Strangers like Me



by John Tyler Connoley


July 7, 2007



I recently attended my first General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC). The UCC is probably the most progressive Christian denomination in the United States, and traces it's heritage to a merger of two denominations in 1957. One of those denominations was the Christian Congregationalist Church, so there's a UCC on every corner in New England. However, here in the Southwest, UCCs are few and far between. In the land of Grace Bible Calvary Baptist Temples, our little progressive church is the only UCC in 300 miles.

So, for me, one of the most exciting things about being at General Synod was getting to hang out with ten thousand other UCCers. On Saturday, the organizers had planned a day of activities in the park. And, as I walked across the wide expanse of grass, listening to a gospel quartet singing four-part harmony on one of the stages, seeing kids in UCC T-shirts playing Frisbee, noting the Peace Bubble guy and the military chaplains in their uniforms, I thought, "This feels like my first Gay Pride event." Here were all these people who shared one thing in common with me, and yet we were a motley bunch. I would probably never even know most of them, if we didn't all belong to the same denomination.

Then, after returning from Synod, I had a conversation with a friend about Pride parades. This friend feels the gay community has watered down the meaning of Pride by adding too many letters to the LGBTIQ soup. First, it was Gay Pride (which included lesbians). Then we added bisexual, and then transgender people. Next, we had to include intersex people -- because, well, they're also a sexual minority. Then some of us started calling ourselves "queer," and saying that queer should include almost anyone who's outside the sexual or gender norm -- even the Big Love Mormons might be queer, if really you think about it.

These days, my friend opines, Pride includes everything from club bois and leather daddies, to drag queens and androgyns. How are we supposed to make a reasonable case for our full inclusion in society when we're being represented in the Pride parade by a grandpa in a leather thong or a drag queen in a giant pink wig and a purple bustier?!

I think this might be a worthwhile question, if Pride parades were about societal acceptance. When the Daughters of Bilitis planned the first ever marches for gay civil rights in the early 1960s, they asked all the women to wear dresses and all the men to wear suits, so they would look respectable to the politicians they were trying to reach. However, I don't think that's what Pride parades are for anymore.

Instead of being marches for civil rights, Pride parades are like the UCC General Synod's day in the park -- a chance to hang out with a lot of people who share one thing in common with you, but who are otherwise nothing like you.

We live in an age when civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are moving forward at unbelievable speed. Putting a grandpa in a leather thong or drag queen in a big pink wig on the evening news is not going to change the fact that more and more people have cousins, siblings, parents, and children who have come out of the closet and normalized same-sex love and transgenderism for them.

Pride events certainly commemorate the Stonewall riots of June 1968, when queer people finally stood up and said they were tired of police harassment and second-class citizenship, but their purpose is now community building more than activism. Pride parades are a chance for the club bois and the leather daddies to meet each other, a place to see how diverse people can be even when they have something in common.

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