Stop the World, I Want To Get Off … at Pride

A mosaic made by Pride participants

Breathing is hard this morning. My heart lies heavy in my chest and tears well in my eyes. I feel immobilized by hurricanes, earthquakes, and the unimaginable devastation left in their wake. I am horrified at the looming threat of nuclear war. I am disgusted by the senseless pain caused by hatred, bigotry, and ignorance. I weep for the thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people around the world driven into refugee camps and immigrant detention centers. I grieve for young girls forced into sexual slavery and people shot on a Sunday morning in a Tennessee church. I fume over health care debates, inequitable school funding, mass incarceration, and hunger in my own community. Add to that, concern for aging relatives, family members and friends with health problems, and the mulberry tree in the back yard invaded by tent worms, and I am not feeling very hopeful today.

I am reminded of the early 1960’s musical, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.” Get me off this planet intent on devouring itself with hatred and division. Let me fly unfettered as a leaf freed from a tree by a gentle autumn breeze. Take me to a land of plenty filled with kindness and compassion, equity and generosity, respect and reverence. Take me to a land of peace where disputes are solved with jello-rolling contests, and laughter and joy ricochet off the hillsides, where the only floods saturate the ground with sparkles and starlight and the only grieving is for ice-cream that has fallen off a cone onto the ground.

I see this world sometimes. It is as real to me some days as the horror is on days like today. I can see it when a monarch lights on our butterfly bush, when a neighbor shares greetings over the backyard fence, when my wife greets me with a kiss at the end of the day.

I saw it this weekend at the Virginia Pride Festival on Brown’s Island in Richmond. Thousands of people of all ages, races, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations, and gender identities came together on Saturday to laugh, play, and dance together in the fullness of who we are — unrestricted, unencumbered, unified – for one delightful day.

Overview of Pride Festival
2017 Virginia Pride Festival, Brown’s Island, Richmond, VA

LGBTQ Pride celebrations haven’t always been like that. In the first Pride march I attended in the late 1970s in Boston, some people wore paper bags over their heads to conceal their identities for fear of losing their jobs and their families. Determined to march, they exposed their bodies but not their faces to a hostile world.

At that and other marches over the years, counter-protestors yelled obscenities, damned us to hellfire, and threatened our very lives. We were told we were sinners, mentally ill, diseased, a plague. That still happens in some parts of the world, and, even in some parts of this country, despite how far we have come.

But for the first time this Saturday, in all my years of attending Pride, I did not see one person standing in opposition. I didn’t see one banner condemning us to hell.  I didn’t hear a single person with a megaphone misconstruing the word of God and berating my life and the lives of those I love in the process.

Instead, this year, I saw children running freely with rainbows painted and smiles plastered on their faces. I witnessed white, African American, and Latinx people holding hands, laughing, and talking together, running to hug each other, and sharing food and hula-hoops with equal abandon.

I admired young six-foot, four-inch women with slinky skirts and fishnet hose strolling side-by-side with short-cropped, gray-haired women wearing boots on their feet, ball caps on their heads, and key chains hanging from their belts. I met a food-truck worker elated by the steady stream of customers waiting to be served and a local police officer who expressed how honored he felt to be there.

I saw our society’s most conservative institutions, insurance Richmond Business Alliance brochurecompanies, banks, grocery stores, realtors, and even Amtrak vie for customers who defy convention, who break the rules, who live and love without regard to society’s expectations. I saw entrepreneurs, street vendors, and retailers willing to accept our money and cater to our needs. I saw churches, synagogues, and other faith communities, who used to condemn us as sinners, reach out to us in love and acceptance.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that there wasn’t discord among some of the people who attended Pride on Saturday. I know people there said and did mean things – cutting things – things that would scar even the most hardened souls. I know that somebody’s phone was probably stolen, or car broken into, or heart broken.

But I had a choice to see those things or to see – and remember – the pervasive love that overflowed that island paradise for a single September day.

I can choose to focus on the devastation that permeates my news feeds or I can put myself to work making Beloved Community real, not just for one day of the year, in one city, but every day, in every place, around the world.

As long I remember that all I can do is what I can do, as long as I don’t let hurricanes of negativity flood me with despair, what I can do matters.

Every thing of beauty I grow in my garden, every meal I share with my beloved, every laugh, every song, every generous gesture matters. We cannot give those things up out of a sense of guilt or obligation and expect the world to change. The world changes right here, right now, in this moment, in this place, in this time when I extend myself in love, when I reach for understanding, when I bring joy to the lives of those around me.

I didn’t plan to write about Pride today. Quite frankly, I didn’t know where this post would go when I started writing. I only knew that I could feel the grip of hopelessness bear down on me. The fact that even in those moments when I want to stop the world and jump off into another reality I am grounded in a vision of Beloved Community, a community I have witnessed only a few times in my life, is comforting and reassuring to me. I hope it is to you, too.

