Watching Pride as an Ex-Evangelical
Gayness was a thing to be feared in the community I grew up in—a fear that is no match for the joy and openness of this year’s historic pride celebrations.
Gayness was the bogeyman of my evangelical childhood. Our respected elders, grown men in badly fitted khakis, cowered in the face of limp wrists, butch haircuts, butt stuff.
Apricots will make you gay.
Yogurt will make you gay.
Foreign films will make you gay.
Gay people will make you gay.
Constant vigilance was required—gayness was a pervasive smoke monster of a demon, likely to float in whatever hatch was left unbattened, whatever gap in a soul that was not properly defended by the rigid armor of the self-righteous.
I am standing on Seventh Avenue during New York City’s Pride parade, two days after the historic Supreme Court decision. The rainbow flag is everywhere I look, like it was created in a Harry Potter novel or something, a magical fabric that can stretch into capes and sarongs, skirts and speedos, baby onesies and dog leashes, woven into eyelashes, dyed into hair, painted on the thighs of teenagers who are flexing and preening for other teenagers.
I also see hand-painted signs—“Welcome to the 21st Century, America” and “I Love My Transgender Child”—and little Citibank flags because Citibank is a corporate sponsor.
It is a lovely day, victorious but mellow, like a sigh of relief. I ask my girlfriend how she would describe the mood. “Contentment,” she says.
I ask fellow parade-goers what they think of the scene—turns out I’m speaking to Joan Garry, former executive director of GLAAD, and her partner, Eileen Opatut.
Garry says the day “is really historic, feels really historic.” Opatut marched with Lambda Legal, a civil rights advocacy group that has fought for gay rights since 1973. She says that today, “More than ever people understood what that organization had just done. Before there was always a sense of a party, but today there was a sense of celebration.”
Garry adds: “Before there was a sense of pride, but now there is sense of victory.”
A crowd has gathered around Marni Halasa. She’s wearing a wedding dress and fairy wings—she’s the Equal Marriage Fairy. She says she’s dressed up to “support the Supreme Court decision.”
“I never thought this was going to happen,” she says.
I’m down here with my beautiful girlfriend. She’s a lesbian, I also date men, and I mention that simply because I used to think that Pride wasn’t for me, like it’s a carnival attraction—you had to be this gay to ride. Now I understand that’s paranoid thinking, that good things must be so rigidly defined and regulated, a leftover from those men in bad khakis and their small dogmas, as useful as a vestigial tail.
The rainbow flag that surrounds us is an excellent balm to this kind of thinking, parade-goer Bay Banyran says, as it’s a symbol of inclusivity. He also mentions the acronym formerly known as LGBT and how it’s grown into something much larger—LGBTTQQIAAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, panssexual).“That’s the reason why so many letters are being added. It’s all-encompassing.”
In this sense, the preachers I knew as a child have ended up being a little right. There is something pervasive out here today. It is an inclusive, all-encompassing happiness and the refusal to be afraid, and it has pushed into the cracks in their self-righteous armor, collecting and growing until all the small paranoid fears, like apricots and yogurt and slippery slopes and whatever else, have been overwhelmed and changed.