Parade Time

06.22.14

June, The Month When Pride Isn’t a Sin

Most of the time, Christianity rightfully views pride as a sin. But a healthy sense of pride—the ability to claim who you truly are—is something to celebrate.

Pride is one of the infamous “seven deadly sins.” So isn’t it a bit odd that, for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, June is PRIDE month?

Nothing infuriated Jesus more than pride. His harshest words of criticism were aimed at those who were prideful. He criticized the Pharisees and Sadducees repeatedly, not because of their beliefs (they were among the most faithful, learned and devoted practitioners of first century Judaism), but because they used their faithfulness to the religious laws to lord it over those who were less rigorous in their observance. By its very nature, pride sets up a tiered system of worthiness, with the prideful at the top, asserting greater influence and power over the less worthy. Such a hierarchy seemed to be anathema to Jesus, whose message was “we are all sinful” and “we are all loved by God anyway and saved by God’s grace.” 

Modern society hates pride, too, and no one on the receiving end of such arrogance finds it very satisfying or helpful. Discrimination is all about pride and the setting up of a hierarchy of “worthiness.” Racism, sexism and heterosexism are all about a societal hierarchy of worthiness in which it is better to be white, male and heterosexual. Pride run amok results in individual and systemic prejudice against those perceived to be “less than.”

Modern society is similarly off base in its understanding of humility, which is the opposite of pride. Humility, for most people, conjures up the image of someone bowing and scraping, resisting any expressions of praise, whether they be for a positive personal trait or a job well done. The “humble” person takes little or no credit for a praiseworthy act or the person’s role in it.

Becoming sufficiently proud in this sense is a step forward for those whose rightful pride has been diminished and relentlessly whittled away by the destructive pride of a dominant group.

In the 12 Step program I am belong to, humility is described as the ability to be “right-sized.”  Humility is not about denying the gifts one has been given—having “a way” with people, being willing to risk speaking the truth, presenting the opposite side in an argument without violating or offending people on the other side, or the simple (but rare) ability to listen. Humility is the art of being able to acknowledge one’s own gifts and contributions while seeing them in the context of the whole. Pride, the opposite of humility, is viewing one’s self as oversized, bigger and more important than one actually is. Humility is not being someone’s doormat, but rather being able to understand one’s own actions and contributions in the context of the larger reality—laying rightful claim to what is good and true, without becoming enamored with one’s own goodness.

Becoming sufficiently proud in this sense is a step forward for those whose rightful pride (acknowledgement of that which is true and positive) has been diminished and relentlessly whittled away by the destructive pride of a dominant group. “Black pride” was a movement for African-Americans to reclaim their positivity from a culture that had not only enslaved them, but continues to degrade and malign them because of the color of their skin and the prejudice associated with it. Black Pride expressed itself in ways both momentous (the demand for equal rights) and commonplace (Remember when African-Americans stopped straightening their hair to look more like white people and asserting that letting their kinky hair grow into an “afro” was a sign of pride?). Women demanding equal pay for equal work as well as sharing childrearing and housework with their husbands are attempts to restore pride to the traditionally lower status of women. 

The restoration of pride to those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender has taken a similar route. The use of “gay” to describe us was a conscious effort to resist the word “homosexual,” which was used against us as a psychological diagnosis of mental disorder, and instead to use a positive and uplifting term.  The coming-out process is indeed to burst out of the shadows of the closet (which reinforces the notion that there is something to be ashamed of) and into the light of self-affirmation and pride. The decision of a small group of people at the Stonewall Bar in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1969 to resist, rather than be victimized by, police harassment, was an act of rightful pride and standing up for the basic goodness of who we are. And in commemoration of that event, the Gay Pride Parade was born.

One year after the Stonewall riot, now said to be the birth of the gay rights movement, LGBT people took to the streets in June of 1970 to continue the march into the light of self-acceptance, even if the culture didn’t yet agree. And to this day, in the month of June, gay pride parades occur in every major city and increasing numbers of small towns and hamlets across this country. 

We march in June to remind ourselves and the world that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is a good thing. Gay or lesbian parents march with their children to claim dignity and recognition for our families. We wear outrageous clothing to assert that we will determine our own definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity, not the dominant society’s. Some wear little clothing at all—this really freaks people out—to express our joy at being created beautiful, sexual creatures.

Gay pride parades are gatherings of the tribe, to celebrate what we all share in common despite our own internal diversity: we have lived through the hate and discrimination of an anti-LGBT society and lived to tell the tale. It is a celebration of survivors. It is a festival of joy for being created this way after centuries of being told that we are sinful, loathsome, and disgusting. And increasingly, we are being joined by those who once denigrated us; most tellingly, by representatives of religious groups who once condemned us, and who, by their participation, are proclaiming “We got this one wrong, and we are sorry.”

And in case you think that we’ve made such progress that there is no longer any need for such assertions of “pride,” look at this week’s Texas Republican Party affirming in its platform so-called “reparative” therapy to “cure” us and Gov. Rick Perry’s comparison of homosexuality to the debilitating and destructive addiction of alcoholism.

“We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it!” is not the arrogance of sinful pride, but rather the “humble” and right-sized assertion that we too are children of God, loved by the Creator and worthy of equal rights in this great nation. And until we are treated that way, we will continue to march.

The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson is the recently retired IX Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, DC.  Follow him on Twitter @BishopGRobinson.