Every June we celebrate Pride Month, although each of us will view and celebrate it slightly differently. Some will look forward with a growing excitement or anticipation and others will have done it so many times before, it’s just become a part of life. Many will just see it as a welcome mix of colours in an often-drab city centre. However, there will be those who regard it as something that “shouldn’t be allowed – it gets far too much attention” (a comment I heard whilst sitting on a bus that was held up by a Pride march!). As for me, being a relative newbie to the community, this year is likely to be the first that I have had a proper opportunity to go on a Pride March. That might sound odd, given everything I have written, but it wasn’t until around 2016 that I determined to do something specific to match my new-found theological position. I was telling myself that it’s all well and good saying you support LGBTQ+ people, and writing about it, but what are you doing to demonstrate that?
As Christians, we expect that when someone acknowledges a faith that Jesus became alive again, after being killed, that person starts to change and behave differently. In 2016, I hadn’t got many LGBTQ+ friends, so there was no way I would go to Pride on my own. However, that year I came across an LGBTQ+ running club who were looking for marshals for their annual 5-mile charity run. This was the first time I had contact with any sort of group from the community, and I loved it. Later I was to join a church set up by, and for, LGBTQ+ Christians and so my number of gay friends has grown.
Following that experience of marshalling for the running club, I volunteered at the same event for the following 3‑years as well, loving the experience each time. The runners were a mix of regulars who clearly ran several times a week, down to those who probably wouldn’t even run for the bus, and they ended up walking the course after the first 100m! That would probably have been me as well, as I’m not a runner, but try and do a lot of walking. As this event was held at the same time as the Pride March, Pride didn’t get a look in!
Then we had Covid, and life changed – churches moved online, no marches and very few other events; so, as we now hopefully come out at the other end, since this year’s charity run event is being held later in the year, I’m going with my friends to Pride, and I’ll hopefully also get to marshal again, later in the year.
I’m not sure what I’m looking forward to at Pride. It’ll obviously be a totally new experience – and probably outside my comfort zone, but they are almost always good to go through – at least afterwards, looking back! I probably have a sense of curiosity, anticipation, possibly a small amount of unease because of it being a new experience. I used to be uneasy about the flamboyance, because it was sooo not in line with my character, and I simply could not relate to it in any way, shape, or form! Am I worried? No, not at all. I think the only thing that makes me uneasy is that I like to merge into a crowd – I don’t like attention, and normally try to do anything I can to avoid it – so how possible is that at Pride? As I wrote that sentence, a song came to mind by Jona Lewie from 1980: “You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties”. However, my reason for being in the kitchen at parties is a bit different to the writers of that song – I can’t dance, but I’m much happier talking! So, I’m going along with a handful of business card-size handouts with a QR code, that when scanned, will take you to the homepage of this website – just in case I get into a conversation. Here’s one of the fun variations if you think you can use it:
Now let’s turn back the pages of history. From a UK perspective, the first Pride march occurred in London in 1972, so this is the fiftieth anniversary of that first march. But what are the Pride Marches for–why have them? If you are reading this and you have no contact with anyone you know who identifies as LGBTQ+, it might be a bit of a mystery. Why am I going? Why is my church going? We go to proclaim God’s inclusive love for all people, especially those who have been so hurt by their experiences. Others will have their own view of Pride, and their own reasons for going, and for a good number, the overriding idea of Pride is Protest, including a call for Equality, Visibility and Unity. “We are here, we didn’t chose the cards we have been dealt – treat us like you treat your neighbours and friends.”
Coincidentally, to celebrate that first Pride March in London fifty years ago, the Royal Mint have issued a new 50p coin (shown below – https://www.royalmint.com/our-coins/events/celebrating-50-years-of-pride-uk/), and those aspects of Protest, Equality, Visibility and Unity have been picked out by the designer, Dominique Holmes, and written across each of the rainbows surrounding the central “Pride” rainbow.
