatedly complimented on his two-bit tie. One woman cried as we walked by. It was clear that the crowd was grateful for our message. Maybe it was a little bit of salve for the gay community to know that there are a handful of Mormons who were not out to harm them?
We walked on and on enjoying it, high-fiving the crowd, waving, smiling. Brandon really seemed happy. About half way through the march, he leaned over and said nonchalantly, “Hey Mom. If your arm is getting tired, I’ll hold that sign for you.” I handed him the sign and he never gave it back. He held it high and smiled the whole rest of the way. The crowd yelled compliments about his tie, and interacted with him and the sign. “Yea… Jesus DID say everyone…!”
As we rounded the last turn of the parade, someone in the crowd grabbed Carol Lynn Pearson in a HUGE embrace. No doubt it was someone who was touched by her work, or who she had helped, or an old friend. It was a fitting end to the parade, and I felt really blessed to witness the impact of all the work that she has done for the LGTB community, and our church. I’m so glad to have had CLP – the heroine of Mormon LGTB community – at the helm of the group.
Part Five – Being Proud
We all dissipated at the end of the parade, and I went looking for food for my starving teenager. We perched ourselves in a beautiful little pizza joint, shared pictures, and chatted.
I told my son I was proud of him, and thanked him for coming with me. We decided that next year we would bring the rest of the family with us, and we both agreed that we weren’t quite theatrical or playful enough this year. Brandon suggested that next year he should pass around candy in sacrament trays, and I suggested that he wear a Jesus costume and carry a sign that says, “I love you.” I mean, if you’re going to carry a freak flag, you might as well wave it high. Right?
While we were eating, I received a short text message from my gay, ex-brother in law who had seen our picture on Facebook, and an enthusiastic message from a gay friend from high school. I thought of them, and all of my other gay Mormon friends. My mind couldn’t help but ponder my gay BYU friend who had plotted his death, and I felt relieved that he had survived. Claiming both Mormon and gay is a rough road, and I was proud of others have been able to come to a place where they have found pride in who they are, and thrive. I thought about how all of them have felt that they had to leave the church in order to find peace within.
I thought of growing up in the church, in the 80’s when Ezra Taft Benson basically struck the word PRIDE out of the Mormon vocabulary for a decade – insisting that pride would be the downfall of us all. Inigo Montoya in the Princess Bride encapsulates my thoughts well, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
If there’s one message I want the LDS church to understand, it’s this:
It’s an important part of our human experience to understand one’s divine nature – to own all of the parts of ones self, to be proud. Not puffed up and ignorant and egoic, but to feel that one is a whole and complete person.
Our gay brothers and sisters ARE NOT BROKEN. They are not afflicted. They are not enduring a trial of this mortal life. They did not choose a life of perversion, nor do they deserve a life of ostracism. It’s not OK to expect gay Mormons to live a life of celibacy because you do not understand their sexuality. It’s time to find a place for them in the church – a place where they can participate fully, live fully, and feel whole and complete. This will safe lives – literally and otherwise.
Finding a place for them in the church might be hard, it might mean pushing the limits of our current perspective and understanding. It might mean radical change of policy or even doctrine. That’s OK – we’re Mormons, we’re great at adapting under harsh conditions. After all, we are pioneers at heart – being adaptable, strong, and brave is in our blood – and for that legacy, I am deeply proud.
by, Carol Lynn Pearson
My people were Mormon pioneers.
Is the blood still good?
They stood by in awe as truth
Flew by like a dove
And dropped a feather in the West.
Where truth flies you follow
If you are a pioneer.
I have searched the skies
And now and then
Another feather has fallen.
I have packed the handcart again
Packed it with the precious things
And thrown away the rest.
I will sing by the fires at night
Out there on uncharted ground
Where I am my own captain of tens
Where I blow the bugle
Bring myself to morning prayer
Map out the miles
And never know when or where
Or if at all
I will finally say,
“This is the place,”
I face the plains
On a good day for walking.
The sun rises
And the mist clears.
I will be alright:
My people were Mormon pioneers.
Thinking about joining me next year? Here are my tips for Marching in the Pride Parade (as a Mormon).