How To Make Every Day Like a Pride Parade

As I watched the Atlanta Pride parade broadcast on TV last fall (we march in October thanks to a summer drought in 2007 that rendered the parade’s endpoint, Piedmont Park, a scorched wasteland), I was struck by a couple of things at once.

For starters, our local news legend Monica Pearson, the “Oprah of Atlanta,” was part of a three-person panel hosting the parade broadcast — complete with interviews, background stories and history lessons — as though it were our own Southern-fried version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. (Just swap out Santa Claus for a homegrown complement of white-bearded zaddies.)

Secondly, because I’ve been around long enough to remember the genesis of Pride, there’s the fact that what we now call parades were once marches. No corporate sponsors, no matching logo T-shirts, no Mardi Gras-style throwing of branded trinkets designed to Pride-wash all those rainbow-blasted corporate logos.

In other words, we’ve really come a long way.

But I couldn’t help but wonder what we may have left behind along the way. Perhaps just a bit of perspective. You see, we started out marching because our people were being bullied — into submission, into cisgender heteronormativity, into silence, into death.

Fast-forward to today, as we parade pride-washed in corporate logos temporarily dipped in rainbow colors, and it can feel as though we’ve left all that behind.

Then again, if there’s one hallmark of our people, it’s that we know how to celebrate with absolute abandon, and I think we’ve earned that right. Because for so many of us, when the celebration is over and the news anchors put down their microphones, what we return home to is the reality that the bullies we were marching against decades ago are still with us.

So whether we march, demonstrate or parade, the common denominator is that it’s done in defiance of bullies. And it’s still, sadly, so necessary. 

Zero tolerance for bullying

The bullying of LGBTQ+ people — in ways both shadowy and overt — warrants nothing less than the kind of unceasing attention and focus that validates the reality and the plight of the bullied. To tolerate, ignore or minimize the reality and impact of bullying is to allow the homophobia and transphobia that fuel it to flourish. It allows real people to continue to suffer.

The remedy is accountability: We have to call out anyone who uses words or behavior that make a target of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These things should never go unchecked.

Hence we march, we demonstrate, we parade. And here’s why.

First, it’s imperative that we start by creating a safe environment where everyone is accepted and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This starts in the home, but it can and must extend to schools, workplaces, public spaces, and beyond. Hence we march, we demonstrate, we parade.

Schools must teach all students about acceptance and respect, and provide resources for those being bullied because of their orientation or identity. Everyone should feel (and actually be) safe and accepted in the schoolhouse, and bullying of any kind should never be tolerated. Hence we march, we demonstrate, we parade.

Bullies must also be held accountable for their actions. Schools and workplaces should have clear policies that define acceptable behavior and consequences for those who break the rules. Bullying must be addressed swiftly, fairly and appropriately so that it does not continue unchecked. Hence we march, we demonstrate, we parade.

Punishment alone is not the foolproof answer; bullies must also participate in restorative justice activities to learn why their actions are wrong and how they can better respect others. Hence we march, we demonstrate, we parade.

It’s essential to focus on preventing bullying in the first place by creating a nurturing environment which values everyone’s worth and diversity regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This requires an ongoing effort from parents, teachers, and members of the community to educate children about acceptance and respect. Everyone must be proactive in creating a culture that does not tolerate or allow bullying or any kind of discrimination. Hence we march, we demonstrate, we parade.

As people of faith, it’s important for us to remember that every person deserves to feel and be safe and accepted regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We all have a responsibility to help create an environment where LGBTQ+ people can live free from violence, discrimination and hate. As a community we can strive to make sure everyone is respected and embraced for who they are. Hence we march, we demonstrate, we parade.

Bullying in the name of God is still bullying

Some of the worst and most and dangerous bullies dress themselves in the conservative and evangelical movements of Christianity. There they use rules, tradition, creeds, dogma, strict biblical interpretation and laws to mentally beat our community into submission. It’s called spiritual violence, and sometimes it comes with a side of actual violence. Hence we march, we demonstrate, we parade.

The Bible is full of stories and teachings that should be taken as wisdom, but unfortunately these stories can also be abused. Hence we march, we demonstrate, we parade.

And as we do this, we must remember to keep Jesus’ message of love in mind when referencing the Bible.

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. (James 3:17–18)

Jesus said, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

 Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other. (John 13:34-35)

Nowhere in these teachings is there room or allowance for bullying. Bullying under the guise of religion does not make it any less wrong; if anything, it makes it an even more egregious offense. With passages like these in mind, we should never forget that Jesus is a champion of love. Therefore, any action that is not based on this same principle is antithetical to his teachings.

Hence we march, we demonstrate, we parade.

If we as Christians are truly aiming to follow the Bible, then making love our aim is essential. Cruelty in any form runs counter to this, and so should be seen as the ultimate heresy. Let us never forget the greatest commandment: Love. It’s the core of our faith.

Never assume that just because someone is beating you with a Bible that they’ve actually read it. Even if they’ve read it, if they don’t know that the punchline is unconditional, non-judgmental love, they’ve missed the entire point. Bullying does not become a Christian practice just because the weapon employed is a Bible.

Remember: Jesus never saw — much less signed off on — the Bible, the creeds, nor the institutional church. A little humility is always in order.

If, as the Bible says, we should make love our aim, then cruelty is the ultimate heresy. And as for us, we’ll continue to march, to demonstrate — and yes, to parade!