Pride hasn’t always been a carnival of colourful expression. It was born in tragic circumstances. Pride Month commemorates the Stonewall Riots that started on the 28th June 1969, when a gay club called the Stonewall Inn, located in New York’s Greenwich Village, was raided by the police. In the preceding months and years Police regularly raided gay bars and clubs, often quite violently. The Stonewall Inn was run by the Mafia, and they normally had warning of when a raid was to happen, and had time to prepare, but on this occasion it was the second raid in a few days and there was no warning. The police behaviour and treatment of the patrons was rough and bloody, prompting six days of violent protests. There were clashes between local residents alongside gay patrons, and the police and other law enforcement bodies. Law enforcement at the time was extremely anti-gay, with harassment commonplace. If you are interested in the background to the Riots, the History Channel website has a concise history of the period – https://www.history.com/topics/gay-rights/the-stonewall-riots. A fuller history appears on the pages of Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots. And Stonewall have their own articles which we’ll get to in a moment.
The riots have had a far-reaching effect not just in America, but across the world. Various organisations were set up in the States, including PFLAG (formerly Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and of course, the Gay Liberation Front. Nowadays there are many LGBTQ+ sympathetic organisations providing advice and resources, representing both those with a Christian faith, or those with no faith at all, and I have included an assortment of them on my General Resource and Trans Resources pages.
(As an aside, I have included a greater number of faith-affiliated resource sites because LGBTQ+ folk with faith have an even greater problem gaining acceptance because churches of most denominations are so quick to reject them, and obviously faith is something close to my heart. My website is not a commercial site – I don’t make money from it and so I don’t have ads on my pages, and so I also don’t include links for those agencies who will make money from new applicants. It’s a difficult and grey area, because some will want legal advice or treatment, and as I can’t vouch for anyone, you need to do your own legwork, I’m afraid. I can’t be seen to promote one company and not someone very similar. Charities with a long-standing reputation, I am very happy to list, but ultimately, I must be the one to make the decision, even if folk disagree with me!)
The Gay Liberation Front was founded almost immediately after the riots, and a little over a year later, had a London branch. However, the GLF only operated for a handful of years. By about 1974 it had either splintered into a number of other organisations or had inspired the setup of other groups. One of which was the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, who, you will remember, I previously mentioned in my November blog (“Religious Right, HIV/AIDS and Christian Marriage”). I mentioned Switchboard, because a Podcast I liked, called “The LogBooks” had been released in 2019-2021. This revisited the stories taken by the switchboard handlers between 1974 and 2003 and was a brilliant background for my studies and helped enormously, as I learned about a section of society, I had no previous contact with. These days the logbooks are held at the Bishopsgate Institute. To listen to the usually anonymised stories, go either to https://www.thelogbooks.org/listen, or your usual podcast provider and search for “The LogBooks”. The presenters of the podcast were keen to ensure the history of the LGBTQ+ community isn’t forgotten. When GLF splintered, not just the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard were formed, but also Gay News, and Icebreakers, who themselves went on to form the still running, impressive, and hugely stocked, Gay’s the Word bookshop, literally a stone’s throw from Russell Square tube station in London.
Wikipedia Indicates that “The GLF Information Service continued for a few further years providing gay related resources. GLF branches had been set up in some provincial British towns (e.g., Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Leeds, and Leicester) and some survived for a few years longer. The Leicester Gay Liberation Front founded by Jeff Martin was noted for its involvement in the setting up of the local “Gayline”, which is still active today and has received funding from the National Lottery.” If you are interested, the national link for Gayline, is http://www.gayline.co.uk/Helplines/.
Most UK readers have heard of the LGBTQ+ organisation “Stonewall”, but they weren’t founded until much later. In fact, they didn’t really get started until the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s – 20 years after the Stonewall riots, but nevertheless it is possible to draw a direct line back to the original riots: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/news/stonewall-uprising-50-years-lgbt-history. Over the period since its founding, “Stonewall” have changed from being largely a campaigning pressure group that people were wary of, to a place where it is fully respected by Government, employers, Trade Unions and society, though sadly, but not surprisingly, many faith groups.
