Tom and I got up from the table at Souper Salad, the place I tend to frequent after church on Sundays.
“We’re off” Tom announced “Stephen’s marching today.”
“Really, in the parade?” Jeff queried.
“Well, it’ll be more like a sashay” I shot back with a grin
“Do you have sun screen?” he asked with mild alarm
“Well, I have some in my car” I started noncommittally
Truth be told, I had brought the sunscreen with every intention of using it, but now there wouldn’t be enough time for me to go to my car and make it to the start of the parade.
The only reason I knew about it was they’d mentioned it in church the weekend previously.
My church here in Texas, the Cathedral of Hope was going to be the very first group marching in the parade, it would be a great opportunity for me to take photos and take in the ambiance.
Tom dropped me off as close to Cedar Springs Road as he could get and I walked briskly to the rendezvous point. Over 300 people from my church were there, all arrayed in the brightest, multi-coloured shirts you have ever seen. Our theme this year, was “Hope for Peace & Justice”. Our goal was to march in promotion of peace and also to raise awareness for the largest gay church in the world, right there within waking distance from the infamous Dallas gay strip: Cedar Springs. I found myself a patch of shade and brandished my camera, this was going to be fun.
No doubt to ensure the roads were properly cleared of traffic and that this public event went off peacefully.
I was pleased to catch a glimpse and a snap of the Dallas city Sheriff: Lupe Veldez is a lesbian Hispanic woman and has also been the sheriff of Dallas since 2005.
I don’t know about you but the thought of that tickles me quite a bit.
After about half an hour of standing around waiting, the dignitaries started their ponderous procession through the awaiting crowd. We gathered expectantly behind them and finally slotted ourselves in behind the Oak Lawn marching band. A sea of faces lined both sides of Cedar Springs road, all of them waving, all of them cheering. I had never been the focus of such great excitement before. Over the public announcement system a disembodied voice announced who we were. The crowd roared and we roared back in acknowledgement, throwing our beads into expectant hands.
We (my church) all had hundreds and hundreds of brightly coloured bead necklaces to give away (I was given a handful of silver ones). As we marched, we threw the beads into the crowd, much to their delight. I am sure the act must be intended to mimic the Mardi Gras celebration.
We made our way slowly down the street, passing now familiar bars and restaurants. A sea of people rippled with excitement on both sides of the street as we passed, their arms waving frantically in anticipation of the beads.
Every face was beaming with happiness, every voice raised in noisy jubilation. There didn’t seem to be much drunken debauchery going on. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any.
We passed the bars and walked out into the residential area. People were leaning out of their balconies or sitting on their porches and cheering us on. I spotted something that instantly warmed my heart. A family was watching us from the fifth floor. Among them, an old lady was clapping enthusiastically.
I was suddenly and inexplicably reminded of my grandmother: granny goose. It was the sort of thing she would do. “Go Granny, you’re beautiful.” I yelled. I don’t know if they heard.
About a block on from the corner, we approached our destination: the park.
I wasn’t aware at the time but the idea is that they then have a bit of a festival in the park, with lemonade, snacks and the like.
Another thing I wasn’t quite expecting was what greeted us just before the park: protesters. Part of me had been incredibly curious about the possibility of people coming out to this event for the express purpose of protesting our existence. The first one I met was wearing a black shirt that appropriately labeled him “intolerant”. In his hand he held a pamphlet that proclaimed “I was gay”. Something about the way he looked at me let me know that phrase didn’t apply to him personally, just one of few high-profile “ex-gays” you hear about. I, naturally took the cheerful fellow’s picture.
Further on, we were greeted by a large sign quoting Leviticus. Jo, our reverend and the leader of our colourful band,turned around and forced a smile. “Remember” she warned us, and raised her hands in the sign-language short-hand for “I love you”.
We mimicked her and bounded cheerfully past the protestors. Most of our contingent went up the hill to join in the festivities, but I decided to stick with the fundies.
