Well, I went to the Utah Pride Festival this weekend. I had never been before; I was always too scared – what if someone saw me? What would they think? What if they told my mother? And so on and so forth.
This year, however, was different for many reasons. Fortunately, I was pushed a little bit out of my comfort zone because my employer was a sponsor of the event which spurred me to make an appearance and sign up to volunteer. Beyond sharing five hours of my Saturday evening as a cashier, I decided to walk in the parade Sunday morning with Mormons Building Bridges (for media coverage of the group, check out the Deseret News, the LA Times, or CBS - or you could Google it ).
Honestly, words cannot describe the range of emotions I felt this weekend. My feelings literally ranged from the depths of pain and despair all the way to elation and pure gratitude. I don’t think I’ve been such a total train wreck since my Mormon mission and that’s saying something!
The highlight of the event was definitely walking in the parade with more than three hundred members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The group’s organizers, Mormons Building Bridges, were a little bit reticent about how we would be received and asked us to stay away from confrontation. And, if anyone attempted to start an argument or challenge our motives, we were asked to just do what Mormons do best: “smile and say a silent blessing for our accusers.”
As we began our march through downtown Salt Lake City, it was immediately evident, however, that we would not encounter any type of opposition. In fact, from the moment we started walking, the cheers and applause from the spectators were overwhelming and I immediately became a hot mess.
Every person I saw in the crowds lining the street was either yelling their love and gratitude for us while giving us a standing ovation OR they were openly weeping while mouthing over and over again, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
By the time we got to the parade’s judges booth, the Master of Ceremonies was also weeping and repeatedly thanked the members of the church for their love and support.
“Look what you guys are doing to me,” she said as a primary-age child with a sign that read ‘Love Everyone’ gave her a hug. “I haven’t cried in years! I’m supposed to be a mean, old dyke.”
Similarly, as we were walking, I saw an acquaintance of mine who is openly gay walking in the group with his 80-something-year-old grandmother. His granny is a temple worker in the Salt Lake Temple and she lovingly linked elbows with her gay grandson and waved and blew kisses to the people in the crowd. That, ladies and gentlemen, is charity.
As we made our way through the crowded streets of the city I love and grew up in, I felt a sense of love, peace, and gratitude I haven’t felt in years. I was in tears for most of the parade as I saw and felt the gratitude of my openly gay brothers and sisters who have the courage to live their lives authentically for themselves, no matter what the cost. I love and respect them in so many ways.
Similarly, I felt the love and compassion of the LDS members I walked with in support of a group of God’s children who are openly shunned and often betrayed by the church(es) they once loved and gave everything to.
My words do no justice to this beautiful experience and unless you were there, seeing the overwhelming gratitude of the people watching the parade, I don’t think you can fully understand the tremendous impact this experience has made on my life and on the lives of many of my brothers and sisters.
Over the last several months I have been publicly and privately condemned for my support of equal rights for gays and lesbians. I have been told that God and His laws are black and white. I have been given pictures of Christ, books written by modern-day (Mormon) prophets and apostles, and I’ve had scriptures quoted at me left and right.
To those who condemn me, I say merely this: I love you and I understand where you are coming from. There was once a time when I thought the world was black and white, too. That was until I realized this life is truly a technicolor rainbow.
There’s a reason the LGBT community is represented by a rainbow flag. It’s a beautiful representation of the diversity of the world in which we live. It is truly my greatest hope that we remember that the Bible teaches we are all created in God’s image and it doesn’t matter whether you are straight or gay, black or white, male or female.
As soon as we remember the infinite worth of all God’s children, the sooner we can learn to “love our neighbors as [ourselves].”