Gay Pride? Toward an open and honest discussion for maturity in queer spirituality
Did "gay pride" become just another capitalist gimmick for the white, middle-class people?
Toward an open and honest discussion for maturity in queer spirituality
By the Rev. Sr. Sarah-Andrea Morrigan
St. Brigid Celtic Anabaptist Community of Portland
It's that time of the year again—that mystical Sunday afternoon each year in which many churches and people of faith come together and march in... Gay Pride. The number of participating faithfuls grew to the point in which Willamette Week's Byron Beck finally commented, "Homos love God. God loves homos. But did we really need nearly 30 churches marching en masse to remind us we're all one big, happy family?" ("Hit and Miss Parade," Willamette Week, June 30, 2004)
In the past, I welcomed this show of inclusive attitudes by many church members as a testimony of what Christians could do against the resurgence of fundamentalism in America. This year, I am not sure. In fact, I am struggling with a big ethical dilemma as to whether I should continue participating in this annual event or instead be protesting.
Last year, the Pride event promoter forbade churches from handing out free water bottles because it would create a hostile competition against the festival vendors. What churches did out of hospitality and concerns for public health, Pride NW banned to promote a commercial gain. This was in addition to charging an admission fee that was a significant financial burden to low-income participants and street queer youth.
Last year's Pride was marked by the air of excitement and anticipation as gay marriage became a legal possibility. Many celebrated it as another important step for a greater equality and freedom. The churches also hopped on to the celebration bandwagon.
But is there really anything still to be proud of? Is it still counter-cultural and prophetic for us to march in the "Pride"? A true sign of maturity is in humility before God and compassion for all the fellow human beings, not in a self-congratulatory display of "pride" and selling off of our struggle for justice and freedom to the corporate interests so they can co-opt the "Gay Pride" as a slick marketing gimmick.
Today, America's gay churches represent single-issue special interests that serve mostly white, middle-class, property-owning professionals. Many gay Christians enjoy a higher income level, comfortable living and socioeconomic privileges being a white middle-class (and for some, being a male) affords.
While our attentions were captured by the gay marriage licenses and the Measure 36, they also mobilized conservatives to the poll en masse, sending George W. Bush back to the White House and giving more congressional seats to the far-right politicians who would in turn jeopardize the basic human rights and civil liberties of the millions. Do not misconstrue me as saying gays are directly responsible for the reelection of Bush and emergence of the far-right neoconservatives; however, the gay community has been happily oblivious to those life-or-death, freedom-or-prison issues like hunger, poverty, immigrants' rights, unemployment, and even genocides and tortures. Can you imagine, while gay pastors preach on the importance of a happy, married gay couple, people in the pews pay no attention to what is really going on in our world even as it disintegrates into an orgy of greed, violence, raw power games and deaths?
It is easy to bill gay marriage as a "human rights" issue; it is however difficult to work in solidarity with all other oppressed peoples. During the No on Measure 36 campaign, gay activists attempted to convince the people of color, working-class people, immigrant communities and even homeless voters—with an abysmal failure. I believe these people saw the pictures on No on 36 campaign ads depicting happy white middle-class couples with houses and SUVs and saw right through the deceptive smokescreen: this was all about middle-class yuppies, and they won't fight for us for our day-to-day, life-or-death needs. At least that was the feel I got. While Congress pushed with a highly undemocratic political maneuver for bills persecuting undocumented migrants and other foreigners on American soil (one of which is now known as REAL ID Act), they were not paying attention—after all, they were white, gay Americans, not undocumented Mexicans, why should they care? While the same politicians in Washington cashed in their "political capitol" and fulfilled their "mandate" by authorizing more war, cutting more taxes for the rich, and cutting many healthcare, educational and social service programs, they were not raising voices from their pulpits and meeting rooms. I hate having to say this, but no one dies (unless you are a desperate foreigner about to be deported back to the hands of a despot) if they don't get married tomorrow. That some of the estate, financial and property benefits are denied to same-sex couples is largely relevant only if one already enjoys a significant degree of socioeconomic privilege, hence I do not believe it is a fundamental human rights issue.
While the advocates for same-sex marriage portrayed a sanitized white middle-class picture of gay marriage, they also buried the authentic queerness into obscurity. No one saw any picture of polyamorous households, genderqueer couples, or even two extremely feminine lesbians. The gay marriage promoters wanted the media to portray two professional-looking yuppies instead. Is this the kind of image we must aspire to, and do we even stop and think for a moment that all this is nothing but a public image, entirely sanitized to shield the public away from what really goes on in queer living and relationship? Are they alienating and oppressing those who do not buy into that picture-perfect model of gayness so some gays and lesbians can enjoy the privilege?
The Portland gay community's attitudes towards the disadvantaged and disenfranchised are usually either tokenizing or hostile; most of the times it even pretends nothing below their own class exists. For more than three times I have personally witnessed "progressive" gay Christians mistreating and acting contemptuously towards a few homeless people who stopped by at their church seeking help. To this date I have not yet seen or heard anyone inviting any of these people from the street to the worship service, let alone actively integrating them into the life and leadership of the church. Is this really what it means by an "inclusive community of faith?" As to anyone who isn't gay or lesbian, the community is at best just tolerating, with an occasional tokenizing and patronizing.
I believe the time has come for the queer Christians to stand up and grow up. The era of pat-on-each-other's-back, self-pity, self-congratulatory "open and affirming" church must come to an end if we take our own liberation as followers of Christ seriously. For the beginning, we must stop the self-centered, self-righteous mentality behind the "coming out" process. It is a true sign of spiritual maturity to be able to see what others feel and how others may be adversely or positively affected by our own actions. What about the ex-spouses we left in the name of "finding freedom"? What about all the children who miss one of their parents as we happily and arrogantly "came out" as if our own pleasures and desires are more important than the well-beings of those who depend on us and are too young to care for themselves? What about addressing the grief all our parents must go through—for better or worse, our "coming out" to our parents is as traumatic as us committing suicides, except that unlike suicide, parents cannot live in the fantasy memories of the lost sons and daughters but have to deal with living children of theirs. After decades of gay liberation movement, time is ripe for initiating reconciliation with those whom we hurt or wronged as a result of "coming out." Unless we can do that, there really isn't anything to be proud of. And unless we can grow up and see other people's pains and oppressions, and be able to stand with them in faith and solidarity, we have nothing to be proud of.
What does "Gay Pride" mean to you today? I pray that Portland's queer communities, particularly those with any sense of spirituality, will seriously reflect on my question.
+ Sarah-Andrea Morrigan.
add a comment on this article
add a comment on this article
discussion from this article