Rosa Gaia Saunders is from Edmonton, Alberta and attended McGill University. As a Chicago Corps member, she served as a Program Assistant at Free Spirit Media.
When people ask me what my favorite annual holiday is, I don’t think of Rosh Hashanah or Christmas or the Buddhist winter festival of Children’s Day (yes, I had a pretty mixed religious upbringing), I think of pride weekend. True, pride weekend isn’t a holiday, but for me it holds a similar kind of significance: a time to celebrate and reflect on my values, a raucous, festive communal celebration of joy, a moment in the year with its own traditions, rituals and rules. I love that there is a weekend devoted to not just acceptance, but celebration of gender and sexual diversity. And the rainbow flags, outfits, and signs are a sort of color therapy that lifts my mood for weeks.
One of the first things I inquired about moving to Chicago was pride weekend. I talked with excitement about pride with Daniel, a fellow Corps member, on the first day of orientation. We made a commitment to living pride out in its full spectrum of glorious colors. I’d say we kept our word.
We wanted to spread the word that religious service corps were open to, and made up of LGBT folks and their allies. Members of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps came over the Friday of pride weekend for an inter-faith Shabbat potluck/ banner making party. We decided to participate in the Dyke March in the South Shore, a grassroots response to the main pride parade in Boystown on Sunday that many believe has become overly corporate, hypermasculine, and non-welcoming to many forms of queer identity. The evening was a wonderful, very Chicago AVODAH-esque one: feasting, Shabbat candle lighting, fleet foxes, debate about the inclusivity of the sonically effective “God Loves Gays”, some creative destruction of a mattress cover, a competition to create a shade of purple that would do justice to the hue’s gay-identified history, and a lot of messy painting and laughter. We ended up with a colorful, flamboyant banner that read “GOD LOVES QUEERS” and the names of the participating service corps up top. I would describe it more, and I am tempted to write passionate love poetry about this banner that I swooned over all weekend, but you can take a glance at it below.
In the Dyke march, we crossed paths with a Star of David pride flag on it and connected with Or Chadash, The LGBT synagogue. In the pride parade the following day, we spontaneously slipped into the parade and danced ecstatically down Broadway with the banner, soaking in the colors and excitement. Open and affirming churches and religiously identified people who saw our banner proudly shared in our sentiment. “Yes! God does love Queers! Thank you,” we heard from many people who crowded us with hugs and cheers. We stopped in front of a group of anti-gay protesters and chanted “God Loves Queers,” but we admittedly weren’t half as adorable as the nearby man dressed up as Jesus with a sign that pointed to the protesters and said, “I’m not with them.”
My favorite little treat of the day was the family biking down to the parade with a wee little boy who asked enthusiastically, “Is this the parade where they throw all the colored necklaces?” The mother said yes, and this kid went nuts. “This is my favorite parade! I LOVE this parade! Mom, go faster; I don’t want to miss ANY of it! It’s my favorite parade!” “Happy pride” I said to the family with the 4-year old future LGBT rights activist and biked into the rainbow mass.
Queerness is not just a part of my politics, but a part of my spirituality. I see diversities of sex and gender as beautiful and miraculous. And because I believe that love, sexuality and spirituality are deeply connected, the more forms in which people can love and connect to each other, the more opportunities for divine presence on this earth. Finally, the more we can empathize and appreciate people’s experiences, which are different than our own, the more challenged we are to create a holy world of peace.
Daniel and I gazed at the raucous Chicago pride parade of 2011, its biggest year in Chicago history. “Do you remember talking about this on the first day?” asked Daniel, “We’re here.” Pride seemed at that time an infinite distance away, but we arrived. Pride weekend was in a lot of ways representative of the best parts of AVODAH: fun, community oriented, intentional and even spiritual. After the spectrum of colors faded from Broadway, I re-hung my well-loved, well-tattered rainbow Canadian flag up on my wall with pride.
Note: for more heartwarming AVODAH-related queer positivity check out the It Gets Better Video I edited from footage recorded by students at my placement this year.