I marched in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade on Sunday, dressed in sparkly tennis shoes and a dress I sewed myself for pure Mormon realness. It’s no secret that I’ve been a supporter of gay rights for always and a day, but this was definitely the most overt act I’ve taken. There was a time, even as recently as last year, when people who thought like I did were nervous about speaking up. Nobody wanted to face consequences or be forced to choose between two identities. A tide has definitely turned now. Between Romney running for President and all the attention that brings, and a groundswell of support from around the world, we seem to have reached a tipping point.
I was thrilled to march and I would have done it sooner if I’d had the opportunity. I know that working with the LGBT community is my life’s work, and I know that working with teenagers is my life’s work, so gay Mormon teens have my heart. Every time I hear about another gay suicide, and that is sadly often, I know that we are failing these people. Here you can see a short video I made for CNN describing why I marched. It’s the same reason I give whenever people ask why I stay in the church, and it’s what I wrote on the sign I carried down Market Street. Gay kids grow up Mormon and I am here to keep them safe.
I was a bit nervous about what the reaction would be. Marches around the country have been so positive, but here in California it is a very different atmosphere. I was worried we’d be met with anger, that people wouldn’t want our too little too late efforts bringing down their celebration. But I was totally wrong. People cheered us on like heroes. They reached out to us from the crowd for hugs and handshakes, some pointed to my sign with tears rolling down their faces. They shouted out their connections to us, “I was raised in Utah!” “My grandfather was Heber C. Kimball!” “I work for a Mormon company!” They clapped and nodded as they frowned solemnly, offering their respect at our efforts. I wept and giggled and wept some more, the reaction literally taking my breath away.
Some shouted, “You’re so brave!” and I burned with shame. My bravery for holding a sign while being loved and feted by the crowd was embarrassing in front of their bravery for living in the face of the opposition from religious people like me.
Two women I spoke to at the march sought out our contingent at the end of the parade. They hugged us all in tears as they told us what our presence meant to them, one of the women raised in Utah and estranged from her family for over ten years over her homosexuality. In an effort to “protect families” her own family had discarded her. I want to shake my Mormon brothers and sisters to make them see the costs of this political stance. We force people to choose whether their going to be celibate and live without children, companionship, affection, and sex, or leave the church and abandon their family, heritage, beliefs, and spiritual sustenance. Many gay people who are raised Mormon internalize homophobia and self hatred that leads them to engage in risky and self destructive behaviors such as unsafe sex and drug abuse, while having no pastoral care accessible to them from the religion of their heritage, having to have left it all behind in order to live with authenticity.
I missed out on my typical church meeting to march in Pride, but I learned far greater lessons of forgiveness, compassion, and love than I would have in my chapel. I was humbled and eternally grateful for the reception we experienced, and will go forward with renewed efforts to contribute to this community who has demonstrated such Christian charity to me.