In 2015, after my son had been out for a year, I took my family to a Gay Pride Festival in West Hollywood. He was 17. Walking up to the festival, we encountered protestors. The level of hate and shame some tried to blanket the crowd in shook me to the core. Especially when I considered I had never stood against it, and here I was with my three sons, 17, 16, and 8. I actually made them stop for a minute to take it in and have a teachable moment as to what we DON’T do. I scanned the crowd of people, some ignoring the noise, and others barely able to pass without a telling expression of pain or anger on their faces. I can be impulsive and intensely wild about preventing deep injustice. Naturally, the second I got a lump in my throat that grew to the point I couldn’t easily swallow it, I decided to come back the next year as an agent of love. I knew I was meant to DO something unusual at Pride 2016. I didn’t think about what I would do one more time until June of 2016.
When I attended the festival that year, I volunteered at the PFLAG booth. PFLAG is a support group for anyone who loves a person that is LGBTQ. Some are struggling to transition and accept the person coming out, others are strong allies….and to be honest I’d never even been to a meeting! I read their emails and I had been searching for ways to learn about LGBT+ people. I tend to just jump in the deep end of whatever I love or need. I get overwhelmed with a call to action and have to start somewhere, knowing, if it is meant to be, all the details will be sorted in due time. The booth and festival experience was unforgettable, but mostly because I met Shawn Lamb who was volunteering with me. He graciously shared his story with me and helped me become less green about a few details. Soon, I’ll tell you his story and how PFLAG made a difference in his life! He is an incredible individual and I am forever, forever, forever grateful to him for speaking so transparently. By answering my questions, Shawn changed my view of LGBT+ in about 30 minutes. At the end of our time in the booth, a woman came along. She was in her 50’s and stopped at the booth, hugged us, and said, “When I was much younger I would go to the PFLAG booth knowing I could get a hug. I would be hugged by people who knew I was a lesbian, and some years it was the only time I would be embraced regardless of her sexual identity because my parents stopped talking to me when they found out I was a lesbian.” All the sudden I didn’t care what or who she was because the words, “I wish they could see she is just a human” became embedded in my mind and heart. I realized people like her and Shawn have been paving the way for people like Cooper to be openly gay. I thanked her for doing just that and I choked back the tears. Pride was turning out to be a pretty emotional event and I wasn’t prepared for that so I just let my heart lead me.
I came home and began to think about what I would do for Pride on Sunday. I knew I wanted to go to the parade and make a sign expressing love. I thought I might talk to a couple people there and learn some more. I decided while falling asleep what my sign would say. I awoke the next day and saw there had been a shooting in Orlando at The Pulse. Things became surreal, but I had to keep going to get to my son who had stayed the night in LA. Driving along, I couldn’t believe that people went to dance somewhere and ended up dead because they were LGBTQ. I was concerned about my son’s safety as a gay young man….and I figured that fear would never go away since I had felt it from the minute he came out to me and my memory played the news of Matthew Shepard in my head. I knew that what I had planned to say was PERFECT for more reasons than I initially thought. This year instead of taking off my necklace that represents my faith for fear of being percieved as one who would wish to condemn them, I put it on boldly so that they would know that my faith is precisely why I love them. In fact the actual necklace was broken and I safety pinned it together. I decided I wouldn’t say anything about my faith unless I was asked. And believe me, I was asked, and I answered. However, I’m not interested in changing anybody, anywhere. I’m interested in making myself available for God to work through as I venture to places where I become aware of anyone’s need for strength, hope, and healing.
A couple of family members knew that Cooper and I were headed to pride and suggested we not go at all because of what happened in Orlando and because of the man just arrested in Santa Monica and on his way to Pride with explosive chemicals and assault rifles in his car. All I could think was, “If well meaning people want to call and tell me they’re worried, nothing will ever change. It would be nice if they would say, ‘I’m concerned, how can I help?’ Because they won’t, I have to. I was reminded of a time when I was like them and I told our cousin who volunteered on a bone-marrow transplant floor at a children’s hospital, “I don’t know how you can do that! I would be so depressed!” And then my own kid got cancer and I sat with those parents in waiting rooms and watched them hand their babies over to doctors and walk away, collapsing in each other’s arms. It didn’t take long for me to call that same cousin and say, “I take it back….HOW COULD YOU NOT?! What can I do?!” So I continued on the freeway, parked, made my sign.
I stood right in the middle of Santa Monica Blvd where the parade route ended at Robertson. I still can’t believe the events of that day. While standing on the median, I face the LGBTQ people marching IN the parade. Countless strangers stepped out of their place in the parade to come hug and kiss me, some barely keeping back the tears and holding on to me for so long their group had marched on without them. TONS mouthed or yelled the words, “Thank You” and/or “I love you”, while they blew kisses, made the shape of a heart with their hands, or gave me the peace sign. Are you reading this? Do you get it? I still can’t believe it! I just thought I’d talk to a couple young people who might stop for a hug. I had my picture taken more today than any other day by people in the parade and others standing around me! I became such a spectacle that I got interviewed by ABC news, NBC news, some French channel’s news, and some local newspaper I couldn’t even hear the name of, nor did I care by that point. I thanked them all for raising awareness. Wouldn’t you if your son was gay? By the time I was on my third interview I started feeling uncomfortable because it wasn’t why I came there. I came to send a message to the people of that community. On the fourth interview, I was right in the middle of a great conversation with a lesbian girl (she had been quietly taking in the parade next to me for a long time) who was raised by southern baptist missionaries, spent much of her life out of the US, and who had attended Biola. I came to LA Pride with my sign to love people like HER. And people like SHAWN. I came for MY SON! I may have come for YOUR SON! And do you want to know why I really came? I came because I want nothing to do with the deliberate marginalization of the LGBT+ community. There’s nothing special about the road I have chosen. Anyone can think of ways to be kind.
Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”