Below is an article written by PFLAG Milwaukee mom Jane Rasmussen about her experience at her first Pride Parade.
Serving on the welcoming committee for a PrideFest celebration at Milwaukee's lakefront last weekend was a rite of passage for me.
I came alone, but I was not alone.
There stood PFLAG (Parents, Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a group that had given me hope and companionship in my struggle with the civil rights issue of our day. I wanted to stand up and be counted among those who welcomed and celebrated diversity, and this was my chance. I took my courage from their collective courage some 37 years in the making since their founding in New York City in 1973.
I was intrigued by the faces in the crowd. Some came painted white for mime performances. Others came in magnificent drag costume. Some were as ordinary as my next-door neighbor and my co-workers.
In my position at the gate, I saw spiked hair and multicolored Mohawk s; T-shirts laden with challenging messages; rainbows on clothes, jewelry and skin; tattoos of every kind; family troupes, couples or loners; people in wheelchairs; toddlers in strollers through seniors with walkers and canes; Christians, non-Christians and the un-Christian.
Negative energy worked its way in as police on horseback and motorcycles arrived with the folks who showed up, self-designated as God's representatives, to shower their own brand of darkness on our parade. A deluge of literature, condemnation, preaching and general harassment barred entrance to the festival grounds for the two hours they spent there before they departed with their police escort. The air cleared.
Positive energy flowed from mothers and fathers who welcomed and honored their children, one with a sign that read "God blessed me with a gay son. Amen" that she has carried long enough to have become an icon at the festival. That message and the warmth of the mother who carried it caused grown men to tear up and ask for a hug in memory of a mother who had died or one who could not be there but would have been had she not been so far away.
I promised a young black woman that her own mother would overcome the rejection she now felt and be proud of her beautiful daughter someday.
I listened to a vet tell of suicide among the young people who couldn't come to grips with their orientation. I hugged an old man who wanted to know how my gay son was doing and saw the joy on his face when he heard me say, just fine.
"Glad to hear that things are changing," he said with a lump in this throat.
I explained to a man on crutches who was resentful and angry of the sign "Homosexuality is a sin" that had been posted by the extreme right-wing, Bible-thumping group across the street that not every member of organized religion was as judgmental and rejecting as they were.
I suggested that he contrast the energy on this side of the street with the loneliness on the other side, and he would know in his heart where God's love abounded. I saw him at the Sunday service the next morning. I heard a fellow volunteer comfort a young Asian man torn in confusion by the messages of hate and anger he had just received as he had walked from the parking lot.
"Yes, we would be glad to have our pictures taken with you - to send back home to your Mom. . . . Thank you for the roasted nuts you shared . . . and the bottles of water you brought us in the heat of the long afternoon sun . . . for the beautiful card in the basket you won that you wanted me to have . . . and the money you gave me as your way of treating me to supper. . . . And thank you for the thumbs up, the mouthed 'Thank yous' and the hugs of appreciation you freely bestowed. . . . It was my honor to be there, I assure you. . . . I was humbled by your applause as I entered the shuttle bus to take our sign to the parade, and grateful to the young man from Marshfield who asked me to share his seat."
I wondered as I drove home if there wasn't some way to make PrideFest happen more often. Once a year is just not enough for me.