June is Pride month for LGBTQ people. This year’s annual Pride festival marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that galvanized the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
In 1969, homosexual acts were illegal in most places. Even so, queer people in urban areas like New York found refuge in gay bars. Police regularly harassed patrons of those bars. In the early morning of June 28, 1969, police entered the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York, clearing the bar and arresting any patrons not wearing at least three pieces of “gender-appropriate” clothing.
Usually, these raids scattered patrons, but on this night, led by transgender women of color, the patrons started to fight back. The riot led to six days of protest, and a year later the queer community began to commemorate the Stonewall Riots with Christopher Street Liberation Day and the first Gay Pride march. People also marched that year in Chicago, and by 1971 marches took place in a number of other major cities.
“Pride is a party, but it’s also a protest.”
Pride festivals and marches have spread around the world, and many welcoming and affirming Christian congregations now have contingents who walk in the parade to show support.
That’s important. A recent Pew survey found that 63 percent of white evangelicals still oppose marriage equality. Given the harsh judgment, discrimination and hateful rhetoric LGBTQ people face from many Christian people, churches and denominations, seeing churches who love, affirm and support LGBTQ people is essential. Straight allies who walk in solidarity behind a church banner demonstrate the inclusiveness of the Gospel and bear witness to God’s love – and theirs.
Still, when straight people enter queer spaces, even as allies, their heterosexual privilege can be problematic. When we have privilege – be it sex, gender, race, class or religion – we do not have to recognize that privilege or its effects. We may be well-meaning, but we can do harm, even out of the best intentions.
So, here are a few suggestions for straight allies attending Pride festivals and marching in Pride parades this month that are also applicable for those searching for other opportunities to advocate and support LGBTQ persons.
It’s not about you. Pride is a party, but it’s also a protest. Despite recent gains, LGBTQ people still suffer from discrimination, hate and rejection. In 29 states, queer people can still lose their jobs or be denied public accommodation just for being queer. The Trump administration is rolling back transgender rights at an alarming pace, and, under the guise of religious protections, the federal government is beginning to allow healthcare providers to refuse care based on gender identity.
Enjoy the celebration, but honor the protest.
Don’t assert your heterosexuality. Often straight people in queer spaces feel a need to let people know that, while they are supportive, they themselves are not queer. This ends up reinforcing the idea that being queer is really somehow not quite normal. It also exerts heterosexual privilege by distancing you from queer people. It says, “Oh no, I’m not like you.”
So, don’t wear your “Straight but not narrow” button. No one needs to know you’re straight on the day we’re honoring the lives and sacrifices of queer people.
Don’t judge. Don’t gawk. You’ll see the wide variety of queer life on full display, but, you’re a visitor in queer space, so hold off on your judgments. Don’t try to draw lines between acceptable/conventional queers and other members of the queer community whose lives you may not understand.
Don’t appropriate queer culture. Wave a rainbow flag in solidarity, but don’t deck yourself out in rainbows, and don’t use queer slang if it’s not already part of your vocabulary. In other words, don’t try too hard.
“Being an ally means examining our privileges and working to dismantle the very social structures that create them.”
Don’t take photos of people of you don’t know and share them on social media. While people are out and proud at the festival, they still may not want their photos spread on Facebook and Instagram. It may not be safe for them. It could out them at work or to a family member. Instead, take photos of yourself and friends who give you permission and share those to show your presence and support.
Don’t assume it’s the queer community’s job to educate you. Educate yourself. We’re usually happy to answer questions about our lives, struggles and triumphs, but you need to do your own research on LGBTQ history and culture.
Don’t try to evangelize. Pride is not the time or the place. Don’t do anything that re-centers you or your church. This is a day about queer people and for queer people. Your presence as part of a supportive congregation is witness enough.
Do participate in Pride. Just a few months ago, the United Methodist Church voted to strengthen its prohibitions against queer marriages and exclusion of queer clergy. Southern Baptists have a long and ugly history of homophobic statements and practices against LGBTQ people. The presence of communities of faith at Pride visibly demonstrates Christian love and affirmation. For queer people who grew up in churches that have rejected them, this is an especially powerful message.
Do more than participate in Pride. Showing up one day a year isn’t nearly enough. Allies have to join in the work to transform social institutions – including churches – that exclude and dehumanize queer people. Vote for candidates who support LGBTQ equality. Volunteer for LGBTQ groups. Donate to organizations working for equality. Ensure your workplace has policies and practices that facilitate equal treatment. Support your local school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Declare your church to be open and affirming to LGBTQ people and put that message on the church sign and in the bulletin.
God’s love is radically inclusive, and ours must be as well. Loving that way isn’t easy though. It calls us to transcend barriers and borders, to welcome people we may not understand and to walk alongside those whose experiences are utterly different from our own. Being an ally means examining our privileges and working to dismantle the very social structures that create them.
Straight Christians can demonstrate God’s radically inclusive love by showing up at Pride as allies of the queer community. But remember, you’re a guest in queer space. I think my mama’s rules for visiting someone else’s house are a good guide: don’t be trouble; eat what’s put in front of you; offer to help clean up afterward; and say thank you.