The word came down the long parade of singing, dancing, cheering people, spreading amongst the crowd of rainbows: “There are religious protestors up ahead.”
We raised our eyebrows. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an honest-to-God protester at a pride march in Scotland.
I was walking in Glasgow Pride with a group of Scottish Episcopalians yesterday, our numbers and enthusiasm undampened despite the best efforts of the steely Scottish sky to drown us all. I was holding an enormous banner that proclaims, “The Scottish Episcopal Church Welcomes You.” I was standing with two priests, and behind us were a mass of Episcopalians, young and old, dogs and humans, men and women, bisexual and gay and straight, clergy and laity, veteran Pride attendees and Pride virgins, all wearing badges that say “Love Wins”, and, dashing about among the spectators lined along the pavements, a priest with a rainbow plait in her hair distributed invitations to come to church on Sunday morning.
I think there was a time when I’d have said we were a fringe group, in the Church. The first time I did Piskies at Pride, there were five of us. Yesterday, we were at least 25 of us and we were there with the blessing and the endorsement and the funding of my Diocesan Bishop. The world has changed. The church is changing. It has been slow and painful and bloody hard work, but it is happening and its truth is never more clear to me than when we all show up at Pride.
As we rounded the corner onto Saltmarket, the quality of the noise changed. The shouts which had been joyful became angrier, darker. The protestors we had been warned about came into view. A ragtag miserable looking crew, and a street preacher who was waving his bible in the air, and screaming about sodomy and sin and hellfire and damnation. None of it was about a God that I believe in or would have any time for if I did.
My experience of being a Christian who walks in gay pride marches as part of an identifiably Christian organisation is that people are generally quietly pleased to see us there. I’ve always felt welcome at Pride. As a group, we’re always kind of noteworthy — I walk beside someone who goes to Pride wearing a clerical collar and a badge identifying him as “Real Priest”, which is the sort of thing that still perks up most photographers. I’m not sure, though, that our presence has ever been actively cheered.
As we passed that ragtag bunch of protesters, we turned our banner on them.
The Scottish Episcopal Church Welcomes You.
And a roar went up from the crowd.
“Why do you do Pride? Aren’t we a bit past all that? Why is Pride even still necessary?” I’m asked sometimes. And then they remind me: “I mean, you’ve won.”
The truth is that we do Pride because of stuff like that, and because of what that kind of thing represents about the world in which we all live. Because when forty-nine people living at the epicentre of the land of the free and the home of the brave can be killed for being in a gay club, we haven’t won yet. Because when there are parts of the world where people are killed for being on a Pride march, we haven’t won yet. Because when being LGBT is still a criminal act in 72 countries and carries the death penalty in 13 countries, we have evidently not won yet. There are fights that still need fighting.
This weekend, I’ve been thinking about the day Gene Robinson came to Glasgow.
It was a summer day in Glasgow very much like yesterday — dark and dreich and very very wet. It was the year he had been barred from attending the Lambeth Conference and from celebrating Communion in England, and he came to Scotland instead. I remember that I was running very late for church that day, and that I was thoroughly taken aback when I opened my taxi door onto a bedraggled group of protesters and a couple of folk who pounced on me, trying to hand me bible tracts, as I stepped onto Great Western Road. And then from nowhere an arm descended around my shoulders and a voice told me to come inside. Inside, where there was warmth and light and joy and love.
A place where God is love.
The rain thundered down on us yesterday. The preacher ran alongside us with his megaphone, outraged and incoherent and drowned out by the sirens of the Scottish Ambulance Service doing it on purpose. A forest of rainbow umbrellas danced up the street. The people of Glasgow turned out onto the streets and hung out of their windows to cheer us on. Just over my left shoulder, a priest began walking backwards and conducting an impromptu rendition of Dancing Queen. And through the black clouds and pouring rain, the Holy Spirit shimmered and shimmied over our heads, boogeying ahead of us into that better world that we seek to create, where heaven has been built and truth that is Gospel has spread unto the ends of the earth.
God is love. God is love. God is love.