Written by Gregg Brekke
Celebrating with purpose and pageantry and energized by a buoyant UCC presence, hundreds of LGBT communities across the nation have marched, sung and reflected their way through the June commemoration of Gay Pride.
Tradition held strong in Boston, where the Pride theme of "Riots to Rights - Celebrating 40 Years of Progress" took to various venues. Among the estimated crowd of 35,000 at the Pride parade on June 19, was Sen. Richard Tisei, a gay Republican who is the minority leader of the Massachusetts Senate and a candidate for lieutenant governor of the state. "A lot of people have done a lot of work over the years to get to where we're at as a state, and I'm proud to say I'm from Massachusetts," said Tisei.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick marched in the parade as a candidate for re-election – and as the parent of a lesbian daughter. "We have been working very, very hard to assure true equality for all residents of the commonwealth," said Patrick, whose daughter Katherine is a member of Old South Congregational UCC in Boston.
"I give thanks to God every day for living in a Commonwealth in which queer people are, and are becoming ever more, integrated into its fabric," said the Rev. Quinn G. Caldwell, associate minister of Old South and the church's first openly gay pastor. "I also give thanks for the UCC, with our 350-year commitments to education and dialogue, and our more recent commitments to tolerance and diversity, all in God's name."
Record-setting rain in Portland, Oregon, gave way to peeks of sun June 20 as 130 organizations marched before an estimated crowd of 20,000 in the Pride Northwest Parade. "UCC congregations were there from across Oregon and Idaho," said the Rev. Chuck Currie of Portland.
Because the parade was held on a Sunday, a special early-morning service was held for parade participants at First Congregational UCC. Marchers carried a UCC banner and signs for every Open and Affirming congregation in the conference. Many carrying signs were children. A pink 1970s-era Volkswagen van carried those unable to walk.
"People who lined the street to watch the parade could be heard chanting 'UCC! UCC!' said Currie. " 'That's the church that wants to let us get married,'one woman yelled as the UCC contingent passed the reviewing stand."
For Northeast Portland residents Scott Sward and Michael Leonard, Pride events have special significance. They met at the Pride celebration 17 years ago when the parade truck Leonard was driving broke down, and Sward jumped from a group of onlookers and helped push it to the parade's end. The two have been together ever since.
The Columbus Pride Festival on June 19 drew about 200,000, according to Karla Rothan, executive director of Stonewall Columbus. Nearly 450 volunteers had a hand in organizing the parade, which featured 20 more floats than in 2009.
Clad in bright red "Just North" t-shirts and toting giant squirt guns to cool the crowd along the route, members of North Congregational UCC joined several other LGBT-friendly Central Ohio congregations. At one point, onlookers shouted, "North Church! North Church!"
"The crowd along the parade route has grown larger and friendlier over the years – far fewer angry protesters and far, far more celebration of LGBT pride," said the Rev. Eric Williams, senior pastor of North Congregational.. "Our participants are a nice mix of LGBT and straight members of the congregation, young and old and in between."
The city of Miami Beach, Fla., held its second annual Pride event in April where the Rev. Laurie Hafner, pastor of Coral Gables (Fla.) Congregational UCC, rode on a float as Glinda the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz.
Perhaps opting for cooler climes to show their pride, North Carolina Pride (Raleigh/Durham), South Carolina Pride (Columbia) and Pride in the Park (Roanoke, Va.) are scheduled for September.