By Jason Menard
“Why are they here, Daddy?”
It may seem like a simple question and it would have been easy to give a simple answer: “Because they hate.”
But although that would have been the quickest and easiest answer, it wouldn’t have been fair: not to my 10-year-old daughter and her friends; and not to the people standing on the corner with signs in their hands who prompted this question.
This weekend, I took my daughter and her friend to London’s gay pride parade. It’s not a first for her – with a gay family member and a collection of gay friends, she’s been exposed to the gay lifestyle since the day she was born. Other than wondering which guy would get to wear the wedding dress – because, after all, you can’t have a wedding without a dress – same-sex couples have always been a part of her frame of reference.
She’s heard about and seen anti-gay protests; she knows about the fight in some U.S. states over legalizing gay marriage; but this weekend was the first time she’s seen the other side first hand.
“Why do they have to be here?” she asked. “This is supposed to be a celebration. What they’re doing isn’t very nice — it’s going to hurt people’s feelings.”
It was hard to argue that.
It’s also hard to understand, as a married, heterosexual male. After all, I don’t have people picketing outside my home or office because of who I am. I get to live my life in peace because I’m, quote-unquote, normal.
So how do I explain the presence of religious protesters to a 10-year-old girl and her two friends? In the end, I did it by trying to be as fair as possible to both sides – and by giving the protesters the benefit of the doubt.
It’s a touchy subject, although for many it’s one that is black and white: there’s nothing wrong with being gay. Personally, I don’t even like the terms “alternative lifestyle” or “non-traditional marriage,” simply because it makes being gay seem different or out of the norm. It’s not gay marriage – it’s marriage. And, in my opinion, denying anyone the right to marry someone they love makes my own marriage less valid.
However, I’m not religious. I believe in the foundation of The Bible (not to mention the Qur’an, the Talmud, Tae Te Ching, the Four Books of Confucianism), in that I think we should try to be good people, treat each other with respect, and live positive lives. But I don’t believe that being gay is a one-way ticket to Hell. These people do – and there’s the challenge.
Say what you want about Evangelicals, but I honestly hope that most of them are doing it for the right reason – and that’s what I tried to share with my daughter. These people firmly believe that if you’re not a Christian, you’re going to Hell. And, somehow and somewhere, they’ve interpreted parts of their religious texts to say that being gay is a sin. By protesting this lifestyle, I’d like to think they’re trying to help others – converting them to Christianity to allow them entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.
I truly and honestly hope that’s the protesters’ motivation, because the alternative is just all too, well, un-Christian.
So I shared this with my daughter, along with the fact that we all have a right to share our opinions as long as we do so respectfully. And, full credit, the protesters were quiet, non-confrontational (even to the point of ignoring one particularly belligerent youth), and respectful of the proceedings.
But I also told her that there are some people out there who hate just because people are different. There are people out there who just live to hate, and some of them use religion as a rationale for their behaviour.
My daughter, who still is trying to figure out this whole God thing, said, “I don’t think a God would hate Gay people.” And with that, she turned her attention back to the parade.
As we walked towards the car, she shared how much fun she had, but was still bothered by the protesters’ presence. She saw the parade as a celebration; others saw it as an opportunity to save – and whether or not those people needed or wanted to be saved didn’t matter.
To my daughter, a man loving another man or a woman loving another woman is totally normal; instead, the fact that a group of people chose a celebration to push their agenda was the abnormal behaviour.
It may have been a parade celebrating gay pride, but I, for one, walked away proud of my daughter and the young woman she’s becoming.