A couple of weeks ago i marched in Melbourne’s “Pride March” as part of the Midsumma Festival. It was a stinking hot day, but there was a buzz in the air as we gathered in the park before the starting time and then headed off down Fitzroy Street in St Kilda.
I’m heterosexual, so an event like this is not really designed for somebody like me. I’ve not marched before for that very reason – it’s an opportunity for lgtbi people to be proud of who they are without feeling any shame or guilt. Contrary to what some religious leaders say these events are not about sexual promiscuity, recruiting children in to homosexuality, or degrading family values. The people that marched in front of my group were a legal firm. The people behind us were a rural community group. Standard dress in both groups were shorts and t-shirts. And both groups were voicing their support for their lgbti friends and family members. The crowds that lined the streets cheered when they recognized somebody marching, and clapped all the groups in recognition of the work they do and support they offer.
I marched this year with Freedom 2b, a group that supports lgbti that come from faith backgrounds. It’s not a ‘christian’ group nor is it affiliated with any church, but it acknowledges that much of the pain inflicted on the lgtbi community comes from religious communities and is done using religious rhetoric. It is well documented that lgtbi people suffer higher levels of poor mental health and suicide rates because of the isolation and burden placed on them by the wider community. It is only coming to light now that those statistics are even worse for lgbti people with faith back grounds.
Last year a friend of mine, a gay man and a Christian, took his own life. He was part of the Freedom 2b community and this year the group decided to march in his honour. We took turns at carrying his photo in front of the group and many from the crowd offered words of encouragement and compassion when they realised the story behind what was happening. The emotion of the moment took me by surprise – the grief surrounding his loss is still raw, but marching brought a little more healing for all of us. It was a special day and I’m glad I was able to be part of it.
In two weeks, the Mardi Gras parade happens in Sydney. It’s like Melbourne’s “Pride March” on steroids. More groups marching and thousands more watching. But the same atmosphere of celebration. Two years ago I watched the parade from start to finish to make up my own mind about whether the event was the sexual love-in that anti-homosexual people portrayed it as, or whether it was something different. Like “Pride” most of the floats and groups were ordinary people proud of who they were and the contribution they made to the community. Different community groups, cultural groups, religious groups and corporate businesses were represented, outlandish costumes were worn, some well choreographed dance numbers were executed, and the crowd applauded. Of the two hundred or so groups that marched past, I think I saw maybe five that I wouldn’t have wanted my kids to see. One group was banned from marching by the organizers because they blatantly vilified Christians.
This year I will be marching in Mardi Gras with the 100 Revs.
The 100 Revs started a few years ago now and initially marched in Mardi Gras as an act of apology to the lgtbi community. The people that marched were all ministers or pastors of churches and felt keenly the pain that the church had inflicted upon the lgtbi community. The 100 Revs didn’t claim to represent their churches or denominations, but marched as individuals according to their own convictions. The founder of 100 Revs, Mike Hercock, was threatened with disciplinary action by the Baptist Union of NSW and has been given a hard time ever since. Recently the BUNSW decided to sell the building his church met in, with minimal consultation with the members of the church. Other ministers that marched were threatened with losing their jobs and credibility. They marched anyway.
Those that marched with the first group of 100 Revs were profoundly moved by the welcome they received. Despite years of harsh words from the church, the lgtbi community received the apology and embraced the ministers in an act that began the move towards reconciliation. The group was given the award for “Best Political Statement” that year, and the movement has continued since.
This year the 100 Revs will be marching under the banner of “Equality Through Marriage”, showing support for the desire of lgbti couples to have their relationships formally recognized by legal marriage. The 100 Revs also believe that there is also no reason why these relationships can’t be formalized before God. There are endless arguments around Biblical and theological positions when it comes to the place of lgtbi people and the church, but for those 100 Revs that sign the petition and march in the parade, the reasons given to oppose marriage equality smell more of personal opinion and church tradition than they do of good theological scholarship.
So, this year I will join Mike and the others and march in the Mardi Gras. As I type this, I have no idea how many other ministers have signed up to march, but even if it is just Mike and I, we will march anyway. We do so because of our faith and belief that all belong and are welcomed, not just those who are “like me”. We’ve both (ironically) lost jobs in the church for our beliefs and our families have suffered. But what we’ve experienced doesn’t come close to the pain that the lgtbi community have endured for year after year after year.
If you’re a minister or church worker reading this, let me encourage you to sign the 100 Revs petition and consider joining us for the march. The organizers of 100 Revs are also involved in putting together a conference designed to bring together the lgbti community and the church to openly discuss their differing viewpoints and work towards mutual respect and care. The conference is called “A Different Conversation” and I’ll be speaking on the pastoral care of lgtbi people along with numerous others – if you’re in Sydney, make the time to join us.
If you are suffering from mental health problems, thoughts of suicide, or struggling with your sexuality in some way, please call MGA Counselling Services on 1300 38 50 20 or Lifeline on 13 11 14
Note: Comments deriding either lgtbi people of Christian people will be deleted. Because I can.