It was a river of people. All types of people, some dressed in provocative costumes but mostly it was just people dressed in everyday clothes marching together, their voices raised in chants and shouts. People lined the parade route 5 and 6 deep in places, cheering or clapping or whistling. The sheer number of marchers awed me. I can remember thinking how could there be this many gay people? I figured some of them at least must be supporters.
One of our group leaders started praying from the people streaming by. It reminded us of what we were there for. We were there to do God’s work. To let these poor lost souls know there was a way out of their sinful life if they wanted it. We started handing out the pamphlets to whatever marchers would take them. Most of them didn’t look at what we pressed into their hands. Those that did, their face would cloud up and they’d shove the pamphlet back at us. We got angry fists shook in our faces a couple of times. But the pressure of the flow of marchers kept those who would have stopped to yell at us moving. Most of the emotion pouring off that river though was anger. Just a short period before they reached our little group they had been assaulted by the Westboro Baptist Church screaming their hate at the marchers. We could hear faint chants of “shame” from marchers back at Westboro protesters from up that direction even over the noise of the crowd.
The sun was warm and full. The sky was an incredible blue. There was a light wind but it didn’t matter much down on the side of the road in that press of people. The sun was bouncing off the buildings making the road bright. I remember being grateful my glasses darkened in sunlight. After an hour or so on the side of the road the flow had a small break in it. That is when our new brother with his sign held high walked right into the midst of the parade.
It only took a moment for the marchers to get the gist of his sign. Combining its message with the one of God Hates Fags just blocks earlier made his sudden appearance in their midst a focal point of rage. Those around him turned and began chanting in his face. Screaming “Shame Shame Shame Shame” at him. Over and over. He was alone standing in the midst of them, his sign held high. You could feel the tension rising in the crowd. Which is of course when I did either one of the stupidest or bravest things I’ve ever done.
I ran out into the road to stand with him. I could feel him shaking. It was like the words they were shouting were physical blows. If we didn’t get him out of there I was sure it might actually come to that. I put my lips to his ear and began saying over and over again, “There is no shame in Jesus Christ.” I did my best to make sure he heard it has I guided him with a hand on his chest and on his back. I gently took him out of that crowd. I am pretty sure there was someone on the other side of him also helping to guide him back, but for the life of me with all the adrenaline and expecting blows at any moment I couldn’t tell you who it was. We got him to safety at the edge of road but he wouldn’t’ step a inch farther back. He was going to stand there in full view with the sign held high. He was a warrior fighting with the only thing he had for the souls of those before him.
The continued forward pressure of marchers behind those we’d been in the middle of forced the crowd past us, removing any immediate danger. It was about then that the D.C. police showed up in front of us creating a cordon between us and the marchers.
The police were professional and restrained. They never shoved or did more then tell someone to move along or tell us to step back a pace to the sidewalk. I am sure though their presence did keep us from one or more scuffle with the more angry and militant marchers. I spent the rest of the day at this ex-transgender man’s side. When his arms began to tire but he didn’t want to put down his sign I let him rest his arms on my shoulder. My husband was on his otherside for a while to help out too between handing out pamphlets from between policemen. When water was passed around I made sure he drank. We made sure he wasn’t alone in the anger that his sign directed his way.
The day seemed to get hotter but it was likely just the massive sunburn I was getting. We were there for hours but the flow of the crowd never slacked. The sound never softened. What did happen is that one by one I noticed my fellow ministry members dropped away until it was just 4 or 5 of us left in the late afternoon. And still the river of people kept coming. Finally we all decided we were done as the sun stabbed in to our eyes from the west. And still there was a river of people on the road. Maybe not as many as before but still the road was full.
Ya know, I can’t remember the face of the ex-transgender man now. I remember he was fair skinned but I do still remember the face of one man. At the end of the day, and probably the thing that convinced me it was time to go, I was handing out pamphlets when suddenly this man came out of the flow of the crowd. He grabbed the stack of pamphlets from my hand. Took all of them and tried to tear them up in front of me before throwing them back at my face . His face was twisted and enraged. He was older maybe in his 40’s or early 50’s. Now when I think of him I think of him as the gay man who had had enough and wasn’t going to take our shit anymore.
That river of determination had worn down our rock of salvation over the course of the day. All of us left feeling like we had failed. Oh there was talk of if just one person came to Christ from our deeds then it was all worth it but our hearts weren’t in it. It was all Bravado. Just talk. We hadn’t even managed to put up with the discomfort of the day for the entire parade. Why hadn’t God given us more strength? Was Satan this powerful? Was our nation truly lost?
The more important question I think a lot of us asked in the privacy of our own hearts was, “Were we right?”
Read part 3 (coming this Sunday)