Now, it’s time for me to research where the best place is to donate to the people of Puerto Rico. What are you doing today to hold onto hope?

Pride: then and now

We can do it on Rainbow flag

Two years ago this week, I was scheduled for an afternoon flight from Boston to my home in Richmond, VA. I was anxious to get home, but had to wait another day for my flight.

Much to my delight, I discovered it was Boston Pride weekend. I could go to the Pride parade on and still make my flight. I love photographing parades. I love all the colors and smiles, the marching bands, and the glad-handing politicians. As a lesbian, I especially love Pride parades.

The last time I had been to a Boston Pride parade was in 1981, just as I was finishing my social work program at Boston University — more than thirty years earlier. I was excited to see how the parade had changed and what it would be like in a Boston where marriage equality had been the law for almost ten years. So early Saturday morning, I grabbed my camera and headed down the street to secure a great spot at the corner of Beacon and Arlington Streets.

When I first heard the thunder of the motorcycles, I was transported back to the late 1970s when I saw Dykes on Bikes leading the parade for the first time. That was a scarier time. A time when those who road and marched risked everything, if they had anything left to risk. Some people wore masks to maintain their anonymity. Others, like Dykes on Bikes, roared in defiance – proud and strong lesbians daring to be out front.

Before the last motorcycle passed, I was jarred back to the present, and maybe, for some parts of the country, into the future. Behind the Dykes on Bikes, stepped a group of Montessori children, then parents with babies in strollers, followed by the Boston Police, and the Mayor’s Office!

Students from a Catholic college marched alongside a Jewish group. A female Episcopal bishop road atop in a bright red convertible proceeded by a group of Episcopal priests in purple robes swinging incense and brandishing signs that read, “Non-judgment day is coming,” and “Blessed are the fabulous.”

Boston Pride 2013And, yes, the UUs were there standing on the side of love. I spotted the unmistakable SSL yellow and I knew my people were coming up the street. The Mass Bay and Clara Barton Districts marched with congregations from all over the Greater Boston area.

However, I longed for something more than just banners. I wanted a way for our long history with LGBTQ Equity to be more apparent, for better ways to outreach to people there so they knew they might find a spiritual home with us. I want better ways to communicate our important historical milestones, like when in 1970, just one year after the genesis of Pride celebrations, the Stonewall Rebellion, UUs passed a resolution calling for the end to all discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals, and that ten years later, in 1979, a UU congregation called its first openly gay minister. Or, how UU congregations passed the first resolution in support of same-sex unions almost thirty years earlier, in 1984, back in the day when onlookers to the Pride parade feared losing their jobs, their families – or even their lives. Although many of these same concerns are real today, especially violence against trans women of color, many more LGBTQ people can come out at work and to their families without the same fears of reprisal.

Unitarian Universalists have played a leading role in the transformation I witnessed that day between the 1981 and 2013 Pride parades. We have welcomed LGBTQ people into our congregations and into our ministry when almost no other faith community would. We have witnessed one-on-one to our families, friends, co-workers, and strangers on the street to change hearts and minds, and have performed countless other actions to prove that our stated affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of all people, truly means ALL. And yet, I know through my work hearing from people all over the country with the Multicultural Ministries Sharing Project, there is still much work to be done, even within our congregations that have been “Welcoming” for so long.

Sometime this month, it is conceivable that same-sex marriage will be declared a constitutional right for all Americans. It is expected that the United States Supreme Court will announce their ruling on one of the remaining Mondays in June. All indications point to a positive ruling. However, other, narrower decisions are possible. Whatever the outcome on marriage equality, we have to remember that it doesn’t mean our work is done.

Continued violence directed toward LGBTQ people and persecution by faith communities, employers, landlords, and government takes an emotional toll and promulgates a system of injustice and economic insecurity. This must change before same-sex marriage can begin to fulfill its promise. As long as LGBTQ people can get fired, landlords can discriminate, families can throw their LGBTQ children out on the streets to fend for themselves, and LGBTQ people can be violently attacked and murdered for who they are, there is no equality.

LGBTQ people want to know that our faith communities are working for justice. We want to know that we can live in safety. We want to know that our lives are important and that we matter. Only when every one of us has the freedom to live freely and openly will we achieve equity.

If the Supreme Court rules that we all have a constitutional right to marriage, it will be a time to celebrate. Every individual, every congregation who has worked to support this right deserves a time to dance in the streets. Make it visible so that your community knows the important role your faith has played in bringing to this day.

Then, when the celebration is done, we need to get back to work to assure that every person, regardless of their desire or opportunity to marry, is afforded full equity under the law.

Watch for an announcement later this week about how your congregation can participate with other congregations across the country in celebrating or, possibly mourning, the Supreme Court’s decision. In the meantime, I encourage you to think about how we can better show up as the Love People, not only in Pride celebrations, but every time we stand on the side of love. What are the most effective ways to communicate our values?

(Originally published on Standing on the Side of Love on June 6, 2015).