Today's vigil (or protest, depending upon what you'd like to call it) was surprisingly well organized and, thankfully, positive in tone.
At this point, I don't have a final count of attendees. The plan was to have a presence in the morning during registration and the afternoon, when the conference concluded. I would estimate around 400 people (though the local news put the figure at "dozens", since they covered the evening presence). The picture doesn't show it, but the building is very large, and the line of people wrapped around the perimeter. As promised, some thoughts.
Personally, the experience was what I would call "healing"--I saw several faces I knew driving into the lot. Included among them were faculty and students from my old seminary, and my college counselor, who I went to in some of my original efforts to go straight. The latter individual I was quite pleased to see--his particular method of counseling is different than reparative therapy, and he did help me start to work through some familial issues. Still, being on the "other side" today clinched my sense of where I want to be.
The reaction of those driving by varied from person to person. A few folks pointedly stared forward, as if willing us to disappear. One woman burst out crying--my guess is that her son or daugher is happily gay, and our presence reminded her of that fact. Several drivers smiled and waved, or struck up conversations while waiting for the police to wave them on. The only chants our contingency were shouting included "Jesus Loves You" and "Jesus Loves Gays." Despite what Alan Chambers said about our vigil, I thought that we succeeded in being quite positive:
"Anonymous defamation from any party is offensive, but the public protest planned by the gay community is particularly disturbing," he said. "Contempt for those of us who have chosen to leave homosexuality behind is not an action consistent with the call for tolerance and diversity."
What Chambers doesn't seem to understand is that none of us have "contempt" for the attendees (at least no one I spoke with). We felt badly for the young kids in the backseats of SUVs, looking down guiltily as they saw us--were their parents taking them to the event in the hopes of a "cure"? I know I felt badly for the parents hoping for a cure, and blaming themselves.
I personally know two married women who had same-sex relationships and are now contentedly partnered with men. One of them has a young child. Of course, I also know many women who were previously partnered with men and are now living with women. Sexuality, as I've discussed here before, is complex. It's for that reason that I don't argue with anyone who wants to pursue change--it's their spiritual journey. However, I would (and do) offer other reading materials, both psychological and spiritual. The possibility of self-induced reversal of sexual orientation is slim to none; and since I don't believe homosexuality or bisexuality are invalid spiritual paths, why burden yourself with more guilt and shame?
Ultimately, our vigil today won't necessarily advance the cause of equal rights in this country, make the discussion less polarized, or comfort that tearful woman in her car. Those who want to view us as aggressive, hateful homosexual activists will always find ways to do so. But when those struggling with themselves have a moment of self-reflection, perhaps they'll remember the smiling faces waving to them this morning. And maybe, just maybe, they'll think we offer something worth examining.