I suppose, looking back at my 20 year career as a more than part time community activist, one of my highlights is organising diversity events, including the Southend Community in Harmony “Big Event”. Things have moved on, to be sure. I no longer organise events and “the Big Event” no longer happens. Putting aside age and health issues, and given my rabid right wing (so I am told) views, I suspect my big event organising is now to be consigned to a not to be repeated past. But as they say, things do move on, and there are often things that happen to replace what has gone on before.
One of these is Southend Pride, which held a week’s worth of events last year and are down to do so again last year. Some of the players at the Big Event were involved with Southend Pride and many of same the issues around event organisation applied to both events. I attended for a short period last year’s Pride march and the event that took place in Warrior Park, and I was impressed, not just with the organisation which I took a “professional interest” in, but the positive, inclusive spirit of what I witnessed on the day and shared my thoughts in an article I wrote “Southend Pride” at the time.
I am happy to plug the event e.g. on my Facebook page, even though some of my more conservative (theologically) leaning Christian friend may have qualms, and I hope to make it again this year. I am especially mindful that not only is this NOT my show but my views on LBGT related matters (see here and here) are unlikely to fully resonate with the Event organisers, who I have a good deal of respect for. Enjoying a coffee with one of them a couple of months back brought to mind two important aspects about the event. The first is that despite huge “headways” in the promoting of the LBGT agenda in the UK, there is still a way to go, especially in certain countries to come out as gay etc, can be a death sentence. The other was the Christian response, especially relating to last year’s event.
I mention this, because here I declare an interest. Not only as a Christian do I need to come up with a response that combines compassion, acceptance etc. with sound theology but IMHO most churches, both affirming and not affirming, have got in wrong. I saw the two sides in evidence on the day (last year). There was one group preaching (it seemed to me to the air) likely because they saw in the Pride marchers an audience that was ripe for their message. There was another group comprising Christian minister types (several I knew and regard as friends and fellow community activists) giving out lolly pops and the like and affirming the marchers in what they were doing. Here I must tread carefully: I neither commend nor condemn either group, especially not knowing all the facts nor the intentions behind their presence on the day. But it did get me thinking … like many conservative evangelical types, I have had to rethink attitudes to LBGT folk and matters, and if you want to know what my thoughts are and journey has been, go to the two writings mentioned earlier. When confronted with the idea in those early days of joining in with a protest against what was then called Gay Pride marches, I suggested a different approach – operating a tea and cake stall, giving out freely to those who attend possibly with a gospel, with the intention of engaging as equals in friendship.
To some extent, I got my wish when I got to organise the Big Event. It was an opportunity for all sections of the community to come together on the basis of friendship and in order to gain a better understanding of each other, as equals, and to a significant extent we succeeded, including bringing together fundamentalist Christian types and LBGT groups. I would like to think my town, Southend, is a community in harmony, despite evidence to the contrary, e.g. views about Brexit. I find this often to be the case when I deal with the homeless. And finally, may I wish my friends who are organising this year’s Southend Pride a happy and successful event.