There is something special about being a straight, active Mormon participating in a Pride parade and giving out hugs at a Pride festival. It is the best example I can think of about something that illustrates the concept of the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. I don't like parades, festivals, crowds, difficult parking, arriving early only to have to wait, etc, etc, etc. Basically, every element of what it takes to 'do' pride is something I usually try very hard to avoid. What I know from doing it for the past 3 years is that the experience is wonderful and personally life changing. I am so grateful that the Pride-going masses have allowed me to even be there. For the most part, they are a very inclusive group and very willing to understand and forgive.
Sometimes being a Mormon at Pride can be uncomfortable. Looking like a Mormon is easy - it is who I am and I am never embarrassed or ashamed of that fact. Dressing the part is easy - I have spent many years wearing a white shirt and tie to both church and work. I am much more comfortable (and myself) in a long sleeve shirt and slacks than I would ever be in shorts and sandals, for example. What can be uncomfortable is when someone knows I am a Mormon and they are angry at the church so they are angry with me. It can be hard to stand there and listen patiently while someone gets their feelings out. Sometimes a hug feels like a very silly thing to be offering. But I am not there to just give out hugs. I am not there to show people what a Mormon looks like. I am there to try in my own small way to build a bridge. To let people know that they are loved and that no matter what they may think, there are members of the LDS church who love them and accept them exactly as they are. I love it when I coax someone in to receiving a free hug and then they give me a look of pleasant amazement when I give them a sticker that informs them they were just hugged by a Mormon! Sometimes they walk away with a smile, sometimes a wonderful conversation gets started. It is in those moments that I feel like bridges are being built.
This year a young lady wanted to buy us all a lemonade or something to "bless us". She wanted to give something back to the people of the hugging booth. I asked her why. She told us that two years ago she came to a Pride festival after 'coming out' just a few weeks earlier. She was scared, confused and ready to take her own life. She came to the festival and to our booth where she received a hug. A long, meaningful hug from a mother of a gay child. A mother who held her and let her cry and let her know that she was loved for who she was. Many more stories like that are out there as a result of this simple act of being at a hugging booth in the middle of a Pride festival. It is worth all of the work and potential discomfort. It is worth feeling like a fish out of water for a couple of days. I don't really want to blend in - I don't think I could even if I tried. I am so white, straight, old and Mormon that not wearing a tie or other church clothes makes no difference. To my fellow active LDS church brothers and sisters I say step out of your comfort zone and join me in this outreach. Not by changing who you are or how you dress, but by following the Savior's admonition to love one another. To my beloved brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ / SSA community I say thank you for your love, acceptance and patience. I love you and I am better for knowing some of you and learning your stories.