Finding Leo: Of Love and Pride

This article first appeared in PQ Monthly, Portland, in June, 2016.

Pride is defiance. Pride is art and beauty. Pride is my community.

Pride is a celebration of love, human dignity, and self-worth, amidst the noise and nonsense of bigotry and discrimination.

I walk in the Pride Parade as a trans person a faith, with a large group of churches, in defiance of those who would try to turn Christianity into a tool of violence.  (For those of you who don’t know me, I have a strong belief in God, but I will never try to get you to share my beliefs or go to church.  It is none of my business whether you go to church or believe, and not my job to get you there. I truly mean that.  My goal is to help make churches are safe, welcoming, and supportive of the LGBTQ community.)

I really don’t like to admit that I am a Christian. It has become a bad word.  People claiming that label have kicked their kids out onto the street for being LGBTQ. People who profess to follow Jesus stay silent as women (cis and trans) are subject to daily sexual harassment and violence, while child poverty skyrockets, and people face increasing homelessness. Yet they scream rage to protest a store trying to protect the trans community, a vulnerable population in the bathrooms. 

In 1 Corinthians 13:1 it says, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” 

Yes. I am over it.  I want to throw my hands in the air and give up on the word Christian. I try to remind myself that God loves even these folks, who are afraid, and do not agree with me, but it’s hard. I cannot stand the clang and clamor of those in the church who would condemn me or my LGBTQ community.  This is not love. This is not my faith.

And yet…. And yet…  People are standing in defiance of this media perception of “Christian”.

Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke of the Lutheran Church in Oregon released a statement shortly after the May 5th publication of guidelines by the Oregon Department of Education supporting trans youth.  He writes:  “While many of us are still learning about gender identity, and what it means to be transgender, we as the church seek to recognize that child of God, in each and every person, who is worthy of honor and respect. As we learn more about the varied and wonderful people in our midst, we are moved to help keep all people safe from harm and harassment.  With you, we in the ELCA celebrate the LGBTQIA community working with us in this state, recognizing their unique experiences, insights and understandings.”

Thanks be to God for the faithful witness of church leaders who speak out on behalf of our community.

Bishop Kirby Unti in Northwest Washington similarly spoke out against an anti-trans initiative I-1515 in Washington state.  “As a Christian, I believe in loving our neighbors as ourselves and treating others the way we want to be treated, including those who may seem different from us. And that’s what my wife and I taught our four daughters. So I’m troubled by I-15I5, which would roll back important non-discrimination protections for our transgender neighbors in Washington. We’re all God’s children—including people who are transgender—and we should all be treated equally under the law. We must stand together as a community and oppose initiatives like I-1515.”

I am grateful for the love that compels these leaders to take a stand.

On May 16, Reconciling Ministries Network’s Executive Director Matt Berryman and Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli shared the news of 1500 pastors in the Methodist church who are standing by their LGBTQ colleagues as the movement grows in the Methodist church to allow LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings.   This is love.  This is Christian.

I want to live in the spirit of Pride, and all those who fought for social change. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, Harvey Milk, Peter Staley, Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. It is where I see Jesus walking.

Fear and prejudice in our country are still real and alive. But so is our pride and our defiance. From the first walk after Stonewall to today, our presence says “NO” to those who would try to silence or demean us. Thank you to the people of faith who join us in that defiance and say “YES!” to love.

2016 will be my fourth year walking in Pride parades. I’ve danced with the Cascade AIDS Project contingent, waved bubble wands with Bishops and walked with hundreds of Lutherans and a 10 foot rainbow cross with ReconcilingWorks and Open Door Ministries, the non-profits working with the Lutheran Church to help them welcome, include, and celebrate the LGBTQ community. I have rejoiced in the beauty, art, and love experienced by so many.

Pride is my community.  I cannot wait to see your gorgeous faces! Thank you for reminding me every year of your strength, passion, conviction, and joy.

I asked my mom, Gretchen, why she comes to Pride. “Walking in Pride is walking in solidarity with my son and his wonderful friends, and with those I’ve sung with.  I love them all.”  I think this is what Jesus would say too.

You can find welcoming congregations in many denominations here:

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