I thought I was pretty evolved on Pride, the meaning of it, the tactics of social protest, and the way to bring about meaningful, substantive change.
After all, I’m a child of the ’60’s trained in the Alinksy method of confrontational protest, active in the Anti-Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and Voting Rights demonstrations and labor-organizing campaigns going back more than 50 years. I’ve been tear-gassed, and spat upon, accused of being a Communist, and stared back into faces contorted with hate.
I’ve marched with Al Sharpton over the Brooklyn Bridge to protest the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo, and walked through a grieving, seething crowd in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with Mario Cuomo to attend the funeral of another young black, victim of hate and gun violence, Yusef Hawkins.
I’ve participated in more Pride parades than I can count, and 25 years ago — following Bill Clinton’s terrible Defense of Marriage Act — wrote an article advocating “Marriage for All,” for a string of suburban newspapers with a largely conservative readership.
I think of myself as fairly fearless on issues of human rights, and always ready to right any wrong. But, this year, during an LGBTQ Pride celebration in Sonoma County, CA, I was taught a valuable lesson by a group of students, ages 10 to 18, representing all colors of the Rainbow.
As the students celebrated Pride Month together in the Village Square of the City of Healdsburg — where we have an openly gay, Latino Vice-Mayor — I spotted a cranky old man about 100 paces away, waving the Bible toward them. His beard was grey and scraggly, and he could have passed for some street lunatic. He kept waving the Bible at them, punctuating each thrust of The Book with shouts of “Jesus loves you, Jesus loves you.” The tone of his voice was not conveying love.
Everyone of my protest instincts — honed by years of being harrassed by crackpots — kicked in. My body went on high alert, poised to spring into action if the Bible thumper took one small step toward the students. I was prepared to grab his Bible, and focus his wrath on me, not them.
Just as I was about to pounce, the students— numbering about 12 to 15 — all got up from where they were talking and enjoying the beauty of the occasion, and quietly walked toward the Old Man with the Bible. They didn’t say a word, and, en masse, headed in his direction. I stood ready to back them up.
Suddenly, the Jesus freak started walking away, frightened by the show of force, resolve and unity by this proud group of pre-teen and teenaged humans. I was stunned, and reminded of the quiet, effective demonstrations to integrate lunch counters by students during the 1960’s.
Not a word was uttered; no curses, no shouting. With each stride the students took in solidarity toward the Bible thumper, he took several steps away from them, until he was clear across the Town Square, scooting out of sight, without uttering another word.
I was proud of these kids, who were unafraid to assert their pride of being themselves. Their clear courage and unwavering solidarity, taught me that these kids will be alright, as long as they continue to stand up for themselves, and for humanity.