This past weekend was the 25th Anniversary of Pridefest in Milwaukee. I have been involved with Milwaukee Pridefest for the last seven or eight years – I can’t keep track any more – and this was our fourth or fifth year with a booth in the Health and Wellness area at Pride. For as many years, we have been doing the commitment ceremonies at Pride, both individual ceremonies and the group Celebration of our Relationships ceremony.
Earlier this Spring I was reflecting on Pridefest and its meaning for me. To be honest, I look forward to Pride more than any other event throughout the year. The reason is clear – there is no event that touches me more deeply, no conversations I have that are more powerful, no issues I discuss more critical than the ones I do at Pride. Every year, without fail, I meet people whose stories touch me deeply – and each story is very unique, whether they are conversations about problems with the Church, family members, friends or neighbors, employers, loneliness, adjustment issues, or any of a host of other discussions I have had over the years. Every year I see people who have waited years to express their love and commitment to their partners finally have the opportunity to do so – and such experiences make me even more upset at the small mindedness of the State of Wisconsin in failing to pass a marriage equality bill. What right do people who understand so little about love – as is clearly evidenced by their opposition to love they don’t understand – have to make any decisions about who may and may not be married?
I spoke with a man this year who had lived in a smaller town in central Wisconsin for a number of years and could never feel at home there because of his sexual orientation – and when he went to Church he had to endure the anti-gay preaching of the pastor. Another gentleman shared with me his experience of being excluded from the Episcopal Church because he is gay, then having become involved with a non-denominational church and becoming an elder there – until they found out he was gay and cast him out of the church. I also heard a gay emcees of Sunday night’s performances at the main stage not only be dismissive of the straight allies present in the audience but also refer to transgender individuals as “trannies” (a slur) and then turn around and praise himself for being politically correct because he no longer refers to lesbians as “dykes.” Even if he had been joking, it would not have been funny. Unfortunately, he was quite serious. Clearly, we all have a long way to go.
Nevertheless it is the heartfelt conversations, the refreshing total honesty, and the love so clearly expressed that give me hope and keeps me coming back. The ironic truth is that I can love people more freely and they are more open to and accepting of my love when they have been denied the ability to express their love fully. It is true – there is nothing that can conquer love.