It has done a superb job for the last 30 years fighting for LGBTQ+ rights “including:
- An equal age of consent for gay and bi men
- The end of Section 28 in Scotland and England and Wales
- Same-sex couples becoming free to adopt children
- LGBTQ+ people becoming free to serve openly in the Armed Forces
- Protection from discrimination at work
- The right for same sex-couples to have civil partnerships
- The right for LGBTQ+ couples to be legally recognised as parents
- The right for same-sex couples to get married
- LGBTQ-inclusive teaching in the national curriculum
We’re proud of the legal rights we’ve helped win.” https://www.stonewall.org.uk/our-impact
So, two song references this month, maybe next time see if I can raise the number!
Next month I might follow this Blog up and say something about the March, and how I saw it, what my impressions were, etc., because, as I write this, it is still a few days away, and won’t have happened when this hits your inboxes. There also might be updates to some of the issues we have spoken about in the past, or new issues, just coming to the fore. One that caught my eye this month was the decision by the swimming body FINA to ban trans-women from women’s swimming events, and instead create an “open” category where they would be able to compete. Other sports are sounding like they’ll follow the lead given by FINA. It’s a horribly complex issue and I wrestled with it previously as part of my essay, but it probably needs revisiting at some point. Every athlete has an advantage, but what is a fair advantage, and when does it become unfair?
Another item to catch my attention was that the Baptist Union of Great Britain are “reflecting on a request” to change its rules around same sex marriage for its accredited ministers. Wow! As someone who attended Baptist churches for very close to sixty years, this is huge. This is definitely a story to watch over the coming months. What will they decide? To read more about the story see: https://premierchristian.news/en/news/article/baptist-union-to-consider-allowing-ministers-to-marry-a-same-sex-partner, and the source document can be read here: https://baptist.org.uk/Articles/637884/Mission_Marriage.aspx Will this split the Union? My guess: almost certainly, because I know how passionate and defensive Baptist churches can get, although I deeply hope I’m wrong. Maybe it’ll become the Union of Diverse Baptist Churches! 😉 (The word “Union” seems a little anachronistic, or at least a misnomer!)
Yet another issue in the Christian press, was that there was quite widespread comment on a recent study that claimed that the only churches that were growing numerically, were those that were against “same-sex marriage” (frequently referred to as SSM – although I hate both descriptors, but will use them here as this was what was being headlined). https://www.premierchristianity.com/opinion/does-allowing-same-sex-marriage-result-in-church-decline-heres-what-the-numbers-show/13282.article
To my way of thinking that is saying that the ends justify the means. If you want the church to grow, you must advocate opposition to SSM. I want to ask whether they were arguing that it doesn’t matter whether the theology is right or wrong, the main thing is the church is growing?
Remember the “name it and claim it” theology of the recent past – the church in various parts of the world grew, in spite of this being an anti-Biblical theology. This theology preached that if you have faith, you can have what you like now, here on Earth, and was superficially based on Mark 11:23-24 and John 15:7. Mark 11 verse 24 says: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” It was a self-centred and promoted greed, and the catch was you only needed enough faith, so if you didn’t become rich it was because you didn’t have enough faith. Hmmm, where have I heard that idea used before? Oh, I remember, with conversion therapy!
Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20 and Luke 9:58) Under this “prosperity theology”, Jesus should have been rich beyond measure, but both he and his followers just about scraped by on handouts . Riches are not what we should be focussed on – a relationship with God, through Jesus, is where our focus must be.
In addition, consider the dodgy theology and lifestyles of so many megachurch leaders and US TV evangelists – people who have now been disgraced because of misconduct, where they couldn’t keep their own lusts under control. How much damage to the Kingdom has been done by them?
If the theology is wrong, it will ultimately end in problems – problems only Jesus can solve. In the meantime, spoiler alert, the church that will grow will be one that preaches John 3:16-18: “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, ...”
No caveats, no exceptions, simply whoever. That includes you too, if you want it to.