The first time I saw my state capital, I was wearing pride rings by Rev. Joe Cherry
The event was called "Michigan Pride: Joining Together for Justice," and the date was June 25, 1995.
When I did a little research to find the date of this march, my first Pride March, I was surprised that it wasn't earlier in my "gay career." And now that I think about it, I remember the deep frustration that I had to wait so long before there was any sort of political or social action like this in which I could participate.
I had tried to go to the 1993 March on Washington, but couldn't get the time off from work.
On the morning of my first Pride March, I gathered with a small group of people, organized by our local (then known as) Gay and Lesbian Center, Affirmations of Ferndale. We piled 5 people into my Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera and headed off, map in hand, to our state capital.
I can't remember who I went with, but I will never forget the well of emotions that came upon me as I saw the thousands and thousands of gathered folks and a seemingly endless sea of Pride Flags.
We marched along the seemingly abandoned city of Lansing, Michigan. It was a Saturday, so of course all of the office were closed. I had this sense of both overwhelming unity with the people I was marching amongst, and also a sense that no one was watching us, being moved by our efforts, having their minds and hearts changed by the very steps we were taking.
We walked and we chanted, and we looked at each other with the goofy, wide smiles of the optimistic, and then we turned the corner and I saw the State Capital Dome. I remember I cried at that moment.
Suddenly, it became real to me. I was really marching on my own state capital, demanding to be treated as an equal citizen. This was not just some version of gay bar life brought into the sunshine, this was an actual, real statement of my demand that I be treated as a full citizen.
And I was not alone, of course.
The other part of that day that I will never forget was the moment with PFLAG came into view. The wave of love and gratitude for their presence was unbelievable. With signs like "I love my Gay Son!" and "Our Children Deserve Equal Rights," and others, these parents declared themselves to be in the place I was still hoping my parents would come to. There were more than cheers for the PFLAG contingent, there were hearts cracked open, people openly weeping, people screaming their gratitude and shouting their love for these parents who were simultaneously our own and not our own.
Somewhere I have a photograph that I took that morning. I broke the rules, and climbed the steps to take a photograph over the crowd. In the picture the sky is so blue, there are a few puffy clouds in the distance, a sea of people all looking hopeful, cheering, and waving Pride flags.
It changed forever my concept of what it meant to be part of the gay community.
I was 27 then. I am now 45. Since that time I have spent parts of my life professionally working in HIV/AIDS care, and I now spend my life, my ministry, in the service to those in my congregation and those in the wider world who are not treated equally.
When I am tired, or feel overwhelmed, or even when I wonder if anything is really ever going to change, I think back on July 25, 1995. I think about the humanity I saw there, for the first time in such a huge quantity, I hear the chants, feel the love, and I square my shoulders and get back to work.
I am writing this during the week that leads up to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I walked (for a short bit per request) this week with 11 undocumented people who are seeking equal treatment for migrant workers and their families. They are walking 300 miles from the State Capital through the Central Valley of California in the heat of August.
I can't help but feel that all these marches are connected. That it is the Allies to a cause who are so important in these marches, that no matter how determined we are, we cannot do this work only on our own behalf.
The marching continues.
Rev. Joe Cherry
A Unitarian Universalist in California's Central Valley