My First Pride
Rewind the clock back to 2005. I had just moved to a new college town. My family and those I grew up with would routinely pray that “God would keep me safe from the influence of the liberals.” I completely understood what they meant and assumed that God was on the same wavelength. At the time, a short list of my personality traits would include: homophobia, intolerance, arrogance, and hyper-judgemental. Unbeknownst to me I had a lot of evolving to do.
Several months later I met a friendly enough guy at the gym named Ash. We both had an interest in gene replication research and would casually chat from time to time. One day Ash broke his hand while working out. I ran into him on the street as he was walking to the hospital for surgery. He was alone, and I had nothing to do. I drove him there and stayed all day until he was sent home. Up to this point I didn’t even know his last name. We had a very enjoyable time talking all day at the hospital and quickly became as close as brothers.
From day number 1, Ash made sure that I knew he was a militant atheist. He would always challenge inconsistencies in my religious walk – basics like love thy neighbor, don’t judge others, etc. I began to see that my poor characteristics were a product of the particular Christian culture that I subscribed to and not too coherent with actual Christianity. Ash caused me to realize that many aspects of my persona needed some work. Interestingly enough my greatest period of Christian growth was because of an atheist’s influence in my life.
Then many months into our friendship, Ash suddenly became very depressed. For weeks I couldn’t figure out what was up with him. Finally, Ash broke down in tears and told me that he was gay. He was terrified this meant that we could no longer be friends. He had heard the Christian refrain of “hate the sin, love the sinner” too many times to count. He had never met a Christian who was good at the “love the sinner” part, and he knew that I believed homosexuality was a sin. At that moment I had a decision to make. Should I:
- Abandon my friendship with such a “sinner” so that I “don’t get influenced by the ways of the world” -or-
- Accept that not everyone is like me and continue our friendship that I treasured so dearly
Thankfully I had just enough smarts to go with option 2. Today I’m embarrassed that I even had to think about such a decision. However, at that time I could not accept that homosexuality was okay, and I was always taught to keep unrepentant people at an arm’s distance. After this episode, Ash and I became even closer friends. I continued to grow in all aspects of my life except for my thoughts on homosexuality. My rational brain couldn’t overpower the strong programming that I had from my previous Christian communities.
Eventually Ash moved to Boston and for the first time I wasn’t seeing my best friend everyday. I was left to sort out my value system on my own. Many months later I moved to Boston and lived with Ash for a bit. He was quite excited for me to experience the upcoming Pride parade with him. I had never heard of Pride, but I knew what a parade was. Some balloons. Firefighters tossing candy to the crowd. Maybe a few marching bands. Hooray, hooray and then everyone goes home.
Holy smokes! The Pride parade was none of these things. Here were thousands of gay people celebrating being gay. They were proud, unashamed, and very bold. They were matched in fervor by thousands of straight people there to support them. Friends took me to see the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus perform. The church I was attending had special Pride programming. Business had Pride flags in their windows. This was a completely normal part of the community calendar, and the Boston people turn out in droves to celebrate.
Suddenly my brain clicked on. All these gay people were good human beings. They were normal folks from every walk of life and every corner of society. They love their family like I do. They go to the office like I do. They swear at bad drivers, eat too much dessert, have Netflix marathons, and play with their pets – all just like I do. What right did I have to say that their love choices were immoral? Homosexuality was not a sin. Me judging and condemning others was the true sin. Many LGBT people celebrate their lives during Pride. I celebrate how Pride caused me to open my eyes and truly love all people.