During the summer, LGBT people celebrate the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots with Gay Pride parades and festivals all across America. In the state of New York, what is arguably the most legendary Pride celebration in Manhattan was boosted by the June 24 passing of a bill legalizing gay marriage in that state. New York now tops the list states as the largest to pass such legislation. The celebration of this milestone will reverberate across the nation this weekend, and rightly so.
Gay pride has always been a somewhat elusive sentiment for me. The prevailing emotion connected to my sexuality has always been one of shame rather than pride. Early on I attributed this primarily to my experience growing up in the evangelical church, where the last thing I was made to feel about my burgeoning sexual orientation was pride. One would think that as I came to terms with my sexuality, the shame would have subsided and in its place emerged a true sense of the pride that so may celebrate each year. But it’s been over a decade since I “came out” as gay, and I still struggle to let go of shame and embrace my gay pride.
While the shame I felt as a young man can be attributed to my religious upbringing, the shame I’ve felt in more recent years has come not from external voices. Rather, it is the appropriate reaction to decisions and behaviors that I am simply not proud of. And herein lies the rub of the gay pride dilemma for me. While my LGBT brothers and sisters celebrate with parades and parties, costumes and music, I’m not sure we’re celebrating the same things.
As I took my first steps out into the gay community in my early twenties, I learned very quickly that my newfound sexuality was a highly valued commodity. Casual sex could be traded for a sense of belonging, feelings of attractiveness, and endless opportunities to satisfy the powerful cravings of a male sexual appetite that had been suppressed and starved for my entire life. Having distanced myself from the anchors of my faith community (essentially tossing the baby Jesus out with the bathwater in my newfound independence), I believed the hype and dove head first into this new culture where gratification was the prevailing core value.
A decade later, it is painful for me to reflect on the many pieces of me I gave away during those coming out years. Pieces of my innocence. Pieces of my soul. Treasured pieces of me that were haphazardly discarded in an effort to fit my perceived mold of an “out and proud” gay man. These were pieces of me I will never get back.
Needless to say, you won’t find me prancing down the street in a speedo celebrating the aspects of gay culture that have caused a great deal of pain in my life. And because of this, I’ll be perceived by some of my LGBT brothers and sisters as a self-loathing party pooper. But that’s not to say that I won’t be celebrating gay pride this year, because I most certainly will…
In fact, this year I will be celebrating gay pride more than I ever have in the past, but from a new place of self-acceptance and healing. This year I’ll be celebrating the fact that, across the United States, we are slowly but surely winning the battle for equal rights to marry or enter into civil unions. I believe that legally recognizing and validating the commitment of two gay people to live in a committed relationship with each other is the single most important step to changing the unhealthiest aspects of gay culture. There will be less reason for sneaking around in the shadows where healthy sexuality is corrupted by a shame-based grasping for false intimacy. And there will be couples walking around openly in our society as role models of a healthy expression of the deep love embodied in so many same-sex relationships.
And this year I will be celebrating the fact that, through the love of God, close friends and my partner, I am walking again in a restored sense of wholeness as a gay man and a follower of Jesus.
It was last year at a gay pride celebration that I met the man who I believe will be my partner for life. Yes, it was at a gay pride celebration, and the irony of those circumstances is not lost on me. Only a gracious God would meet me at the very point of my internal battle of shame over my sexuality and use a gay pride celebration to begin the next step in my journey toward restoring wholeness in my heart and soul. There is no coincidence in that for me. And each day I am learning first-hand how a powerful love (bestowed by God and reflected through people) can root out shame, and in its place leave a restored sense of one’s true value and worth.
So please allow me to wish you a Happy Gay Pride, my friends. Let’s celebrate the beginning of a new gay identity embodied by selfless and shameless loving relationships that can finally be lived outside of the shadows for all to see.