Last Sunday I participated in the Pride London Festival parade for the first time. I had been out to see and support it before, and was very excited to be a part of it even though I didn’t entirely know what to expect.

I walked through Queen’s Park, headed to the Western Fair Market parking lot where all the floats and different groups were assembling. As I walked I found a group of people listening to a speech being made by a woman behind a podium draped in a rainbow flag.

I discovered after that the speaker was Karen Low, United Church Minister and co-founder of a “Centre for Spiritual Wellness and Exploration”, called Sabbath Place. She was delivering a sermon before the parade, speaking about sexual acceptance and spirituality, and those that are suffering may be the people spiritual centres should be reaching out to most, instead of turning away. She concluded with a soulful prayer of compassion and connection with all those that have been persecuted, struggling with identity and isolation, and for those that continue to struggle today. She and her partner Debra Low were extremely welcoming and interested in speaking with me more about their beliefs and organization, I look forward to connecting with them further.

Feeling very encouraged and ready to join others for the parade, I soon came to the parking lot. I knew that the parade has been growing every year, but I still wasn’t prepared for the sight that awaited me. Along with the main floats, organizations including the LPS, OPP, Children’s Aid Society, TD Bank, Rogers Media, London Roller Durby, London NDP, London Liberals (who I was marching with) and many others were there, loud and proud.

It was terrific to see so many people come out in support. For the second year in a row Mayor Fontana was there, NDP MP Irene Mathyssen and MPP Theresa Armstrong joined their party and Ontario Ministers Chris Bentley, Deb Matthews, and Kathleen Wynne joined us.

As we got underway after 12:30, we watched as all kinds of different groups fell into the procession, until we joined in behind the OPP. The crowds watching the parade were somewhat sparse at first, a combination of supporters and curious onlookers watching from their porches. As we got closer to downtown, spirits swelled as the crowds thickened, with many people cheering and showing their support with flags and rainbow clothing, including a massive house with multicoloured streamers flying from the porch and windows.

The only low point was a group of 5 or so people near the downtown, silently holding signs with short sections of Bible scripture saying homosexuality is sin. They mostly had the same message since they don’t have much material to work with. The sight frustrated me, but as someone with me pointed out, at least they were doing it silently. For the parade’s part, there were many calls of “No it’s not!” and “We love you anyway!”. The atmosphere remained jubilant, and we were soon past them.

And then…

And then, we saw a group holding signs like this, wearing t-shirts with the simple message “I’m sorry”.

Simple, and so beautiful. The group smiled and offered their arms to anyone that wanted a hug. Many from the parade stopped to thank them for their message and accept their offer. There were more than a few tears.

As we came into the downtown, I was overwhelmed by just how many people were there to watch and cheer. So many people in bright clothing, waving flags greeted us as we made our way to the end of the parade at the Festival’s new home in Victoria Park.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Pride and why it matters as I wrote in this Metro article. I don’t often talk or write about my faith, but it is something I deeply struggle with. I belong to the community of First Baptist London, identify as a follower of Jesus, and I believe that there is no sin attached to one’s sexual orientation. I want this to be the first in a blog series about faith, homosexuality, all the reasons why they don’t need to be mutually exclusive, and why faith communities should be especially welcoming to everyone in the LGBTQ2 community. I hope to learn more about this entire issue, meditate on what it is I believe, and write about it as I go.

If you’d like to discuss this with me and share your insight, I’d be very glad to hear from you! You can always reach me over twitter at @briangibson13 as well as on Facebook.