It was the only clear day that week. The late spring rain had made the air smell sweet. I grabbed the rainbow flag off my front door, the matching T-shirt all my friends would be wearing, and put on sunscreen. My boyfriend arrived in his sparkle sweater. I tasted like nerves and strong coffee. Marching in your first Pride is a big deal, it’s a rite of passage.
The crowds were three-people-deep along the route. Drumming from a Brazilian marching band echoed off the buildings. As we walked up to our group’s meeting spot, I noticed my friend Josh toting a wagon with large speakers. He’d gone great lengths to find a battery large enough to power them. Josh explained that the key to a solid Pride showing is good music. Pastor Adam warned us about our playlist though. He said, “We aren’t going to be that group just playing “Born This Way”. As you could imagine, “Born This Way” is overplayed at Pride.
Pride is an important day for my church friends. It’s a time to embody our belief that the good news is for all people. It is also a time to reckon with our past. The organization that once funded our tiny church stopped sending us money when they found out the all in our “All Means All” motto included LGBT people like me.
We are far from the only church who participates, but we are unique in our Evangelical roots. The signs we held said things like, “Equality”, “Inclusion”, and “Love Wins”. Reactions from the crowd ranged from disinterest to applause to tears. It’s a funny feeling just walking by and having people cheer for you. Pride is peculiar that way. Parades aren’t usually held simply for who you are. They are mostly for things you do, like qualifying for the Olympics or becoming a firefighter.
As our turn came to begin the march down Burnside street, we unfurled our ribbon wands and marched into the sun as the temperature hit 80-degrees. Almost immediately our ribbon wands became tangled and knotted. As we chanted and walked through the smiling crowd, I noticed something: There are so many supportive people in the world. LGBT people and our allies come in every size, shape, and color. Pride is so much fun.
But Pride wasn’t always this way. The first Pride was as a riot.
The Academy Award-winning film Milk begins with a sequence from the 1960’s that haunts me. It’s grainy, black and white archival footage of the police leading people out of a gay bar, into a paddy wagon. The camera lingers on people covering their faces. These images would end up in the paper and on television the next day. The outed people would likely lose their jobs and their families.
Patrons at a New York City bar popular with marginalized folks like these resisted a police raid on June 28th, 1969. They weren’t the first to protest, but they were the loudest. That night, they vastly outnumbered the police. The cops actually barricaded themselves inside the bar at one point. Drag queens, transgender people, and people of color led what is now known as the birth of the modern LGBT rights movement. The riot lasted three days.
In the Church world, somewhere around this time, a little asterisk was born. It affixed itself to the “All Are Welcome” messages on changeable letter church signs all over the country. There were a lot of groups not welcome in churches at the time, and this new brightly colored punctuation mark was us church people adding one more.
When I told my father I had marched in the Portland pride parade with my church friends, his first question was, “Were there any protesters?” He watches the news. He knows being out and a person of faith is still a radical act.
As I spoke to him, I remembered something wonderful that happened at about the midpoint of our march. The announcer at a popular queer nightclub along the route thought our name was “All Means All Church”. That’s not a bad Church name. It’s probably too ambitious for us at the moment with all the groups I’m sure still feel unwelcome, but it’s a start.
Pride went by so fast. Before I realized it, we were done. We dissipated into Tom McCall Waterfront Park at the end of the route and snapped a group photo. The feeling of support stuck with me all day though. As my friend Tom the Mystic describes it, “Pride feels like the whole city giving you a big hug.” Tom is right. That’s good news for people who’ve been excluded by the asterisk: You deserve a parade.
So, how do we faithfully & inclusively do church? And be church? And walk with Jesus as believers on the way? We have some good news — it’s not only possible, it’s what God’s dream is for our world.
Join us for this special event with the Gay Christian Network as we lean into God’s radical, inclusive love for all of us. #LoveWins
John Pfeil is a new writer who pays the bills answering phones all over town through a staffing agency. Call up one of Portland's finest companies and you just might catch him!