18 July 2011

The Real Rainbow

I had a wonderful childhood with loving parents, a classic suburban neighborhood with soccer moms and kids on bikes and skateboards and lots of green grass and the occasional backyard swimming pool. The beach just minutes away. I remember realizing there were kids who lived in the middle of the country a thousand miles from a beach, and honestly not comprehending how they could endure it.

I grew up thinking pretty much everyone’s life was like mine. That everyone looked and lived basically like I did. There were virtually no ethnic minorities in our area; it was as WASP-ish as could be. Even the kids who went to school at St. Bonaventure’s instead of the public schools all looked like the rest of us, except for those school uniforms. I went to church every Sunday where everyone looked like me too, and was taught there that God loves everyone throughout the world. As far as I knew, the world looked like my neighborhood. Things seemed pretty good. God was in his heaven, all was right.

Then I grew up and left home and went on an LDS mission and encountered real poverty for the first time. The first house I was ever invited into was so small that I had to crouch down and literally squeeze through the door. Inside were two rooms that totaled maybe 200 square feet. For a whole family. Later I met a very old grandfather who had outlived everyone else in his family and was so poor he slept in a niche of bare rock in the corner of an unfinished basement of a large apartment building on a hillside. No heat in the winter, and winters were very cold. I learned pretty fast that the world did not look like my home neighborhood.

Fast forward some years. Everyone at church still looks the same. With very few exceptions that I noticed usually didn’t last long before drifting away, it was the same WASP-ish middle and upper middle class nuclear family types I grew up with. The ones that fit the church-approved mold for what you had to do in order to go to the highest heaven. But I also noticed that virtually nobody new came in the door, and when one occasionally did, they didn’t stay long. Hmmmm. Wonder why.

Emerson said “give me truths, for I am weary of the surfaces.” And last weekend I had a massive dose of truth, of what the real world looks like. Of what all of God’s children look like, in their incredible, amazing, magnificent, blazingly colorful variety. A true symphony of diversity. I was a volunteer at the San Diego Pride Parade & Festival. For two days I watched as the most incredible parade of humanity walked past. Every conceivable size, shape, age, color, appearance, dress. White-haired grandpas and grandmas, little kids in strollers. Skin from the palest to the darkest, and every shade in between. Dress from the most prosaically conservative to the most outlandish.

The coolest thing was that everyone was accepted just as they were. No opprobrium, no pejoratives, no prejudice, no raised eyebrows or harrumphing about more than one piercing per ear or pressure to make everyone look like everyone else. Mr. Normally Fairly Conservative me was delighted to get a picture with the most fabulously dressed and beautiful African-American woman. I think she was a woman. Whatever. Didn’t matter.

What also didn’t matter was stereotypes or orientation. I met guys there dressed in the most wildly outlandish stuff who I know for a fact are straight, and guys who I knew were gay yet dressed in the most ordinary “straight guy” clothes, and without a hint of stereotypically gay mannerisms. Lesson: Don’t judge. Orientation doesn’t matter. They are all children of God, with the right to live free of prejudice and fear and homophobia and to have their lives and the way they love respected.

If there was one group there larger than any other, it was the regular, ordinary-looking people. Grey-haired men with scruffy beards in cargo shorts and t-shirts, who looked like they could be truckdrivers capable of beating the crap out of you in a bar fight, were holding hands and kissing each other tenderly. Women couples who looked straight out of the suburbia I grew up in, holding hands and pushing strollers with their kids. So many kinds of families. The outlandish types were the minority. Most were just regular folks. So much for "the gay lifestyle."

Honestly, I wish every Mormon ward and stake would have the courage to bring their comparatively cloistered and sheltered youth to the Pride Festival. Let them walk around and see the rainbow of diversity that is really what God’s children look like. They’ll learn things from that which no officially sanctioned lesson manual recited in a plain brick classroom could ever teach. Jesus went to church, of course, but I think afterward he didn’t go home to nap or shut himself away in a room and do nothing in order to “keep the Sabbath day holy.” My bet is that he went right back out amongst the people wherever he was, talking, teaching, visiting, helping, observing, eating, drinking, healing.

On Saturday there were reportedly some 200,000 people watching the parade, and I think all of them must have flooded into the festival at the park afterward. It was astounding to see. All celebrating diversity and being proud of who they were. Though some folks don’t quite know it yet, the battle has been won. This progress can’t be stopped. What a great thing to live in a time when I can see it all happening.

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