I was looking up some information about past Pride parades in Chicago when I came across an article from 2004 entitled, ‘Jesus’ Went to the Chicago Pride Parade With A Very Important Message. The article included a photo of a man, dressed as Jesus, standing in front of the group of anti-gay protesters which are always found at the end of the parade route. They were holding their signature signs with the all too familiar slogans such as, “God Hates Fags” and “Homo Sex is Sin.” This ‘Jesus’ figure, however, was holding his own sign which read, “I’m not with them!” while sporting a rainbow beaded necklace and a bright smile.
Many who come to watch the parade never see the hate-filled protesters which mark the end of the route. This small but vocal group who gather each year, surrounded by barricades and police, are the complete antithesis of what the parade is all about. But if you march in the parade, you can’t miss them. Their cries of anger and judgement can seem quite alarming the first time you experience them–but you can’t help but note the counter-demonstrators which bear signs of love, joy and laughter and who tend to gather opposite them.
That type of resistance in the face of hate is what the parade is all about. It commemorates the weekend of June 27-29, 1969, when the patrons of the Stonewall Inn bar in Greenwich Village, fed up with police brutality and harassment towards the LGBT community, resolved to fight back. This turning point represented the birth of the modern LGBT-rights movement.
I have attended the Pride parade in Chicago for over a decade and a half, marching in many of them in that time, and I can tell you that, at its best, the parade celebrates diversity, inclusion, unity, and, above all, love.
There are churches which choose to join in the celebrations– flying a rainbow flag, holding special prayer services or even marching in the parades. Our own diocese will have a large group marching this Sunday. Many of them wish to show solidarity with the marginalized, to raise up the vulnerable and open their arms in welcome and love to those whom society still oppresses and judges unequally.
Jesus brought a message of radical inclusion. He reached out to those who were untouchable, he dined with those who were rejected and he blessed those whom society condemned and judged as “the other.” He spoke of a divine love that was available for all people, without condition; a love that brings us into unity with all of creation. Jesus was crucified for his message. Judged and condemned, he was hung on a tree to die. Yet, in the face of seemingly unconquerable death, he rose again and empowered those who also walked in light and love to continue the struggle to bring about heaven on earth, through the same love and forgiveness that he embodied.
Each Pride parade offers another opportunity to gather in celebration of love and perseverance. Each Pride month provides a chance to reflect on how we hold those in our world whom others have cast off, denied dignity or killed with hate. In this uncertain time, one thing remains unchangeable. God’s love for us is unbounded, unearned and unending, and has the power to unite us in peace– if we let it.