This past weekend was the annual Pride Festival in Fort Wayne, IN, my hometown. The first gay pride festival was held in Fort Wayne in 1997. There were only a hundred or so people in attendance at that first year. This year it was estimated that 15,000 people would be attending over the weekend. In the past twenty years it has grown into one of the largest festivals in Fort Wayne. The fact that something like this can not only survive, but also thrive, in what is considered to be a very family oriented and conservative place. It is a testament to the diverse community that exists here.
All of the terrorist attacks across the globe and in Orlando, the police shootings and other violence against minorities, the prevalence of the Religious Right and other hateful organizations using the 2016 election as a platform to further their agenda has left me perpetually uneasy. I can feel the tension in the air, and I can feel how angry people are. I came to the realization that with all of this negativity it is more necessary than ever to be present in the world, and to use the voices we have to do good.
There were over 1,000 people that came out to the Pride March Saturday morning, including the usual protesters. I believe this year there was such a great turn out because the gay community is just as upset as the other communities that are under attack. The Pride March is so important because it gives the LGBTQ community a safe and peaceful place to celebrate diversity. However, this year police presence was increased and other extra security measures were taken. After the tragedies in France, Turkey, Orlando, Germany and others there is a sense of danger, but it is more important than ever to be visible, and to make our voices heard.
There were people of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life that were represented at the march. Multi-faith flags were held high, and every color of the rainbow could be seen. There were many straight allies; parents, brothers and sisters, and even self acclaimed, “straight Christian allies.” It was empowering to know that I was there with others representing not only the gay community, but the Pagan community as well.
This year in particular the Pride March was about more than just LGBTQ Pride. It was about the Pride of Diversity, being human and loving one another. Especially now, people need a place where they can go where they don’t feel judged or condemned. We all need to be reminded that there is still good in the world. The march was about coming together and embracing all minorities. By making ourselves visible and taking a stand we say to those who hate us, “We are here, and we are not going away.”
There are good true Christians out there, and one individual makes sure to remind us of that. Rev. William Smith, a local pastor from Resurrection Lutheran Church, along with his wife and daughter attend the march every year. They hand out water, and warmly proclaim, “God loves you!” He has verbally defended many strangers from the attacks of protestors. His wife Sue stands by his side offering “free hugs,” and I was sure to give her a big one!
Being at the march this year reminded me why it is so important to attend these events and be visible. Racism, hatred, and bigotry affect us all. It is so important for our religious allies to come out and support Pride as well, and represent the true core of their beliefs. Otherwise these hateful organization can and do use religious doctrine as a weapon. It isn’t fair that extremists misrepresent Christianity or any other religion. They are not humanity’s faithful. They are fear-filled individuals hiding behind false and archaic doctrines because of their xenophobia.
I am so blessed to be a part of the life affirming and magical spirituality that is Paganism. The wonder and beauty of the natural world, and all its pleasures are here to be enjoyed. As physical beings we were made to experience pleasure, not to deny it. I am a child of the Earth and the Stars, breathed to life with divine fire. I am proud to be Pagan!