Even though Iowa is one of 12 states that allows all people the freedom to marry, the Rev. Geoffrey Black, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, feels that LGBT rights are important to lift up and affirm at every opportunity. Black will be marching with fellow UCCers in a Des Moines Pride parade on Sunday, June 9.
"One of the best ways to let a community know that you recognize and respect them is to stand with them," Black said. "To do that alongside United Church of Christ members who have been part of a witness for LGBT equality for more than a decade will be an extraordinary opportunity. We have a chance to march together for the compassion and dignity for LGBT persons in the Iowa community and beyond."
Black is in Iowa for the annual meeting of the Iowa Conference of the UCC. The senior pastor at Urbandale UCC in Des Moines, the Rev. Dave Sickela, invited Black to worship with his congregation Sunday morning, and join UCC members in the parade as part of a public march for LGBT equality. The parade is part of a weekend celebration, Pridefest 2013, from June 8-9, and is open to anyone who wants to participate.
"The church has been part of the pride parade for the last 15 years," said Sickela. Other Iowa UCC congregations in the region are also participating in the event, including Plymouth Congregational (Des Moines), Crossroads United Church of Christ (Indianola) and Ames United Church of Christ (Ames).
Capital City Pride works to recognize the importance of LGBT culture in the Midwest. The annual Iowa parade, which takes place the second weekend in June, promotes acceptance, tolerance, and an understanding of the LGBT community through advocacy and visibility.
Sickela said Urbandale’s involvement in the parade this year coincides with the congregation’s decision two decades ago to become an inclusive church.
"We just celebrated the 20th anniversary of our vote to be an Open and Affirming congregation. For me, the congregation its celebrating 20 years of ONA in this parade,"Sickela said."Beyond that, I think [our participation is important in] affirming LGBT rights in general beyond marriage. There are lots of ways in which LGBT folks are discriminated against."
Black is believed to be the first leader of a national denomination to participate in the pride parade.
The UCC's General Synod affirmed full marriage equality for all couples in 2005, and there are now more than 1,000 open and affirming churches registered with the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns.
There are currently 12 states, along with Washington, D.C., that permit, or will soon permit, same-sex marriages: Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Iowa was the first in the Midwest to permit marriage equality.