We live in suburbia just outside of San Francisco. We’ve lived here for twenty years (minus the four years when we entertained a crazy idea of moving away, but ended up right back where we left off). Living here, Pride weekend had always been just an inconvenience in June that kept us from taking the train into the city due to trying to avoid all the “crazy” people and their “inappropriateness”, never mind the crowds that went along with it. Aside from that I never gave Pride much thought. That is, until our son came out to us a few years ago. You can read more about that HERE.
Since then, our son has come out publicly and our family completely supports and loves him. For the last couple of years we’ve been out of town during the San Francisco Pride parade so the idea of going wasn’t even an option But this past summer we were in town during Pride weekend and I started considering attending. We’re actively involved in a local group here in the Bay Area working toward an inclusive LDS LGBT community and we were invited by several people in that group to march with their contingent, Mormons for Equality.
At first my husband and I thought maybe we’d go alone and represent our family because we didn’t know how family-friendly the atmosphere would be. My old fears of “crazy” people and “inappropriateness” returned and I was afraid that my kids would see things beyond their PG-13 parent-imposed limits. Having never attended a Pride parade, we really didn’t know what to expect. But since the parade was on a Sunday, and Sundays are reserved for our family, we decided that if we were going to go, we were going together and marching as a family.
Because I had made the decision kind of last minute, there wasn’t time to order t-shirts so I headed to Hobby Lobby to pick up anything rainbow I could find so I could “get my craft on”. Of course, since Hobby Lobby is a Christian-owned store, the rainbow options were scarce but I ended up buying white t-shirts and some tie dye and we tie dyed the heck out of those shirts. I also picked up some poster board, colored Sharpies, and dowels and we spent a couple hours making signs for the march.
On Sunday morning, with our signs in hand and our tie dye game on, we boarded BART and headed toward the city. It was standing-room only filled with people wearing all the colors of the rainbow including two men with their adorable 2 year-old twins and a woman applying rainbow sequins on the cheeks of anyone wanting just a little extra glitter. At each stop more and more people boarded until literally the only parts of my body not touching a stranger were my hands and head. Surprisingly my claustrophobia didn’t get the best of me and the vibe in our car remained positive. But man, were we relieved to abandon the train at the Montgomery Street station!
I’ll admit that the scene, once we emerged onto the street, was a little bit chaotic with so many people milling about and music blaring from multiple contingents but as we walked along the parade route searching for our meeting spot and as I glanced at my gay son, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I could see the joy in his eyes that he was among “his people”. There were people who looked a lot like him with glamorous makeup and colorful hair and Doc Martens and eccentric clothing. For once, instead of being the target of critical and confused stares from strangers, he was getting compliments on his makeup and smiles from the people we passed. And for once, instead of feeling like a fish out of water, he fit right in. As a pretty average mom dressed as myself among these extraordinary people, I felt like a fish out of water and I caught a tiny glimpse into what it must be like for him on a daily basis as a minority in a primarily heteronormative society. I began to better understand the importance of Pride.
We eventually found Mormons for Equality sandwiched between the Women’s March Bay Area contingent and a dozen or so drag queen beauty pageant contestants whose official contingent name, after a pretty thorough search of the net, I couldn’t come up with. Compared to the gigantic Bay Area corporate contingents like Google, Disney, AirBnB, and LinkedIn, our contingent was tiny with about 25 of us representing. We had a solid two hours to wait until kick-off so we shared snacks, did a lot of people watching and got to know the people around us. Several people came up to our family and asked for a photo as we held up our signs. Among these was a man with the Women’s March contingent. He tearfully expressed his appreciation for me, as a Mormon mom who accepts and supports her gay son, because although he isn’t LGBT and doesn’t have any LGBT children, his Mormon family disagrees with his support of gay rights and his LGBT friends. It’s been such a divisive topic that they no longer speak to him or his wife. He wanted me to know how much he appreciated me being there to represent what love should be.
I was not the only mom with our contingent. My friend Laura was there with her family as well. We both held signs expressing our love for our gay sons and as we were standing in line waiting for the parade to begin, one of the men from the contingent in front of us dressed in a sequin beret, a tiny silver speedo, a leather chest harness, and glistening from head to toe in glitter, glanced over at the two of us, read our signs, and gave a thumbs up and a smile. So, naturally we asked for a photo with him! It didn’t go without notice that, from first impression, I’m ashamed to say he was the kind of person I would have steered clear of a few years ago. But he was kind and friendly as was his entire group as we were sharing 20 square feet of sidewalk in the city that day. They even offered to dust us with glitter.
The parade did eventually begin and as we stepped off and joined the procession I was a little bit worried. I was worried our group of Mormons wouldn’t be welcomed. I was worried because Mormons have historically been known to be one of the most determinedly anti-gay of any Christian denomination. I was worried what reaction we might receive. But as we marched along the street lined with thousands and thousands of spectators, we were met with exuberant cheering, applause, thumbs ups, hands over hearts, and tears. I choked up more than a few times as I heard “Yes Mom!”, “Thank you, Mama!”, “I love you!”. We even had a policeman or two smile and wave to us. My gay son, with his tie dye shirt, his colorful freckles and rainbow striped pants, was on one end of our contingent’s banner with his friend on the other end and they both received applause and shouts of affirmation. My youngest son who was marching alongside me with his poster that said “Dogs love everyone” had smiles and waves for the crowd and was enjoying collecting all the Chipotle “Homo Estas” BOGO cards he could get his hands on.
At the end of the parade, as we dismantled our group and made our way back to catch the train, I reflected on our first Pride parade experience. I was full of gratitude that I, a straight white Mormon mother, was allowed the space to take part in the LGBT community’s celebration of Pride and an appreciation and better understanding of its significance. Was there nudity? Yes, there was a friendly topless woman in the Women’s March contingent giving out hugs along the parade route but somehow she went unnoticed by both of my kids. Did they hear profanity? No more than they hear at school every day. Did they see anything shocking that we wouldn’t have been able to talk about? Nope. Because we were in the parade, we only saw the crowds along the route and the people in the parade we were walking with. I’ve heard the festival is where the real fun begins and we were too exhausted to stay for that. The consensus from all four of us was that it was much tamer than we were expecting and the people we met and saw were so kind and supportive and happy. Am I glad I brought my kids? Absolutely! It was important for us to show our kids that our family loves and supports one another. It was a Sunday well spent. I’m glad my youngest son was able to see that the world is full of all different kinds of people including people very similar to his older brother. Sometimes getting outside of our comfort zone is where we learn and grow the most. The more we can spend time with people who aren’t just like us, the more we come to understand one another better and the smaller the divide between us grows. At our core, we all want the right and the opportunity to love and be loved, heard, and accepted. It was an experience I’ll never forget and one I hope to repeat again. And next year – more glitter!