A little over a year ago, I took part in my first NYC Pride March, having just moved to the city in August 2013. My initial intent was to simply cheer on friends from the sidelines, as I was already exhausted from a weekend packed of Pride activities.
But when my close friend, Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft, suggested I come join her at a volunteer table in front of First Presbyterian Church on 5th Avenue, I couldn’t resist, if not for the cause itself then, quite frankly, the location, location, location.
Upon arrival, I assumed I’d join the other volunteers passing out water to marchers.
But my friend, Amanda, who’d spent the last two hours having her photo taken while holding a sign that read “God Thinks You’re Absolutely Fabulous,” passed the task on to me so that she could hang with her newborn twins.
Not one to shy away from attention, nor turn down a potentially good story to tell, I eagerly walked out into the parade procession, ready to cheer on every passerby and, shamefully, maybe have my photo taken by the New York Times.
Quite instantly, however, the moment became something totally other than my desire for 15 seconds of gay fame, as it should’ve been from the start, of course. If I’ve experienced holy moments in my life, this, for sure, is high on the ladder.
In this moment, a simple poster—made by students in New Jersey—I’m told, spoke life, love, and affirmation into the lives of utter strangers.
This was no small deal at the time, just a year shy of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide. But even in a changing cultural landscape in which LGBT individuals are embraced more and more, it was especially important that people of faith marched or stood on the sidelines to illustrate a different narrative, particularly when there’s much internal division as to whether one can be gay and another’s pastor; gay and eat at God’s table; gay and in a committed relationship; or, on the most basic level, simply gay and Christian.
I, for one, can attest that coming out throughout the years has been both the scariest and bravest thing I’ve done in my adult life. Scary because I, like so many others, worried what others might think, or whether or not they’d treat me differently. Brave because, well, I could’ve succumb to my fear and, as my friends might tell you, easily distracted myself with social activities for the rest of my life.
I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t admit that, at times, it hurts me to think that there are people who’ve played crucial roles in my faith who now, in knowing that I’m gay, see me as broken and needing to be fixed, as someone who represents a real life Sodom and Gomorrah.
Sure, they love me, but not without a clause.
No, they won’t ostracize me from family cookouts or holiday parties, but they’ll consider themselves virtuous for not doing so. Yet despite my hope to commit myself to another person in holy matrimony, just as they’ve done, or to raise children, just as they do, some will refuse to take part in or affirm such a “lifestyle,” as if a life of love is something at which to throw stones.
Perhaps this is why it took me until my mid to late 20’s to come out of the closet. Fear is a toxic beast, you know, and it often leads us to avoid being who we are, all in an effort to live into someone else’s fairytale of who they think we ought to be. And if you aren’t lucky enough to have voices that counter the naysayers—voices that make you brave, daily—then you may find yourself like the Israelites, wandering through a lifetime of wildernesses.
My bravery, though, can’t be separated from the fearlessness of those who, long before it was lawful or culturally and religiously acceptable, dared to live into their identity rather than deny themselves real love and real companionship.
And if it takes a village to raise a child, then claiming my own sexuality took a host of loving and immensely supportive family and friends.
My supporters not only cheered me on—they reminded me that, while being gay is part of who I am, it is not all that I am. But of the part that makes up the complexed person that is me—that we all are—it is good; it is right; and it is a joyful thing.
That’s what made my first Pride March so holy. There I stood, a young LGBT man and student of theology whose task was to convey God’s love and affirmation of same-sex love to people of faith and no faith.
Yet with every “thank you” and “bless you” mouthed to me from a distance, with every “God loves you, too” and warm hug of embrace—there I stood, an equal, if not greater, recipient of God’s holy and miraculous grace.
On that blistering summer day in NYC, I realized that no matter how the debate may continue amongst those who love this sinner but hate my sin—God loves me; God affirms me.
And in all my gayness, and in all my complexities, God thinks I’m ab-so-lute-ly fabulous.