Queerly Beloved: Let’s Not Forget, This Started with a Riot

By : Rev. Jakob Hero-Shaw
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As the Tampa Pride celebration approaches, I am readying my family and my congregation for the festivities. Like many other LGBTQ-affirming organizations in the Tampa Bay area, my church is currently collecting our materials for the booth, gathering up beads to throw and buying new matching t-shirts for our contingent to wear in the parade.

I am honored to be one of the grand marshals for Tampa Pride this year. As a clergy person, the significance of holding a public role in Pride is not lost on me. I know that for some, seeing a religious leader at Pride is validating and empowering, but I know that for others it can be triggering and upsetting. As a faith leader, all I can do is offer love and compassion to everyone I encounter, especially at Pride.

Anyone who has been to Pride events, in almost any city, knows that not all in attendance will be there to support us. In fact, there will be those who show up aiming to do us harm. They will be armed with poorly designed signs and Scripture verses that are taken out of context. Even though we might laugh at them as we go by, the truth is that their presence can be harmful. At Pride we can bring profound healing to our community in the face of such spiritual injustice. Pride isn’t just a big party; it is a celebration of our wholeness. We fought for our right to be here, and no one can take it away from us.

In addition to the season of Pride, this is also the liturgical season of Lent. For many Christian churches, Lent is the time set aside to reorient ourselves in our relationship to God and to our neighbor. It is a time to evaluate where we may have fallen short and ask for forgiveness. Many people may be familiar with Lent as a season when people give something up, such as eating meat or drinking alcohol, because Christian tradition holds that this is a time of repentance. But few people today know that in Scripture, the word that is commonly translated as “repentance” is actually “metanoia,” which more accurately means “transformation.”

It may seem like a vast theological leap to go from the season of repentance to a celebration and parade in the streets, but let’s not forget that Pride is more than simply a celebration. We take to the streets now to honor the transformation that began with riots. To truly celebrate Pride we must embody a transformative ethos of Pride. We must rise up and proclaim that we are surviving. When we embody Pride we speak the truth of our sacred existence. We speak this truth in a culture that wants to strip us of our rights, deny us our families and ban us from faith communities.

Even though Lent is nearly over, it is not too late to give something up. I recommend that we collectively give up our fear and shame. I recommend that we put aside the ridiculous notion that there aren’t enough rights to go around. I recommend that we let go of the harmful assumptions that prevent us from standing in solidarity with each other and with all people who are oppressed. I recommend that we honor the courage of those who fought for this moment by living an embodied and transformative message of Pride for all who need our support. I believe we must stand up and we must also make way for others. When we celebrate Pride we must not neglect those who don’t fit the media’s image of “Gay Pride.” Pride means supporting communities of color who are all too often silenced. It means supporting those Dreamers for who this country is home—regardless of paperwork. It means lifting up and validating those youth activists who are literally marching for their lives on March 24. We fought hard to get to where we are, let’s not build a wall to stop others from living into empowerment.

No matter what one’s spiritual tradition, I know we can agree that in a time such as this, we can live into the spirit of Pride by shaking free of that which holds us down. As we discover our continued liberation, those of us who are in places of privilege must also stand up for others. I could not be the man I am today, a pastor, a husband, a father, if those who came before me hadn’t rioted.

Now is the time to admit that our community is big enough to hold different views. We must embody the message of solidarity as we march. We do not have to all look the same, speak the same language, honor the same traditions or love in exactly the same way, for this movement to belong to all of us.

We must take to the streets to show each other, and—more importantly— the generations that come after us, that there is no shame in being who we are. There is no need to fear. There is honor and beauty in loving who we love. There is courage and bravery in claiming our own gendered embodiment. This is the cause for which our predecessors rioted. This is the cause that will bring hope to our queer descendants.

We all know there are some other religious leaders in town who are readying their families and church communities with protest signs and messages of hate. We in the LGBTQ community of Tampa Bay will come armed with something far more powerful: generations of rioters, activists and the legacy of those who Acted Up, those who would not back down. We come armed with the truth that we are worthy, that we are worth it, and we refuse to be silent.

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