Fundies, that’s the cute familiar term some use to refer to fundamentalists. The term “fundamentalist” is not a bad one in and of itself, it’s just had a great deal of bad press in recent years. The most well known fundamentalist and the movement to which the name is most often attributed started surprisingly recently, in California of all places. It grew out of people’s disenchantment the liberalist movement in the Presbyterian church in America. In the early 1900’s, some conservative theologists at Biola University published a series of books entitled “The Fundamentals” which, among other things, asserted the literal inerrancy of the Bible.
It’s from this line of thinking that we have the current controversy over rejection of evolution in the classroom, young-earth creationism, and the related desperately tragic concept of so-called “flood geology”. Fundies are difficult to talk to.
My interest was not in talking to them. I have given up on those conversations. People far more intelligent than me have devoted their lives to studying the Bible and have come up with wildly differing opinions. I know what I believe, and if someone asks me I tell them. The fundies didn’t share my rather inert stance on things.
One of my favourite fundies literally gesticulated wildly with his Bible, yelling at passing queers with a very sour demeanour. I put my camera into “Papparazzi” mode and held down the trigger, taking 2.7 photos per second. He soon tired of the lime light.
My second favourite fundie had a large, loud PA system and he was preaching voluminously into it. When he got tired, another one took up the mic and continued. To their credit, they never once said anything that could be considered inflammatory. The most frequent refrain was something along the lines of:
“Jesus died for you on the cross, they flayed the skin off his back and put a crown of thorns on his head. Nine inch nails were driven into his hands and he died, he died for your sins. Don’t live in sin….”
Now, given they were using Leviticus to identify sins, they could have used the same speech outside “Long John Silver’s” but I was grateful that nothing they said could be considered “hate speech” or even mildly “inflammatory”. I actually didn’t disagree with anything they said. I believe it too. I prefer not to dwell on Jesus’ death though, because that’s kind of depressing. I tend to focus on His resurrection and His teachings, but I guess they really must have enjoyed that Mel Gibson movie a whole lot.
I took up place directly in front of the preacher, my back to him and awaited the rest of the marchers.
Every time a group of people came up to the spot, it was the same story: they would be dancing or laughing or yelling or whooping or generally having a good time. Then they would see the posters and hear the diatribe and their faces would darken. At that moment I made a point to yell “yaaay!!” raising both hands with fingers raised in a “peace” sign. To which people always responded back in kind, laughed, smiled and carried on their way. I’m not suggesting I single-handedly diffused the situation, but I know I helped, a few people actually came up to me and thanked me.
I think she did more harm than good, but she certainly was a barrel of laughs. I don’t think the sign was quite right though, I am pretty sure she doesn’t have a penis.
I did this till I went horse and then did it some more. From my vantage point I had a great many photo opportunities. I also caught a great deal of sun in the face, so the next morning I was a little pink. Here are some random pictures of the parade participants:
Some of the floats were truly spectacular. Nothing, however, seemed to represent anything vulgar or lewd to me.
Maybe I have been desensitized by the radio (I don’t watch TV) but I didn’t see anything particularly offensive. I did, however, get an eyeful of this man in his stilettos (warning, clicking on links may cause blindness). In my mind, I think he deserves the prize for the most memorable character of the whole parade.
I was also intrigued to see that a large number of participants in the parade were churches. That made sense. This is the middle of the Bible belt, more people are going to be religious. Besides that it’s a Sunday, so many people (like me) would have left church, dressed up and come straight (no pun intended) here with their congregation. Another curious group was the Log Cabin Republicans (gay Republicans). Perhaps I should stipulate “out gay Republicans” given the fact that we know there’s a bunch of queers in the GOP.
At around 5pm, almost 4 hours since the start of the parade, I made my weary way home, through the debris of the festivities towards my car. On the way I experienced free hugs, which (quite possibly) sums up the whole day for me:
I think everyone should get free hugs, don’t you? I was very thankful when a car hooted at me: it was Tom, on his way back to church, so half my trip was in air-conditioned luxury.