I went to my first Dallas Pride Parade on Sunday. While Tom’s are usually my foot-diaper-like shoes of choice, I wore my Chuck Taylor low tops, which I’ve had since high school. As I was tying my shoelaces on Sunday morning, I thought about all of the friends that I had in high school and in college who were afraid to tell me about their sexual orientation because they knew (correctly) that I wouldn’t have been able to handle their truth. As I tied my Chuck Taylor shoes, gay friends that I’ve had the privilege of knowing flicked through my mind. These shoes were purchased and worn at a time in my life when I thought it was more important to decide who is in and who is out than it was to love someone.
Symbolically, I was taking these puppies to my first gay pride parade to offer hugs and apologies. They needed to be part of the repenting process.
A few weeks ago, Jen Hatmaker made a post about how her church in Austin participated in the Pride Parade there by offering “Free Mom Hugs” and “Free Pastor Hugs”. The post went viral because, of course, this is being the literal hands of Jesus.
Out of Jen’s post, people in Dallas got together to offer the same thing. A small crew from my church wanted to participate so we planned to go.
My friend Kara and got there a couple hours before the parade began so that we could scope out a good spot. I was carrying my foam poster through the crowd when I heard, “HEY! I want a hug!”
We stopped and looked around. In true Pride fashion, the request came from a woman wearing nothing but a mermaid skirt and shell-shaped pasties over her nipples. Kara and I hugged her with gusto and I took a second to reflect on the fact that this event was not about me or my comfort. I was there to love people right where they are, boobs and all.
Kara and I found a pretty good spot where we could cool off inside if we needed to and had bathrooms close by. It was, however, directly adjacent to the surface of the sun with no shade so we lathered our round, freckled twin faces with sunscreen. While we were waiting, we people-watched.
A few people asked if they could take a picture of my sign. One woman snapped a picture and when I offered a hug, she took it, whispered, “Thanks” and then started weeping.
That pretty much set the tone for our day.
Ironically, our spot was right by where a street preacher showed up to scream condemnation through his megaphone. By the time the rest of our group arrived, Kara and I had only been able to save two spots along the parade route for people so we rotated out. My friend Megan and I went to join a group standing in front of the street preacher, trying to at least block him physically from the crowd with our bodies and signs.
Our hope, of course, was to juxtapose the judgement and condemnation that he was espousing loudly with the love and invitation to the table that Megan and I were trying to share.
It mostly worked. Some of the passersby didn’t want to read my long sign to figure out if I was foe or friend, but many meandered slowly and then circled back. We had so many people come up and thank us for being there, share their stories about being cast out of their families and churches. One man came up and said, “I want a free mom hug. The mom hugs make me the most emotional.” I was struck by and emotional about how many people really appreciated us being there.
A woman who was standing and listening to the street preacher turned to me tearfully and said, “Why can’t they just give us one day? One day where we can be ourselves, fully, without judgement.”
It’s a good question, of course.
It’s a fucking great question.
On Sunday, members of the LGBT+ community were able to show public displays of affection with their significant others, dress however they felt best, conform or not conform with gender norms however they wanted to. It’s one of those environments, like the Korean naked spa, where you get to experience what radical self-acceptance feels like. I totally get why Pride is a thing. But that’s Sunday.
On Monday, they showed up to classrooms where they risk being suspended for sharing a picture of their same-sex spouse. Trans-youth showed up to schools where they are forced to use bathrooms and locker rooms that do not correspond to their expressed gender. Gay teens are forced off of sports teams. They are kicked out of stores for their sexual orientation. In November, they will show up to Thanksgiving tables with families who would disown them if they knew. Weekly, they show up to churches that preach that they are the worst kinds of sinners. They show up to foster care agencies that will not consider taking them on as clients, despite the vast and urgent need for loving families for kids. They show up to voting booths where neither candidate is willing to risk their political careers on such a “controversial topic”.
Yeah, people in the LGBT+ community should get one day to fully be themselves without people screaming at them but more importantly, they should also get a lifetime of it.
The goal of any kind of activism is always to work yourself out of a job. If we can get a justice system that actually protects and serves everyone, financial, educational, and political systems that actually value everyone, then maybe movements like Black Lives Matter won’t be needed.
Hugging people at Pride Parade is nice. That kind of personal reconciliation is good for them and good for us. It’s meaningful for all involved. It felt holy.
However, that can’t be the end. Showing up at Pride Parade can’t be the end.
As people who want to be allies, we have to show up at our jobs, our churches, our family gatherings and be vocal. We have to be willing to stick our neck out, challenge people, challenge policies and systems that prioritize heterosexuality as normal. The opposition is vocal and passionate enough that they’ll show up to a parade with 50,000 people who are hostile to their message. We have to be just as vocal. We have to say, “I THINK THIS IS OKAY. LITERALLY EVERYONE IS WELCOME AT THE TABLE OF GOD”. Say it loud; say it proud. Especially in church culture, it’s on us to normalize acceptance.
Changing systems is holy, difficult work. This is the kind of work that requires you to put others in front of yourself, to see and listen to the marginalized, to let them lead you. It requires time; it requires effort; it requires courage and emotional resiliency.
My hope is that someday, the LGBT+ won’t need strangers to show up offering “Free Mom Hugs” or “Free Pastor Hugs” because they’ll be getting hugs and acceptance from their actual moms and their actual pastors. My hope is that someday our presence and advocacy won’t be needed.
That day isn’t today.
We hugged people at the Dallas Pride Parade on Sunday. It was great. It was awesome. Now, it’s over and we get to work.