My congregation is observing Pride Sunday today as part of our commitment to growing equity and justice in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is becoming more common for American churches, synagogues, and other organizations to give a nod to the just desire of queer people for safety and equal access to the good things our society offers. But this mindset has not influenced every corner.
This is also the time of year when some straight people ask when Straight Pride Month is… as if a great favor had been done and a special privilege granted to queer people when police stopped routinely raiding gay bars. Or when society started thinking that maybe it is not so good to bash people because of their orientation or gender. Or, again, when liberal and progressive religious groups started allowing their queer clergy to serve without hiding their orientation or gender identity.
Yes, we LGBTQ+ people have always been among your clergy in every branch of human religion, regardless of what the official line was on identity issues. Many of us hid our truth in order to answer our call. But we have always been among those who care for our fellow human’s souls, who teach, who lead to a more divinely inspired life. We have always been among the ones who officiated at the weddings of straight and cisgender people even when we were not yet allowed inside the doors of the legal institution of American marriage. I began officiating at beautiful weddings of lovely straight people when it was not a legal option for me, and not even civil unions were yet in place in my home state.
Just as White History Month and Men’s History Month are, quite literally, every month of the year, there never has been a day in the American experience when it has not been safe for straight people to be straight. And if you don’t see that, odds are you are straight and cisgender, and so your survival never depended on seeing it.
Okay, some communities historically frowned on public displays of affection regardless of who was osculating in public. However, there has never been a time when one’s heterosexuality caused one to fear for one’s safety at home or in public. There has never been a time when heterosexuals were not allowed to gain the legal and social benefits of marriage or were denied employment or housing because of being straight.
There has never been a time when cisgender people were not allowed legal and social equality because they were not transgender. There are places or professions that do not provide sufficient bathroom access for women, but cisgender people don’t have to worry about where they can pee because of being cisgender. Being cisgender does not in itself mean you will likely encounter medical providers who refuse the kind of treatment you need specific to your gender and your body.
Pride Month isn’t about an emotion. It’s not about feeling good for its own sake. It’s not about gratuitous excess. And it’s definitely not about shocking people for shock’s sake. It’s about surviving. It’s about refusing to accept the dangers that come from being unvalued and forced to be invisible in society. Some may think that since the 2015 Supreme Court making marriage equality the law of the land, equality has arrived for queer people. But all the evidence shows that even after LGBTQ-positive programming on TV and in the movies, queer people are still at greater risk than cisgender straight people. Once you add the compounding effects of intersectional minority identities, you find multiple ways that queer identity can be targeted even more for some queer people. And no one is more at risk than transgender Black women.
Teens and young adults who are still dependent on their parents for what financial security they can get are still at risk when they come out. When young queer people come out, they are even now in danger of being kicked out of their homes and denied the family support for college their family would otherwise give them. They are a disproportionate portion of the homeless in America. We have not reached an equitable model in our republic.
And so, as an act of defiance, of fighting for our lives and the lives of those we love, we celebrate. Happy Pride!
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Column by Rev. Paul Oakley