Millions of people around the world are celebrating at LGBT Pride parades this month. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and straight folks are dancing on pulsating floats, riding on roaring motorcycles, sharing activist messages, and showcasing their most flamboyant finery. And many, many of these people are religious.
At the heart of most Pride parades in America, you will see religious congregations marching. Jews, Christians, Pagans, Buddhists, and others share in the spirit of the original Stonewall uprising of '69 by proclaiming that they have a right to be who they really are meant to be, which, in our case, is both LGBT and religious. Unfortunately, like many of my sisters and brothers who identify as both LGBT and religious, I find that sometimes I am asked to choose between my identities.
Sadly, many religious organizations continue to hold on to cultural prejudices and lazy scriptural reading and categorically reject the fact that people can be fully religious and LGBT. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a good and timely example. The SBC has been congratulating itself mightily this week for having elected its first African-American president. Formed in 1845 as a breakaway denomination that insisted that slavery was mandated by the Bible, it took them only about 150 years to reverse their thinking on the basic humanity of black folks.
But they were quick to restrict that dignity from being extended to LGBT people. The SBC passed a resolution that states, "It is regrettable that homosexual rights activists and those who are promoting the recognition of 'same-sex marriage' have misappropriated the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement." It is funny that the SBC is now so invested in the civil-rights movement, as it certainly was not supportive when it was happening in the '60s.
And while it is true that the LGBT experience is not identical to that of African Americans, it is also true that these freedom struggles are not mutually exclusive. To begin with, there are LGBT people of color, and furthermore, most of the civil-rights leaders who were actually part of the struggle have come out in support of the equality of LGBT people, including the late Coretta Scott King, Julian Bond, and John Lewis.
The idea that one freedom struggle has to exclude another is caused by either a lack of imagination or the devilish tactic of divide-and-conquer. But even if the Southern Baptist leaders are not ready to embrace LGBT rights, that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of LGBT Southern Baptists. While religious hierarchies continue to pass resolutions and white-knuckle their grip on dogmas that oppress, there are millions of religious LGBT-identified people who continue to worship, volunteer, and practice their faith in spite of it all.
In fact, the progress toward acceptance of LGBT people within religious organizations has been nothing short of miraculous. Several mainstream Christian denominations and the two largest Jewish movements have, to some degree or another, recognized LGBT people as full members of their communities. And movements within Islam, Hinduism, and many other religions are forming or well on their way. This is all within the last 40 years.
At the same time, some of the pressure that religious LGBT people feel comes from within the LGBT community itself, from people who insist that all religion is hostile to LGBT people and that by staying there we are subjecting ourselves to a kind of deluded abuse. This is a horribly patronizing view that ignores the diversity of cultures, religions, and experiences within the LGBT community.
For many of us, our religious tradition and spiritual practice are an essential part of our lives. My partner and I attend an Episcopalian church most Sundays. We spend time next to one another in silent reflection and prayer, enjoying the beautiful music and space of our small church and taking part in the powerful experience of the liturgy. In our church we find LGBT and straight people in the pews and on the altar. In the church we feel connected to the deep tradition that stretches out behind us, and to the call of God, which moves the church, and us, forward.
This Sunday I won't be at the Pride parade in New York. Instead, I will be attending the church that nurtured me when I was young in Madison, Wis. They have graciously asked me to say a few words to the congregation about my life in the 30 years since I left. I plan to tell them how grateful I am to my parents for taking me and my siblings to that mainline Presbyterian church that instilled in me a sense of responsibility to my neighbor and gave me the joy of a loving community and an abiding sense of the love of God in my life. I look forward to saying the Lord's Prayer next to the current congregation in the place that taught me how to pray.
It is the best way I know to celebrate Gay Pride Sunday.