This article orginally was published Jan 27, 2009 but I have just updated it with a relevant video at the end.
Everyone has an opinion about a Pride March such as the annual Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras; often very strong opinions. Predictably, conservative Christians condemn it. Rev Fred Nile, leader of the Christian Democratic Party regularly condemns it. In March 2007 his media release read, “I call upon Anthony Venn-Brown and these marchers to withdraw from this blasphemous, obscene parade and not bring the Name of Jesus Christ into disrepute”. He believes that the judgement of God comes on Sydney because of it and each year encourages Christians to pray for rain on the night.
1. They have never actually seen the parade in its entirety.
- Media Images. Their judgment is based solely on media images of the most outrageous and least dressed entrants. Well of course. That is the media. They always focus on the controversial and sensational. A picture of the Freedom 2 b[e] group in jeans and T-shirt is not all that sexy, sensational or controversial so you can guarantee groups such as ours will never appear in the media.
- Groups. Many people think that these parades are a promotion of sex and reinforce stereotypes. But, the parade is actually a promotion of the GLBT community. That community is diverse and is reflected in the groups that march. Last year over 10,000 participated representing many hundreds of individual groups such as religious groups, cultural groups, groups that promote abstinence from drinking and drugs, political and lobby groups, lifestyle and recreational groups, support groups of every shape and size and disabled groups. Along with this you will see corporate groups such as IBM and Qantas and service groups such as the police force and gays and lesbians in the military. Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG) and gay parents with their children march. The majority of parade participants don’t fit the stereotypes.
2. They have never participated in the parade and therefore don’t understand the dynamics of the experience.
- A Profound and Personal Experience. Ask anyone who has actually marched in a parade such as Mardi Gras. For the majority of people it is a life transforming experience. You may begin with all sorts of fears and concerns but by the time you’ve reached the end, with all the positive affirmation and cheering, you have an enormous sense of personal and community pride. As I say to our group each year we march. “The person you are at the end of this parade will be very different to the person you were at the beginning. You have been delivered form any last traces of shame or fear that might be lurking in your subconscious. You will never forget the first time you marched in the Mardi Gras parade and you will look back at it as a significant moment in your journey to letting go of fear and shame and genuinely loving the person you were created to be. Read how profound that experience can be here. A Divine Moment in the Mardi Gras Parade. https://www.abbi.org.au/2007/03/divine-moment-in-mardi-gras-parade/
- The Impact on the Crowd. Every year that we have marched up the route on Oxford St I’ve been able to observe the impact our presence has had on some in the crowd. I’ve seen people spontaneously burst into tears when they have seen our sign. I know immediately that behind those tears is a story. Possibly thrown out of a church, been rejected by Christian parents, siblings or friends or still resolving the faith they once embraced totally. Seeing us triggers healing and hope that there is a way forward.
As one minister wrote the week after. “In some ways the hospitality of the Gay and Lesbian community was so gracious that we felt a rebuke as it is in the area of hospitality that we feel the church has been so remiss. Our attitude has been excluding. For me personally there was a sense that we were standing on Holy Ground as people connected with our act of contrition. It also felt during the march that we had the amazing privilege of making known the truth of God made known in Jesus who constantly took himself to the margins and to those who were left out and offered love and acceptance.”I think I have never seen such a group of Christians so obviously following the example of Jesus Christ. When you read the gospels you read of a Jesus who never said I can’t go to this place or I can’t mix with these people. He was the great rule breaker. His life was a reflection of his parables (think about the lost sheep and the good Samaritan) He walked the talk. The Pharisees and often modern day Christians do the opposite however, separating themselves from people and places. Even a few of the 100 Revs didn’t march because they didn’t want to be seen promoting the ‘gay lifestyle’. By not marching with the others though, they were in essence saying, we don’t want to identify with the people we are saying sorry to. I guess we have to ask the simple question ‘What would Jesus do? The Jesus I read about would not have been concerned about what others would think.
- The 100 Revs. Last year 35 ministers made history and marched in the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade to visibly demonstrate the apology ( http://100revs.blogspot.com/2008/02/100revs-statement.html ) to the GLBT community for the Christian churches judgemental attitude and lack of love. Almost every news story around Australia and overseas mentioned the significance of the 100 Revs participating. After the march many of the ministers were in tears and deeply touched by the experience.
