Pride Month provides Baptists another opportunity to reflect on our commitment to equal rights. Just how expansive – or restrictive – is our full inclusion of all human beings? As Baptists, we have made great strides and have often provided stellar direction in the arena of racial justice. When it comes to gender equality, addressing female leadership in local congregations and denominational bodies has become an increasing priority, especially among American Baptists, Cooperative Baptists, and Progressive National Baptists. With a slow yet steady beat, our feet march toward gender justice.
Slower still has been a common mission for Baptists to embrace the cause of sexual justice for LGBTQ persons. While influential conservative Baptist voices have moderated historic venomous rhetoric and acknowledged that gay people exist and should be treated with greater dignity, many straight-majority Baptists still struggle to welcome LGBTQ people. Indeed, many Baptists find themselves at a quandary for how to fully affirm their humanity, sexuality, place and positions in church and society.
Pride Month provides us an opportunity to reflect. For those still wrestling with how to embrace sexual justice for our LGBTQ community, a starting point may be to analyze why it is called, “Pride” month. From a purely visual perspective, many associate Pride Month with local Pride Parades where people march and dance through the streets adorned with glitter, boa feathers, and rainbow flags. At first glance, the purpose of these parades appears simply festive and celebratory in nature.
In actuality, there is momentous activism and advocacy behind a civil rights movement bathed in blood, sweat, and tears. Devoted to the attainment of equal rights for the queer community, the term “Pride” represents the LGBTQ community and dates back to the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969. Brenda Howard, a bisexual woman, is known as the “Mother of Pride” for her work in organizing the first LGBTQ Pride March, which occurred on a Sunday in June 1970.
Officially, June became known as Pride Month in the United States when President Bill Clinton first recognized it in 1999. Since then, President Barack Obama has also recognized June as Pride Month for the LGBTQ community.
We do not know what exactly motivated Brenda Howard to choose the word “Pride” back in the late ’60s. It is important to remember that the LGBTQ community fought to survive and was much different than it is today. This is important. When we look back on the meaning of the word “pride” and its usage within the LGBTQ community, let’s contemplate just how different the world was at the time of the Stonewall riots. As one example, people were regularly jailed for homosexual activity, sent to mental institutions to “cure” their sexuality, and shunned by their families and communities for coming out. In many ways, Stonewall was not a celebration. Unlike many contemporary Pride events, it was a revolution against oppressive laws and stifling societal values. It was a revolt that encouraged many to speak up proudly instead of hide themselves away. Pride is the refusal of our brothers and sisters – and perhaps we ourselves – to hide themselves away.
For people of faith and Baptists in particular, the fact that LGBTQ people are resisting invisibility is something we must reckon with.
Scattered among the 28 million people in the United States who self-identify as Baptist are the 5 percent of the population who also identify as LGBTQ. David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and formerly the Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University reminds us that even strongly anti-gay Christians understand the reality of the percentages of LGBTQ adolescents and church kids in their families and youth groups. There is no Theological Exemption. The collision between anti-gay Christianity and LGBTQ adolescents is a brutal and painful one.
Gushee states, “Because in that very conservative Christian world one can’t be both gay and Christian, every pressure exists either to eliminate the “gayness” or, if that is not possible, then to exile the gay person. Along the way comes extraordinary trauma for a vulnerable population whose experience often includes verbal abuse, spiritual torment, and moral self-loathing, and can extend to self-harming behaviors and either being kicked out or running away from home. Traditionalist readings of scripture on the LGBT question, especially when stridently expressed but sometimes even in the most polite form, produce exiles from family, church, and God. If our faith led us to care about human suffering this might just constitute evidence for reconsideration.”
Among other things, Pride Month is a declaration and recognition that as many as 1,400,000 LGBTQ persons identify as Baptists. Our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are out there and they demand – and deserve – to be seen and heard. Pride is about recognizing and acknowledging their stories. While many of us may take the time to do this, it remains to be seen what we will do next to support and include them.