New York Pride: A View From The Parade from a Christian Bisexual

P1100448The Rev. Francesca Bongiorno Fortunato gives us the a personal account of the Bi Contingent at NYC Pride 2015.

We had 125 people marching with the Bi Contingent this year – our largest Bi presence ever at NYC Pride March. There were about half a dozen extra-large Bi Pride flags as well as a couple of Trans Pride flags. Marchers with our group included elder statesmen and women of the American Bisexual Pride movement (notably Larry Nelson, long-time Partner of the late “Mother of Pride,” Brenda Howard) as well as newly-out Bi folk and first time marchers. We even had a Bi mother and daughter marching together and (on the truly young end of the age spectrum) one approximately year-old baby! (I can’t say whether the baby was Bi, but his moms were, and one of them handed him to me so she could free her hands for a few minutes before the march, to adorn herself and the stroller with Bi Pride flags and jewellery!).

This was my second year marching with the Bi Contingent at NYC Pride, since my re-emergence into Bi activism in around 2012. It was a rewarding experience last year, too, but this year was truly amazing. Despite having to stand out in the rain for a couple of hours on a too-early Sunday morning, before we could even start marching, enthusiasm in our group approached the level of euphoria. Visible, active Bi presence seems to be growing in New York City, and those of us gathered in front of the New York Public Library on June 28th, were ready to get out there in front of the couple of million spectators, at this oldest and largest Pride march in the world, and make our presence felt.

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I had heard and read some horror stories of Bisexual people and groups being made to feel unwelcome at LGBT Pride events, with advice to stay closeted (“pretend you’re full gay”) and even some instances of booing, spitting and rock-throwing (this not from hostile straight people but from Gay and Lesbian activists who don’t think Bisexuals belong at Pride). These accounts caused me to approach my first Bi Pride march with some apprehension. This year, though, while still on alert for potential haters, I was less nervous, because I had been through last year’s march, without the slightest hint of hostility from spectators or marchers in other groups. Even the emcees on the reviewing stands had positive things to say about the valuable contributions of Bisexual Americans to the greater LGBT equality movements. And then there was the one, glamorous drag queen on the stand, who commented, as we passed “Lookin’ GOOD. Hmmm…I think I might be Bisexual!”

God made us Bi, God made us good, and we have the right to be out, proud and visible. In all of this, may we be blessing and blessed. Amen.

One of my main reasons for hauling my 53-year-old, sleep-disordered self out to march on a chilly, wet, too-early morning, was the desire to “represent” as one of a tiny handful of out, Bisexual ordained clergy folk. There is still the inaccurate perception on the part of many people, that Bisexual = promiscuous, and that you can’t be both Bi and religious. I march wearing my clergy shirt and collar to demonstrate that, not only is there no conflict between being Bi and Christian (I’m a priest with the Progressive Episcopal Church – a U.S. branch of the Anglican Free Communion) but that Bi Christians can even be ordained. My visible presence as a member of the clergy has been particularly powerful for some of the younger members of the Bi contingent, who have felt safe telling me about feeling unwelcome in their home churches, and told that their orientation was “sinful.” I have reassured them that God made us Bisexual (just as God has made others Lesbian, Gay and Transgender as well as straight) and that we are just as capable of living Godly lives as anyone else is. I tell them that we can, and do, have committed relationships (and that I am married to a wonderful clergy woman, who is Lesbian and who supports my Bi activism.) This year, in my clergy role, I was also asked to lead the Bi Contingent in prayer, honoring the memory of pioneering Bi activist Brenda Howard, who died ten years ago, and who was the organizer of the first Pride march back in 1970. Aware that our group was religiously diverse, I avoided specifically Christian language, simply saying, “Beloved, we gather here, prepared to march in memory of Brenda Howard, the Mother of Pride, and of all of our Bi forebears in this movement. We march also to honor the memories of the two Bi teenagers, Adam Kizer and Alyssa Morgan, both of whom died by suicide this month, after being relentlessly bullied for their Bi identities. We march so that other youth will know that they are not alone; that they have supportive community. We march because we want the world to know that God made us Bi, God made us good, and we have the right to be out, proud and visible. In all of this, may we be blessing and blessed. Amen.”

The Bi contingent has always welcomed Allies to march with us, and, this year, I was particularly honored and delighted by the presence of my cousin Carol, a long-time LGBT ally, who made the long trip by train (she lives in Yonkers, a suburb of New York City) to spend the day marching with me. Because there is so much stigma around Bisexual identity, it takes real courage for an Ally to march behind the Bi Pride banner, but Carol got right into the spirit of the thing, draping herself in the pink, purple and blue necklaces (sent to us by Faith Cheltenham of BiNet USA) and waving the proudly waving rainbow and Bi Pride flags.

I was also thrilled to have my long-time friend, Alison Harvey (we were Bi teen Rocky Horror Picture Show fans together in the 1980s) there as well. Alison and I had not seen each other for many years, but we’d reconnected on Facebook and joined lots of online Bi groups together. Marching at Pride was a great way for us to have our in-person reunion, and discover that our connection was a strong as ever.
I suspect that at least part of the reason for the overwhelmingly positive experience of being Bi at Pride in New York City, is the city’s liberal spirit and extreme (ethnic, religious; sexual) diversity. This is a safe place to be “different” simply because it’s a place where so many of those who don’t feel welcome in their home-towns come, to find community and refuge from persecution.

I hope that those Bisexual people who live in less welcoming places will view our NYC Pride presence as a beacon, and that what we do here will make a difference in their lives, too. For us, simply being out as Bisexual – just being who we are – can be a constant challenge. That’s why making the effort to be visible can help others, for whom it is not yet safe. There is strength and safety in numbers, and I was glad and grateful to stand up and be counted at NYC Pride, with the Bisexual Contingent, once again this year.

 

Images courtesy The Rev. Francesca Bongiorno Fortunato.

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