Our family wound its way through the streets of downtown Portland chasing the ebbing and flowing drumbeat of a marching band. We finally opted for the waterfront where we knew the marchers would eventually finish. We nudged our way to the edge of the street and were quickly swept into the jubilant mood of the celebrants. Rainbow flags and rainbow posters and rainbow tutus and hair stood out proudly against the rare Portland blue sky. Friendly shouts of “Happy Pride!” floated out amidst the sounds of the Portland Pride Band and our bodies bounced along to the band’s cadence and the dance music booming from the mobile DJs. It was our first Pride parade. They don’t have one of those in Abilene, Texas. We didn’t come all the way to Portland to attend this one. It was serendipitous, an upsized serving of the joy already experienced in the reunion with our oldest son and his wife, recent Oregon transplants, and a doubling of the delight from basking in the sheer beauty of the Pacific Northwest. (There isn’t much of that in Abilene, either.)
I was standing close to my son, Sam, my hand on his back, as he excitedly watched and videoed the parade. He had been looking forward to attending a Pride parade for a few years, since he came out and began his public journey as a young gay male -- not the easiest exodus in Abilene, Texas. Tears sprang into my eyes as I watched his eyes light up as each of the entries passed by us. He had never felt as openly welcomed and as boldly affirmed by such a large group of people. Nor had I.
There were 149 official entries in the Portland Pride Parade. (We were never sure if that included the daring skateboarder/dog duo that looped through the route several times.) These registered participants ranged from large corporate sponsors like Nike and Adidas to local businesses like a Daimler Truck dealership and Annie Haul and Portland Nursery. There were colleges and universities and a local charter school. There were churches including the United Church of Christ, the Lutherans, Episcopalians, congregations of the Christian Church and the United Methodists. The City of Portland and its mayor participated. Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon rode along in support. Non-profit organizations were well represented, both those designed to support the LGBTQ community, such as PFLAG and SAGE, and those with a broader thrust, such as Habitat for Humanity, the American Cancer Society, and the Oregon Food Bank.
Gay and straight employees and members of organizations donned rainbow shirts such as Nike’s #BETRUE design, and carried signs declaring their unfettered support of their coworkers and family members and friends. Tributes to the lives lost in the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando were a common theme, as “We are Orlando” signs were waved and placards with the names and faces of the victims were held by some as they marched solemnly. “Love is love is love is love … ,” a quote from Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tribute at the Tony’s was captured by Sharpie on poster boards too numerous to count. Love and peace and unity filled the warm air. It was intoxicating. There were supporters of all ages: tiny babies in slings and strollers and graying seniors whose steps were strong but slowed with years.
The joy on the weathered faces spoke the loudest message to me throughout the morning. These were the faces of people who have for years been fighting or hiding -- but all longing for the freedom to boldly declare their love for their partner, be treated with respect and dignity and not be discriminated against because of that love. And then, right on cue, a slim grey-headed woman with an infectious smile grabbed my son’s hand shouting, “Happy Pride!” pulled him into the street with her as the parade slowed, and she danced with him. Her invitation to join her was powerful. Come out of the crowd and celebrate with pride. Folks like her have done the heavy lifting, so even in Abilene, Texas, my son can share in her freedom. Her navy blue #BETRUE shirt was an invitation to me to a braver, prouder and truer display of love and support for my Sam and others in the LGBTQ community.
And so now, I boldly invite you to a more active love for our LGBTQ friends and neighbors that overcomes discomfort and fear. Ask about their lives. Listen to their stories. Welcome them into your circles. Walk alongside them.
And if you can, join the parade.