Yes, Churches in the Pride Parade Make a Difference

“Even LGBT people who are atheists want to know that big organizations, such as churches, are prepared to stand with the LGBT community to fight oppression, homophobia and transphobia.”

by Gary Simpson, AU/SE supporter and lay member at United Church, Edmonton.
June 2016

I was in the Pride Parade in Edmonton, with the United Church. (Click here for a video of the churches marching.) I have been in about 10 Pride Parades in Edmonton and about 4 or 5 in Calgary. I tend to make a splash, which might be something to do with how I dress.

Walking in the parade is difficult for me, because I have some mobility limitations. I am in the land of the moderately medicated and am stiff and sore over two days later. The Pride Parade is worth the pain. FaithGroupsEdmontonPride2016

I want to give a little background. Family holidays can be challenging for sexual minority people. Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter can be challenging. In some cases, LGBT people are not welcome at home. In other cases, they are welcome, but “that person” (boyfriend or girlfriend) is not welcome. Other families might tolerate the significant other, as long as they do not sleep in the same bedroom with you. For many queer people, Pride is the only holiday where they feel it OK to be themselves and where they are celebrated. So Pride is important.

One year in Calgary, my one-person parade entry got an interesting response. I had more than one sign indicating God’s love. A lady turned to the man beside her and said, “Well somebody needed to say it.” In Calgary, there are years when a priest, who is in full robe, stands at the end of the parade and hugs people and he is busy hugging people.

I recall a number of years ago when a man had a condemning sign at Pride. After the parade was over, the United Church group chose to go between him and those who were finishing the parade, so we would be a buffer. A young man, who was obviously hurting and very upset, came over. I think he wanted to fight the man with the sign. I am not sure it would have gone well for him, legally or otherwise.

The pastor of Southminster-Steinhauer United Church gave him a strong directive to leave and let us deal with the man. Smart gay and bisexual men know that if a lesbian gives you a directive you need to do as told. 🙂 Lesbians are awesome. I don’t think it would have taken much to have had him break down and cry. There were tears in his eyes. I tried to talk to him some and he just wanted to leave. He was hurting too much to talk. The situation was heartbreaking, not just because somebody rained on his parade, but because somebody had stomped on his heart.

This year in Edmonton, I saw two protestors in the crowds and I interacted in a positive way (I did not get ugly) with them. People in the Parade wanted me to do that. I was asked to go to the one person and I did. The second person was engaged in an angry dispute with some young ladies, one of whom said she had been hit and called the police. The second person, the angry protestor, would not acknowledge me, which might not have been a bad thing.

After the parade was over I had two people contact me. Both people expressed appreciation for my being in the parade. One person told me that it was very difficult seeing the protesters, and they felt quite angry. When this person saw me, they seemed to feel much more relaxed about being at the parade, because I was expressing the exact opposite opinion as to what was being demonstrated on the signs of the protesters.

Throughout the Parade, there were times when you could hardly hear anything but cheering when the church groups came into view. The crowd was amazing.

More than one person has shared with me a story of watching a Pride parade. On seeing churches in the parade, they joined in the parade and came out at that moment. Even LGBT people who are atheists want to know that big organizations, such as churches, are prepared to stand with the LGBT community to fight oppression, homophobia and transphobia.

Yes, we are making a difference. Will we prevent a suicide? I do not know, but my hope and prayer is that we will give hope.