3. They have no knowledge of the history of the gay community’s parades and celebrations
To understand Mardi Gras – we really need to understand its history.“It began on June 24, 1978 as a protest march and commemoration of the Stonewall Riots. Although the organizers had obtained permission, this was revoked, and the march was broken up by the police. Many of the marchers were arrested. Although most charges were eventually dropped, the Sydney Morning Herald published the names of those arrested in full, leading to many people being outed to their friends and places of employment, and many of those arrested lost their jobs as homosexuality was a crime in New South Wales until 1982.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Gay_and_Lesbian_Mardi_Gras
Of those who were arrested and had their names published many lost their jobs and a few suicided as a result. Today, however there is a better understanding of sexuality, society attitudes and laws have changed, equality granted and therefore discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation is now illegal in this country. Obviously we owe a great deal to those people who marched in the first Mardi Gras. This is the day we celebrate our community and the progress we have made. Just as many historical events are celebrated annually.
Why do you have to have a special day and parade?
This is a criticism we often hear, ‘you are flaunting your sexuality and promoting homosexuality’ some people say.Every year there is a father’s day, mother’s day. Every day of the year around the world we celebrate heterosexual weddings and anniversaries, engagements, baby showers etc, etc. These are all celebrating heterosexuality and their relationships. Surely it is not to much to ask that for just one day a year, we too can celebrate our lives, journeys, culture and history as a community. Some people criticize and don’t understand why we have to have Gay Pride. The reason for that is pretty simple; they have never personally experience living with gay shame.Here is a 15 minute video of the 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade with brief cameos of each group. See how many tits and bums you can count.
With all respect to Rev. Nile and others like him, if Jesus were physically on the scene today, they’d no doubt call on Him to withdraw from participating in such “blasphemous” celebrations. While on Earth, He made it His business to be seen in places and with people where He wasn’t “supposed” to be.
The answer to your question, then, is, “It’s our business to be there.” Following Jesus’s lead, we don’t have to like everything that goes on at and around Pride parades, but we can’t show God’s love and our love for the people who attend them if we’re not there.
Thanks, Anthony, for challenging us to step up!
thanks Tim……yes I’m sure Jesus must weep when he sees how far some people who claim to be his followers today have moved away from his message of reaching out to all. They seem to think the message is one of separation.
First, I have to say a big "Well Done" and "Thank You" to you Anthony, for living a true life and having the courage to come out and embrace your true self in the face of rejection from society and the Church that means so much to you. You are certainly spreading the message of God's unconditional love, as Jesus would have done, 2000 years ago.
As for parades, I'm in Melbourne, and have never marched in a Mardi Gras parade, but being a Pride March veteran down here (I've lost count how many times I've marched!), I know too well how important these events are. They are an opportunity to say "This is who I am", not only with regards to sexuality, but socially as well, by the groups that that one marches with.
The groups I march with are certainly not explicitly sexual, but more the sorts of groups that mirror mainstream society, like sports and hobby interests.
Yes, even in these days of (near) equality, Pride celebrations are still an important part of expressing who we are and claiming our place in the world.
Good luck you you in this year's Mardi Gras!
well said Tony. Those who've had the experience it seems really understand. Those who stand from afar and make conclusions through snippets of media images and content are the ones who have the problem.
Speaking as a gay Christian (well, same-sex attracted – I'm currently investigating the whole faith-sexuality reconciliation idea), this is an area I'd still exercise caution in, even if I was fully-convinced that faith and homosexuality can be reconciled.
While it may be true that many participants and groups don't feature overt displays of debauchery, immorality, etc, some of them certainly do. As Christians, does participation in such events communicate some silent, implicit endorsement of this behaviour? (Particularly where the media is concerned – they are very good at manipulating even commentary-less images to misrepresent)
Having said that, I still rent movies from a DVD store that has an 'Adult' section. Some could be sneaky and call that an implicit endorsement of pornography.
I certainly agree with Christians 'living in the world, but not of the world' philosophy, but I would still be rather cautious in making the 'To march or not to march' decision.
Just my thoughts.
Many people may claim to have accepted Christ, but he said in the Bible "Not everybody who calls me 'Lord, Lord' will gain God's kingdom, but only those who do what God tells them to do. When the Son of Man returns, many will say to me 'Lord, Lord, in your name did we not prophecise, perform miracles and cast out bad spirits?' And I will say to them 'I never knew you! Get away from me you evil people!' "
Speaks volumes of the likes of Peter Madden. I used to be a homophobe until I read the chapter "Grace Healed Eyes" in Phil Yancey's book "What's So Amazing About Grace?"
Excellent book which has turned the way I view Christianity on its head.
I second that recommendation dariowestern . Great book. Have your read Love is an Orientation….even better