We had experienced heavy rainfall and flooding in the area only hours before the Pride parade was to begin. My walk of a few miles to the grandstand required a lot of tip-toeing, dodging mud puddles, and leaping so as to preserve the pristine whiteness of my Converse sneakers.
A few days before, as my daughter and I searched for rainbow apparel at a nearby mall, I had joked upon buying an age-appropriate, vertically-striped rainbow shirt at Forever 21, “Oh, I thought this store was called Forever 61.”
Ha ha. Ha ha ha. My daughter rolled her eyes.
Walking down the tree-lined residential avenue where I’d found street parking, I soon encountered obvious parade-goers sporting every sort of rainbow-colored clothing and shoe wear. Some wore less clothing and more body paint and glitter. Families with young children, couples holding hands, twinks in colorful Speedos, drag queens, and dogs in tutus—everyone was there, and the welcoming, joyful atmosphere was unmistakable.
About half a mile from the grandstand I caught sight of the first sign. “Got AIDS?” it asked in angry red letters. “God hates fags!” and “Sin and Shame, NOT Pride!” and “Fags Die, God Laughs” blasted other protest signs. The fundamentalist Christians were here.
A young man stood nearby, shaking his head. “Pitiful, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he replied, “and it causes so much pain.” Flipping his cigarette aside, he ducked away, his bitterness palpable. “They’re the Westboro Baptist Church,” another bystander told me. Ah, that made sense. A fringe group of five or six protesters, surrounded by as many cops and tens of thousands of parade-goers, they looked ridiculous. Even so, I suspected that they justify their hatred by believing they are standing up to the forces of evil in a nation headed for separation from God and imprisonment in an eternal darkness–presumably interrupted only by the glitter and occasional bursts of confetti brought to hell by gays.
Edging up to the parade barricades, I noticed a man in front of me wearing a t-shirt with a rainbow-colored cross and the words, “God is love … is love … is love … is love” on the back. Tapping him on the shoulder, I thanked him for sharing an alternate view of Christianity. He and his wife turned to me and smiled. “Our son is gay,” the wife explained, “and we never once thought or told him that God would hate him or he’d go to hell. That’s not love.”
That’s not love.
The rhythmic, deep resonance of bass drums heading our way vibrated through the soles of my feet. As the natter of snare drums, rattles, and tambourines advanced, anticipation and joy erupted all around. Suddenly, I was just a kid again, relishing a good parade.
Leaning forward against the barrier and peering east, I could see flashing lights, bursts of color, and the twinkle of tinsel glinting in the low-lying western sunlight. As a black police SUV with flashing lights slowly approached, I strained to see past the cops to the group leading the parade.
I saw their signs first, lifted high, dipping and swaying playfully in the wind: Caddo, Yuchi, Pawnee, Pawhuska, Kiowa, Osage, Choctaw, Otoe Missouria. Colorful ribbons from ribbon dresses, shirts, and skirts fluttered cheerfully in the breeze as the Central Oklahoma Two-Spirit Society drew near.
My breath caught in my throat; tears sprang to my eyes. Arguably the most disenfranchised peoples in America were leading the way in a parade celebrating the culture and pride of another marginalized group.
This was fierce, joyful participation.
This was love in motion.
Before his murder, Oglala Lakota Sioux leader Crazy Horse spoke about the “suffering beyond suffering” of Native peoples whose tribes and lands had been decimated by the violent greed of white colonists. Crazy Horse prophesied:
The Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world; a world filled with broken promises, selfishness and separations; a world longing for light again.
I see a time of Seven Generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the Sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again.
In that day, there will be those among the Lakota who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things and the young white ones will come to those of my people and ask for this wisdom.
I salute the light within your eyes where the whole Universe dwells. For when you are at that center within you and I am that place within me, we shall be one.
I saw the colors of mankind gathered under rainbow-hued banners Sunday night, and there was so much light.
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Lang, Sabine. Men as women, women as men: Changing gender in Native American cultures. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1998.
Pruden, Harlan. “Two-Spirit People: Sex, Gender, & Sexuality in Historic and Contemporary Native America.” 2013. Web. 25 June 2018.
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