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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.
philosophical/pragmatic rebuttal 01.Jun.2005 22:29

Ariell

Sarah, et.al.:

I understand your stance on cataclysmic world/social issues, and how they have been so frequently sidestepped in the wake of the gay marriage conundrum. Your critique regarding media portrayal of GBLT lifestyles (particularly given the narrow and dividing scope that classism inevitably hoists) is completely understandable. However, I find the controversy about people's denied and eroding civil liberties to be of great importance. When people talk about the gay marriage issue, they are also talking about the US Constitution, and a whole 'nother can of worms. We are talking about the true meaning of human law, and what that means in the context of society. The hell with what the media has used to try and win sympathy from the moderates; what we have here, folks, is an example of modern segregation in one of its many guises. That, I believe, is the real threat to progress.

Regards,
A. Mindali


"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

"As above, so below."
-Hermes Trismegistus

The unfolding queer semiotics / macroscopics 02.Jun.2005 02:23

s/he-mirage

The queery community and their market place for assurance in modern spatial fields, regards an inaugural austerate connaissance of heterodoxic consumer fields as flow to communicate interpenetration off postmodern white supremacy collars, as super capital flux in seismographic itterance to void alternatives in left/right-wing occurence...shame,shame,shame

Liberation Not Consumerism 02.Jun.2005 09:17

Bear

In the '60's and '70's this was a movement called Gay Liberation, and the events commemorating Stonewall were protest marches with signs and street theatre confronting social oppression. Now we have "Pride" complete with corporate sponsorship by Bud Lite beer and Astroglide Lube (Those really were the sponsors. How ridiculous can you get?)

If you want to go to a more authentic, less commercial GLBT pride event, the one in Eugene is definitely worth the trip. It's a bunch of folks in the park with good music, theatre & arts & crafts. The atmosphere is much more groovy & alternative, less trendy & spendy.

Imperfect People make Imperfect Pride 03.Jun.2005 15:48

ProudWolf

I think that you have addressed some good points. I would like to correct the statement that Pride Northwest (the producers of Portland Pride) charges an admission. The volunteers at the gates collect donations only. Last year the suggested donation was $5.00, prior to that it was $3.00. Not to many years ago there were no donations being requested this way. Each of the volunteers was urged to stress that the donation was completely optional, and nobody was to be turned away or made to feel uncomfortable if they were unable to donate.

The suggested donations were instituted by the rising costs of insurance, permits, fencing and the like. The organizers were uncomfortable increasing the financial reliance on corporate sponsorship (currently 28% of their expected budget) and increase the charges for the exhibitor spaces, especially for non-profit booths. (By the way, non-profit booths have had the option of exchanging volunteer time for space instead of money.)

Gate donations make up 28% of the 2005 budget revenue. When you add in the other donations and community fundraising, it totals 32% of the budget. The rest of the money comes mainly from space rental, with a bit from parade fees, ad sales, and food commissions. It seems reasonable for the community to shoulder a third of the cost of the weekend.

Check out the donation section of their FAQ:  http://pridenw.org/faqs.asp
The 2005 budget is here:  http://pridenw.org/docs/2005budget.pdf

The organizers of Pride have made many errors this year and in the past. They have, however, done far more right than wrong. What most people do not realize is that there is one part-time paid staff person, and five volunteer (and unpaid) board members that do most of the work. While there are a number of volunteers on pride weekend, the board works year round for our community.