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Rev. Susan Russell Headshot

Of Rose Parades and Dreams Coming True

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AIDS Healthcare Foundation
AIDS Healthcare Foundation

It was a February afternoon in 2004. I was minding my own business working away at All Saints Church as the Executive Director of Claiming the Blessing -- the Episcopal Church initiative committed to LGBT inclusion -- when the phone rang in my little corner cubicle.

It was a reporter from the Pasadena Star-News who wanted to know if we -- "the gay lobby" -- had any comment on the news that the Rose Parade had just announced that their theme for the 2005 parade was "Celebrate Family."

I said something like we thought family was a great thing to celebrate just as long as we remembered to celebrate that some of our families had two moms and apple pie. I remember thinking that was kind of clever for an out of the blue response to an out of left field question and was happy the quote made it into the local news story.

The next thing I knew, I was getting phone calls from folks who listen to James Dobson's Focus on the Family -- folks who were not at all interested in celebrating families with two moms and apple pie. Somehow my clever comment to a local reporter had become an illustration on Dobson's radio show of how the gays were going to hijack the Rose Parade.

One distraught woman from Florida pleaded with me -- in a conversation I'll never forget -- to "Please, please, please don't ruin the Rose Parade for us! We're Christians and watch it every year with our grandchildren -- and there's no way we're going to expose them to homosexuality. And how can you as a pastor say such a thing? Homosexuality is an abomination. Jesus said so in Genesis."

Seriously. "Jesus said so in Genesis." I couldn't make that up.

Fox News also ran a story and then the story kind of ran out of steam. Because, truth be told, nobody was interested in turning the Rose Parade into a Pride Parade. We had work to do, lives to live, rights to fight for, and money that was better spent elsewhere.

Fast forward a decade. It's December 2013. This year the Rose Parade theme is "Dreams Come True" and I open the Pasadena Star-News to this story: "L.A. Gay couple to marry on Rose Parade float."

PASADENA >> In a Tournament of Roses first, two Los Angeles men will celebrate their gay marriage on a Rose Parade float as it goes down Colorado Boulevard on New Year's Day. The wedding of Danny Leclair, 45, and Aubrey Loots, 42, will take place atop a giant wedding cake-shaped float sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, according to a press release. It is the third float sponsored by the foundation.

"One of the things we're really excited about is we're standing on the shoulders of thousands of men and women who came before us in this fight for marriage equality," Leclair said. "We're excited to be part of that story, to be able to do this because of them. We're looking forward to honor that."

This Rose Parade is the first year gay marriage has been legal in California following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in June.

Do I prefer the term "marriage equality" to "gay marriage?" Of course I do. But I am pleased as punch that the story is getting out there anyway.

As a happily engaged-to-be-married-in-June lesbian, would I want to have my wedding in the middle of the Rose Parade? No, I would not. But I am delighted that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Danny and Aubrey are making this witness to the worldwide Rose Parade audience as a "Dream Come True."

Do I believe that "dreams come true?" Absolutely. And when I look back at how far we've come in the decade since James Dobson and Fox News were frothing at the mouth over fear of the "homosexual agenda" hijacking the Rose Parade, it seems possible to dream even bigger dreams.

Dreams of passing the Employment Non-Discrmination Act (ENDA). Dreams of repealing DOMA altogether and making marriage equality a national norm, not a local option.

Dreams of healing homophobia, curing AIDS, and taking what we've learned in the trenches of the fight for LGBT equality and applying it to the other long-haul struggles in front of us: ending gun violence, just immigration reform, and protecting women's access to healthcare -- just to name a few.

So here's to celebrating families -- including families with two moms and apple pie. Here's to Rose Parades and Happy New Years. Here's to Danny and Aubrey as they begin their married life together with a few million witnesses along Colorado Boulevard. And here's to dreams that come true because of dreamers who will not settle for what is, but who keep dreaming of what could be.