It was one of those events that you experience that you feel to your very core. My wife and I attended the Pride Parade in downtown Atlanta yesterday and it is an event I will never miss again.
LGBT rights were one of the beliefs that changed first for me in what my sons have grown to call “The Hippie-ization of Dad.” I am embarassed to admit that until the early 2000s, I didn’t believe in gay rights. At the time, I was a heavily engaged and involved Southern Baptist and I let their particular brand of hateful ideology drive my beliefs. But as events happened in my life and my base of life experience grew, I changed. I met the many gay coworkers that my wife has that have been some of the most loving and supportive people in her life. I met young men and women when I was teaching and coaching, both out and not and hear their stories of fear and anguish. I got to know friends of my sons who are gay.
Most importantly I came to realize that my beliefs about LGBT rights were wrong. I could no longer reconcile being part of something where we opened services singing Just As I Am and Amazing Grace, then preaching the exact opposite of that week after week. I sat and listened as this one particular “sin” was somehow worse than all of the others. They weren’t welcomed, they were rejected. They weren’t ministered to, entire sermons were devoted to how the LGBT community is responsible for every problem in the world today.
Why? Because they love differently. Nothing more, nothing less.
I watched as sons were thrown out of their parents homes and daughters were called “immoral whores,” taught students that were scared to come out to the their family for fear of being disowned. Grown men that upon coming out close friends were then called faggot to their face and friendships ended.
So we went to the parade as a mom and a dad that were there to support these brave and courageous souls. We were there because everyone deserves proud parents, even if just for a day.
What I experienced yesterday was the biggest display of love and acceptance of other human beings that I have ever personally experienced. Armed with our “Free Mom Hugs” shirt for my wife and my own “If your parents aren’t accepting of your identity, I am your dad now” shirt of my own, we walked the entire parade route from the assembly area all the way to Piedmont Park where the parade would end. It poured rain during our walk through the streets of Atlanta and nobody seemed to care.
As we walked we were stopped and hugged and thanked. We made new friends of people we will never see again. We wandered the sponsor and merchandise tent area and I marveled at the companies, from small non-profits to the largest companies in world support their gay employees. We stopped by politicans booth, national and local, to show our support. Put a few dollars in collection bowls at the suicide prevention, mental health and young people causes that are important to us.
I saw a little bit of everything yesterday. There were people from every race, color, and religion represented. Every combination of couples that you could imagine. While Melissa was browsing, I overheard a conversation behind me from a mixed race same sex couple who had adopted an abused mixed race boy of 8 with serious mental health issues.
I saw some of the most outrageous outfits I have ever seen and the people wearing them were completely comfortable in them. When you met someone new, you didn’t shake hands, you hugged. Happy Pride was a repeated greeting. We saw beautiful artwork, hand made and one of a kind items and beautiful clothes. We saw things that made us laugh, and things that made us tear up. In one booth, we saw a leather outfit that I am still not sure what one would do with Mr. Doodle & the Hangdown Twins, but I am too old to dress like that anyway!
Over the years, I was lead to believe the Pride Parade was one big hedonistic orgy. It was naked people everywhere. It was obscene and grotesque and anyone who took their kids shoud be charged with child abuse. It was sex in the streets. It was all shaved head militant lesbians and drag queens shouting “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” and screaming in people’s faces. However, what I experienced yesterday was the exact opposite of all those descriptions. Not one time did I witness anything I wouldn’t have wanted one of my kids seeing when they were younger. Everyone was polite and respectful. I have seen way worse behavior in the infield of a NASCAR race. The only confrontation that we saw the entire day was a turf battle between 2 homeless men.
As we finished walking through the park, the parade was just starting to pass so we walked up to watch the parade as they walked the last stretch of road before turning in the park.
I watched the array of people pass by and they are all of us. We saw 2 of the biggest, most burly Atlanta firefighters proudly holding hands. Watched as 2 police officers in tactical vests stopped and kissed in the middle of the road to thunderous applause. I saw 2 of the most beautiful women that Atlanta has to offer walk arm in arm down the street. Companies, city and state agencies, civic groups all marching in the parade in support of their LGBT employees and it was incredible.
Yet throughout the whole day I was very quiet and it wasn’t until this morning that I was able to tell my wife why. I was quiet because I had a lump in my throat most of the day. The dozens of hugs, hundreds of mouthed thank yous, the eyes that would read my shirt and instantly get tears in their eyes as they passed by. All of the sign language I love you signs from the other side of the road. The heartfelt appreciation of a whispered “I am proud of your courage,” then feeling the hug get tighter.
They were the best hugs from strangers with more feeling in them than I have ever felt. I am still overflowing with love today.
Yesterday was what life is supposed to be all about. Love. Love heals. Love bonds. Love makes the good times brighter and the bad times bearable. Love makes life better. Love is right.
But most importantly, #LOVEWINS
Thank you Atlanta LGBT community for your passion, your spirit and your beauty.
On the mental health side: Large crowds, trapped in my seat on the train, tight spaces, lots of noise from every direction, not being in control of my exit & being in downtown Atlanta didn’t bother me yesterday. Once we got there, anxiety was at or near zero all day. All of which is a huge deal with it all coming at once! Hard to be anxious when you are hugging people all day.
One of the beautiful souls I met yesterday. She was working in a booth in the vendor area promoting the Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention so I stopped to thank them for their work. When she read my shirt, she very shyly approached and asked if she could take a picture and send it to her girlfriend. She even insisted we do a version selfie style for “The Insta”
I knew the minute she so wearily approached me that she was one of “my people.” We shared our “semi-colon date” and explantions of personal tattoo meanings.
As we finished our conversation, she took her selfie with me, then kissed my cheek and quietly said “Thank you for being a proud dad.”
No, sweet girl, thank you for making my day.