How a Small Texas Town Beat Back Christmastide Bigotry

If you think saying Happy Holidays is a problem, I disagree.

But I don’t care much. I love Christmas! I’ll joyfully wish you a Merry Christmas if I know you celebrate it — even though I’m no longer a Christian and even though I love … well, sharing love with folks who celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, or whatever fills you with light and joy.

When I was a little boy, NOTHING was more joyous and magical than our small-town Christmas parade. I didn’t know the high school marching band was a touch off-key. I didn’t care that our lights and glitz were cheesy by big-city standards.

All I cared was that I could feel the love, see the light.

Christmas meant my adult family put aside differences and came together in a spirit of … some unnamed magic I had no words for. When Santa Claus brought up the parade’s tail in a big red fire engine, how my heart pounded! Christmas magic was enough to thrill me to the suspension of disbelief.

“Of course I know Santa isn’t really real,” I said to my dad when he took me out for ice cream — to let me down easily — when I was 9 or 10. I already knew Christmas magic is not literal magic, that Santa stands in for the love the season highlights.

I also loved that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. My Irish-American Catholic family never let that slide, and neither did my parents after they became Baptists. Think their conversion didn’t stir up family angst? Think again! But it didn’t stop us coming together in a spirit of love and joy, at least during Christmas.

Catholic and Evangelical pastors in Taylor, Texas missed the Christmas-magic memo this year

Bear with me a minute, because my story is not a downer! It’s not about hate destroying Christmas — even though certain Taylor religious leaders worked hard to bar LGBTQ people from the annual Christmas Parade.

As the Washington Post reported on Sunday, the trouble started last Christmas season, “when students from St. Mary’s Catholic School watched as two drag queens aboard the first Taylor Pride float danced and lip synced to Christmas carols beneath a glittering rainbow arch.”

Even though the drag queens were modestly dressed and dancing in a family-friendly way, an unnamed Catholic priest complained to the group of Christian ministers who organize the parade … with the city as co-sponsor. The ministers responded by changing the rules to require parade participants to “not conflict with traditional and biblical family values.”

Whose values?

The ministers neglected to mention they meant only their own conservative take on Biblical values, a serious disconnect considering that many Texas Methodist, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches (to name a few) affirm LGBTQ people and include us in even their most senior leadership.

It looked like Christmas magic was sputtering out for queer folks in Taylor. The new rule barred not just drag queens from the event, but the whole Taylor Pride float and any group that celebrated an LGBTQ identity.

No queer folks allowed in parade unless they’re closeted.

How did that fly? For a little background, Taylor is a diverse, minority-white suburb about 35 miles from the fairly liberal city of Austin. Yes, progressive people really do live in Texas, and in pretty large numbers, especially in the Austin metropolitan area.

Taylor Pride describes itself as “small but mighty,” saying “Taylor Pride is quickly becoming an established resource for the local LGBTQ community and neighboring cities.” They weren’t about to let Christmas magic die just because some conservative priests and pastors told them to.

Denise Rodgers, president of Taylor Pride, points out that demonizing queer people leads to tragedy: “Just the fact that they are allowed to have this exclusive parade on public property is already breaking the rules …. Because this has become a hate group. And we saw what happened with that … in Colorado.” She was referring to the recent massacre at Club Q in Colorado Springs.

City leaders didn’t know what to do.

They say they wanted a Christmas parade in Taylor, but they could not in good conscience co-sponsor an event that excluded people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. They also feared legal consequences. (Asking if excluded queer Texans would sue is like asking if Texans like barbecue.)

The only safe bet for the city seemed like not co-sponsoring the parade. Let the conservative Christian pastors have it. Nobody could (realistically) sue Taylor merely for issuing a permit, and well … at least some sort of Christmas parade would happen.

Then somebody got a brilliant idea.

Taylor would approve the pastors’ parade permit, provide all the necessary police presence and security, and then hold their own inclusive parade on the same day, starting immediately after the exclusionary one. To people not in the know, it would look like one big parade! Everybody participates, everybody gets their own little portion of Christmas magic.

Nobody loses.

At first, it seemed like the compromise was a win/win. Nobody hated the idea, at least. City Council member Robert Garcia, a military vet and practicing Catholic, appealed to evangelical Pastor Jeff Ripple to please calm things down in the “spirit of Christmas.” When Ripple seemed to agree, it looked like the compromise was working.

Then, Ripple published an incendiary op-ed, and the shit hit the fan all over again. He and other Taylor residents began to publicly insist that LGBTQ people are fundamentally incompatible with Christian and “family” values. Taylor Facebook groups and other fora began to fill with anti-queer vitriol and insults.

One group tried to sabotage the city event by applying to operate a float flying a giant Confederate flag, apparently as disapproving commentary on inclusiveness.

A drag queen who had planned to appear on Taylor Pride’s float got cold feet, fearing violence, a rational response given all the heated discourse.

Would Christmas magic not be enough this year in Taylor?

That’s exactly what Taylor Pride feared. They’d been sponsoring public events for a couple years, and the same church members who wanted them out of the Christmas parade had been organizing protests (sometimes loud, obnoxious, and frightening) all along.

Christmas could get ugly! What was going to happen?

Long story short? Love won.

The Confederate flag didn’t show up, the drag queens did, and Taylor enjoyed a Christmas parade. The one organized by the Christian ministers rolled off with 32 floats, anchored by Santa. Townspeople cheered as they wished each other Merry Christmas.

Then the police chief and mayor in a squad car and fire truck led a 27-float inclusive parade. Drag queen Felicia Enspire lip-synced to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” under that glittering rainbow. A handful of protesters showed up to quietly “pray” as the Pride float rolled by, but Enspire said she couldn’t hear them over the cheers and Christmas greetings the crowd showered her with.

“After all the rumors that have been spread and all the drama in the past month, it was really nice to see that the majority of the community was there to support us,” she told the Washington Post.

What if somebody declared a hate fest, and nobody came?

Conservative Christian leaders in Taylor, Texas just found out. They thought they could deny queer people access to Christmas magic. They believed they could mandate exclusionary ideas about Christianity. They thought their community was with them. Then real Christmas magic spoke up.

In the end, Taylor residents reacted more like the beloved adults from my own childhood. Despite religious differences, my family came together to love one another during Christmas, something the holiday (not to mention Christianity itself) is supposed to be about.

Next year, in all likelihood, Christmas won’t mean controversy in Taylor, because this year Taylor rejected hate.

City officials came up with a clever compromise, most city residents rallied to support it despite loud objections from a small minority, and children got to cheer for Santa as they tried to figure out Christmas magic just like I did when I was their age.

Like I still do sometimes.

War on Christmas? Bah, Humbug. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all, whatever traditions of light and love you prefer.

Republished from Medium with permission of the author.