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World Pride: A pilgrimage with a purpose

by Rev. Irene Monroe
In the midst of the Israel-Lebanon conflict that began last month, thousands of progressive lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer clerics and religious activists — and our allies from all religious faiths — made a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem for World Pride 2006.

A week-long, multi-faith conference, which ran Aug. 6-12 and was dubbed “Love Without Borders,” was an international demonstration of LGBT dignity, pride and activism. The aim was to combat homophobia on a global scale as well as mobilize grassroots support for progressive political change worldwide that has been hijacked by religious fundamentalists.

According to spokesperson Cathy Renna of Renna Communications, the purpose of the event was “to show the world a way to be queer and a person of faith, and to provide visibility to our issues in how faith intersects with homosexuality that don’t get enough reporting in the media.”

One of the reasons why queer religious issues do not receive fair and balanced reporting is how the media intentionally pits gay civil rights issues against the religious beliefs of fundamentalist people.

“Very few voices of faith from the LGBT community are heard in the media, and this conference aims to change the paradigm on that,” Renna told me.

Worldwide fundamentalism has not only attempted to silence the voices of LGBT people of faith, but it has also hijacked both the language and spirit of all religions, thereby creating an intolerance toward LGBT people by proselytizing a reactionary political agenda.

And the political agenda to stop World Pride did not go unheard without the outcries of protest and picketing of Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities united in opposition to the event.

Outraged at the prospect of an international celebration of queer love, ultra-Orthodox Jews threatened violence with at least one rabbi promising bloodshed. And the mayor of Jerusalem, an Orthodox Jew, tried to keep police permits from marchers and assemblers in the city.

Given the ongoing conflict between Muslims and Jews, and the unwelcoming response from the city to World Pride, many asked,

“Why Jerusalem?” when a city like Amsterdam would be a more welcoming place.
Let us remember that the first World Pride was in Rome in 2000 and received lots of criticism from the Vatican.

From his balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, the Pope bitterly denounced the festival. “In the name of the church of Rome, I cannot avoid expressing bitterness for the insult to the Grand Jubilee of the year 2000 this event created and to the Christian values of a city that is much beloved in the heart of Catholics throughout the world. The church cannot be silent about the truth, because it would be unfaithful to the creator God, and it would not help to discern what is morally fitting from what is evil,” John Paul stated.

Many opponents of World Pride 2000 also saw the timing of the event as an affront to Christians all over the world, and a desecration to the Roman Catholic Church.

With the spotlight on Rome because of the millennial Holy Year celebration, which brought along with it hordes of religious pilgrims, the Vatican made several attempts to cancel the event, especially when the festival coinciding with the Holy Week devoted to Polish pilgrims, the ethnic group Pope John Paul II belonged to.

And let us not also forget that last year World Pride was cancelled. In reaction, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force put out this statement:

“Homophobia has marginalized people throughout the world, creating places of tyranny and violence toward people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. This event in Jerusalem will be a testament of solidarity in the movement toward equality, justice and full inclusion for LGBT persons across the globe. It is our hope, indeed, our fervent prayer, that World Pride 2006 will, as so well expressed in its mission statement, ‘demonstrate to our community, to our neighbors and peers and to the world … that our love and our pride can cross the harshest borders that divide people.’”

But Jerusalem was chosen because it both historically and symbolically plays an important role in three major monotheistic religions — Judaism, Islam and Christianity — collectively known as “Abrahamic religions” that trace their origins to the covenant God made with Abraham in the Hebrew Bible.

And with religion being one of the driving forces behind many of the events and attitudes that shape our present world, Jerusalem, as the capital of Israel, stands as an international symbol of religious pluralism and a demonstration of tolerance and equality for all human rights.

“I believe it is no accident that we are being called to Jerusalem to celebrate the extravagant grace of God in a place where God is lifted up by the three great monotheistic religions,” said Bishop Dr. Yvette A. Flunder, senior pastor of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in San Francisco. “Each of our faiths has stories of people finding their way through a wilderness of hatred and oppression, and we are stronger because of it. I believe that same-gender loving people know something of the journey though the wilderness.”

Right now the LGBT community is mired in a global wilderness of right-wing politics, where our voices, at best, are muffled in mainstream society, and, at worst, non-existent.

Our experience should not be seen as a permanent place for us, but instead this should be seen as a place of transition and growth in redefining and reshaping our present-day homophobic political and religious landscape.

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