If I had to sum up my first pride experience in two words they would be: loud and proud. It was an amazing experience to witness, tens of thousands of gays and lesbians and their supporters being precisely that. Having lived for more than thirteen years in a hierarchical atmosphere of silence and shame, it was liberating to be loud and proud – albeit only for a moment and in another city to avoid being recognized.
There has always been a part of me that has wanted to attend a Pride Fest, but to be honest, there’s also been a part of me that hasn’t. Before attending, like so many others, my only impression of Pride Fest had been from reports on the news. These reports always seemed to depict the pride parade in a way that seemed weird, crazy and far out. Images of cross dressers, dykes, transvestites, and men wearing hardly anything fill the airwaves in a thirty second television blast. Pride has always been portrayed as something radical and controversial, something best to avoid, particularly given my identity as a Catholic priest. After all, Catholics are not allowed to “promote the gay agenda.” While it could certainly be argued that merely attending a Pride Fest is not supporting the gay agenda per say, a news clip of a Catholic priest watching the parade go by (and cheering) would be controversial to say the least. To avoid the controversy and to remain a priest, I had never attended a Pride Fest, until then. This year was different; this year I wanted to see for myself, and in some small way, participate in the movement. With that goal in mind, a friend of mine and I attended Gay Pride in New York City.
The day before the main event, my friend and I were walking down 6th Avenue when we noticed what appeared to be a parade of some sort, so we decided to investigate. When we got close enough to see what was happening, we discovered it was a “Dyke Parade.” There were thousands of lesbian women marching down the streets of New York chanting and celebrating. There were also lots of supporters lining the streets passing out literature. I stopped one of them to ask if she knew when the main Pride parade was going to be and where. She briefly gave me the information and told me to enjoy myself. And then I said, “I will, but I’m a little bit nervous, I’ve never been to a Pride Fest before.”
“Oh, my gosh,” she said, “you’ll love it. It’s such a celebration of diversity and unity. There’s nothing to be nervous about, just enjoy it.”
Her enthusiastic description of Pride Fest as a celebration of diversity and unity really struck me. I couldn’t help but think that when we as a Church are at our best, we too are a celebration of diversity in unity. When we as a Church are living the Gospel message, we celebrate diversity and unity. Her description of Pride Fest echoes so much of what the apostle Paul writes about in the scriptures, that “We are all one body, though we have many parts.” Shouldn’t we describe the Church in the same way? As a celebration of diversity and unity?
The next day at the parade, I was surprised and pleased to see that the overwhelming majority of those attending the event were ‘normal.’ Having nothing but the images from the news media to go off of, my assumption and fear was that I would stand out, that everyone would be radically dressed or wearing nothing at all. That was not the reality. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of wild and crazy outfits, but the overwhelming majority of those in attendance and in the parade were ‘normal.’ They were ordinary people belonging to ordinary groups like the firefighters, police, lawyers, volleyball teams, religious organizations, etc.; almost every conceivable group was represented. They’re the person next door. They’re the person you pass on the street every day. I can remember an overwhelming feeling of normalization as the day went by. It was liberating and refreshing to be in an environment that treats homosexuality not as a disorder but as normal, healthy and even sacred. It was indeed a celebration of unity and diversity, and for me personally, it was very freeing to move from an environment of silence and shame to loud and proud – if only for a day.
Several years following my first Pride and on the eve of my 15th year anniversary to the priesthood in 2013 – I published a book, “Hidden Voices, Reflections of a Gay Catholic Priest.” As my story went viral on the internet, I began to hear from individuals all over the world who were struggling to find acceptance and love within the Catholic church. It is a struggle that continues today for so many – especially when some bishops continue to marginalize LGBTQ Catholics by denying them basic pastoral care and dignity.
Today, I live and work in NYC as a Psychotherapist and this weekend I will celebrate Pride in NYC openly and honestly which will include celebrating mass with a group called Dignity New York and other LGBTQ Catholics and their allies. Pride is more important today than ever before, especially for those who are told they are ‘less than’ by their church leaders because of who they love. Like so many LGBTQ Catholics and others, Pride Fest becomes a place where LGBTQ individuals can experience the very thing their church leaders are unwilling to give – a place to celebrate unity and diversity.