I recently had the honor and privilege of marching in Portland’s Pride Parade. My office was marching with a local community group who invited us to accompany them, and flying the magnificent flag you see here. While our office has been participating for the last several years, this was my first time. I haven’t gone in the past because although I have close friends in the LGBTQ community, I am not a member myself. So it has always felt like I didn’t belong, and that in my own way I was detracting from the rest of the members of the Community.
Over the last few years though I have come to have a better understanding of what privilege is, and just how much of it I have. So I am trying to learn how to be a better ally, and support not just the LGBTQ Community, but other oppressed groups as well. It is a learning experience for me, but I realized marching as an ally was a show of support and not a detraction. Then the Orlando tragedy happened, and I knew I had to show my support. The bizarre story of the man in LA arrested with a cache of weapons and bomb making materials headed to their Pride Festival was also troubling, as was . Perhaps cynically, I thought that if Portland Pride was the target of violence, I could at, the very least, share in their danger.
So I went to Pride with a lot of questions, and more than a few lingering doubts as to whether I really was being the ally that the Community deserved. Overall, Portland is a very relaxed place. It’s definitely West Coast, it’s Pacific Northwest, and it generally has a good vibe. Even so, having been to enough events on the Waterfront, I knew how draining the huge crowds could be, and that I would be on edge for most of the day just because of the sheer volume of people.
What I did not expect, was to be overwhelmed by the positivity, the love, and the joyous energy that blanketed everything. It is like nothing else I have ever experienced, and it was one of the most beautiful, hopeful things I have witnessed. The first I saw of the parade was on my way to meet our group. There were hundreds of people marching, filling the entirety of the streets, the sidewalks were packed a dozen deep, and everyone was clapping, cheering and laughing.
Except, of course, for the “Christian” protesters, who had a little island of sidewalk to themselves. There were three of them all together (I counted twice), and they were holding the usual, hateful signs and banners. I could see they had a bullhorn and were emphatically shouting into it, but there was such a happy roar to the crowd that I couldn’t hear their bigoted epitaphs.
I felt a sudden surge of rage towards them for trying so hard to shit all over so much warm, inclusive energy. I knew there was nothing I could do though, and then I saw how the marchers and audience were reacting to them. They weren’t. They kept laughing, kept smiling, kept enjoying the day, the parade, the moment, the celebration. Some of the crowd stood in front of the “Christians,” holding up signs to block the parade’s view of them. (My favorite: “If God hates Gays, why’d he make us all so cute!?”)
It was a stunningly powerful statement. Everyone there that I saw, literally thousands, brushed aside hate and celebrated love. It choked me up just thinking about it, and gave me hope for the future of us as a people. It also made me think of what would have happened if it been three members of the LGBTQ, or many other minority communities, in the midst of thousands of such “Christians.” I shuddered and recoiled at the thought, even though I knew it had happened far too many times before.
As time went on I was happy to see hundreds of Christians marching in the parade in a show of solidarity with the Community. After having seen the worst of religion, it was refreshing to see not just the best, but that the best outnumbered the worst by literally a hundred, or more, to one. It was, again, a powerful testament of love, acceptance, and peace; Christianity, as Jesus taught.
The day also held a sad reminder of the reality of the world in which so many of the Community still live. A woman staffing a booth was telling another customer how she had gotten a black eye the week before. She had been thrown down to the curb and called, “Faggot” by several strangers. She relayed the story without the vengeance, or rage that I felt just at her words, but with the resigned acceptance that this was just part of her life. Indeed the only emotion she really showed in describing the incident, was her relief that the assault hadn’t detached her retina, so her blurred vision would get better.
Portland is one of the most liberal cities in the US, if not the world, and yet we still have people brutalized simply because of who they are are. Having so much privilege makes it easy for me to walk through life with an optimistic bubble since I’m not the target of any such hatred or rage, I don’t walk anywhere in fear, to be blunt: I don’t know what it is like to live under constant oppression. So its easy, too easy, for me to think that we have moved on and the war is won.
It was a stark reminder that the struggle isn’t just continuing in the obvious places like the South and Midwest, but here as well. Everywhere! It was eye opening, and I hope whoever attacked her answers for their crime. The reality is, I will never know. And while there is very little I can do directly, there is more I can do about becoming a louder ally, and being more aware of the oppression around me. I am also very much looking forward to next year, and even if I’m not in a position to march, I will be cheering on those who are.