My former discomfort with Pride is probably most people’s current discomfort with Pride. The SEX. The DRINKING. The CRAZINESS. But then again, I only knew of Pride from what I had seen from afar and watched on the news and heard in scathing conversations about how “showy” it is and how “shameless” the people were (if they called them people), so when I went to my first Pride last year in Chicago, I was humbled. The cartoon gave way to the real thing and I watched a beautiful, joyful, rambunctious procession of drag queens and churches and families, children waving from their dads and moms shoulders, organizations supporting their employees, the veterans. I watched Pride with new eyes. And my heart was changed by it.
Justin Lee wrote a fantastic piece on Pride last year that I would like to echo here. He talked about how many Christians will point out that Pride is a sin and how the whole thing appears to be a kind of worship to the self. Not the whole story.
Especially not for those of us growing up in evangelical Christianity. Pride stands in opposition to the Shame we’ve known all too well. The shame we internalized. Drowned in. Barely survived through. Pride is a kind of reclaiming of the ground Shame took. It’s a once a year celebration where we fight back against the voices of our past, even our own. Where we say, I am human and I am free and I am worthy of love.
Another thing to consider is the historical origins of Pride, which I am ashamed I did not know more about. But then again, my school years didn’t include it and that’s probably because we’ve sort of erased LGBTQ people right out of those history books.
In the wave of the Red Scare following World War II, much of America wanted to cling to the old social order and push back against any movement to change. On the Federal Government’s blacklist were the “homosexuals”, leading to mass discharges from the military and hundreds fired from government jobs, all because they were “suspected” of being gay.
When I was in Chicago, I spoke to one elderly gay man who said that whenever him and his friends went out, there’d be a cop waiting outside the bar door, taking IDs and writing down names on a clipboard. It was a time to be paranoid.
In the fifties well-known gay people were listed and followed by the federal government. Sweeps were conducted on gay establishments, which were then shut down. Wearing gender-nonconforming clothing was against the law. University professors were fired. In this stigmatized age, thousands of people were humiliated, assaulted, and pushed out of their professional communities and families.
And no one did a thing. No one could do anything. It was the law. It was the culture. It was just the way things were.
Until late June of 1969 when police went to sweep the Stonewall Inn and found themselves on the frontlines of a community that had had enough. The Stonewall riots were the most monumental moment in the gay liberation movement. It is the event that is commemorated at the end of June with the Pride Parade.
What I love about this story is its’ characters, too. The Stonewall Inn, an establishment owned by the mafia, served the lowest of the low in the gay community, the poorest of the poor. Drag Queens and male prostitutes, homeless youth and the first buddings of the transgender movement. In a world that had shoved them out, threatened them with violence and their paycheck and their housing and their military honors, this was a small place of warmth. Fellowship. Pride.
And it was this band of rag-tag, have-nots that stood up the empire and changed the lives of LGBTQ people everywhere.
And that is what this is all about. Not forgetting and finding your people. Learning that we are all welcome here. That we belong to one another. No matter who you are. Where you come from. We are family.
I know it is easy to chalk it up to a big ole sex romp (and in many ways, I get that view) but that isn’t the heart of it. The heart of it is something deeper. Something so beautiful.