Sydney’s globally renowned Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is upon us again.
Taxpayers’ money has been poured into creating a new purpose-built, rainbow pedestrian crossing at the Bourke Street side of Taylor Square. Lord Mayor Clover Moore has said that she “knows residents and visitors will love this colourful symbol of the city’s long-standing support for our LGBTIQ community.”
What began as a gay rights parade for a few hours in 1978 has, in its 41st year, morphed into a 16-day citywide festival.
I recall my own ongoing involvement in London’s Gay Pride parade several decades ago.
This was the only few hours annually when lesbians and gays would publicly gather for a few hours to scream and shout at passers-by on the streets of London. (There were no categories for the bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, ally, pansexual, or two-spirited in those days. They were added later to amass greater support.)
We revelled in taunting the Police by simulating immodest acts in front of them while they looked upon us with intense disapproval. We were deliberately rebellious, wantonly arrogant and shamelessly layered with pride.
Since my own conversion to Catholicism, I believe that Christians as a whole need to give careful reflection to what is taking place beneath Sydney’s Mardi Gras and how such a festival has so rapidly taken over a major city and now reaches its tentacles in regional cities such as Wagga Wagga.
My own journey of walking alongside hundreds of people who have chosen to leave the gay community has taught me that the devil can create nothing, but can only twist or offer a counterfeit of what is good and holy.
Could there be something counterfeit going on through Mardi Gras? Yes, I firmly believe there is.
Let’s look first at the rainbow, the symbol of God’s everlasting covenant of love made with humanity after having dealt with man’s great wickedness and evil as mentioned in Genesis 6. The LGBTQI community usually places six vertical colours on the rainbow flag – and certain road crossings. Six is one short of the holy number seven. Bizarrely, the seventh colour missing on most LGBTQI rainbows is the colour pink, or rose.
Christianity uses rose vestments liturgically only twice each year: on Laetare Sunday in Lent, and on Gaudete Sunday in Advent. A purpose of this is to call us to rejoice in rejecting pride and indulgence and embracing humility and repentance during these two periods of submission to God.
Mardi Gras’ Christian origins
As we know, the name Mardi Gras, literally translated as Fat Tuesday and known as Shrove Tuesday, refers to the day before Ash Wednesday, when begins the Church’s longest period of prayer and fasting. Mardi Gras is humanity’s final indulgence before Lent.
To remain focussed on Mardi Gras, and to fail to embrace and submit to the truths contained within Ash Wednesday and the Lenten journey thereafter, is to remain stuck in unhealthy indulgence and to be separated from the pathway that leads to the unconditional love of God.
Then there is the parade with its floats which one after another display a twisted and perverted expression of all that is truly male and female. Men parade as caricatures of women. Women strut aggressively with attitude and raise the word ‘immodesty’ to new heights. Groups gather in packs and congregate under animalistic titles of bears, otters, cubs, and puppies. Human flesh is on public display and flaunted for worship in ways unimaginable to our forefathers.
Is this a counterfeit parade? And when have we previously seen parades through our streets?
For years, Eucharistic and Marian processions brought the mysteries and beauties of salvation into the public domain. Christ’s humble masculine Presence as Eternal Flesh would be worshipped and adored, and Mary’s pure feminine presence would be honoured. These represented our behavioural benchmarks and called us to holiness.
Often today, bishops and priests fail to permit God’s gift of salvation to be present on our streets, preferring a swift walk around the parish car park, if even that can be agreed to. Without these deeply symbolic Word-centred processions in our midst, symbols of degradation and world-centred processions are given freedom to fill the spiritual void.
The heart is a lonely hunter
Yet beneath the colour, glitter, sequins, wigs and leather of Mardi Gras there is the desire of the human heart which, like every human being, longs to be loved, affirmed, treasured and welcomed into community.
Interestingly, as each year passes, more stories rise up from attendees of the ambivalence they feel towards Mardi Gras. Take for example the challenging article by 24-year old American journalist, Jackson Howard, who attended last year’s Mardi Gras.
In a ragingly honest online article entitled ‘I Went to Sydney Pride to Cure My Queer Loneliness’, Howard writes refreshingly vulnerably (with very mature themes) of himself as a young gay male journeying from the US to Sydney in the quest for validation. He travels looking to fill a void, but leaves Australia feeling used – and still very much confused.
Whether travelling from afar, or merely from the other end of Oxford Street, many Pride attendees like Howard speak of a “punishing loneliness, distinct from when I was closeted but equally painful — the loneliness of being young and gay, looking for affirmation, company, and love in a community that on the surface feels like home, but is impersonal and isolating”.
He gives us an insight we need to attentively reflect upon, and swiftly respond to when he says that “being gay requires you to be in on shared knowledge — of porn star crushes and words you’d never say out loud, of hook-ups you don’t tell your friends about and sexual fetishes you can’t explain — whether or not you want to. We call it community, and self-acceptance, but it’s also called shame, and lust.”
The travesty of the counterfeit is that, as always, someone created in the image and likeness of God is lured into believing they will truly find salvation – a community, self-acceptance, validation, a filled void, no more being used or abused and resolution in place of confusion – and yet the opposite happens.
Without Christ, where else can a person go, but back to the same parade with greater gusto believing in the need to immerse oneself more deeply than ever. And for many, a one-day parade has had to become a fortnightly festival, joined with LGBT Month, which is rapidly becoming required to be the recurring year of LGBTIQ superiority. Nothing else will satisfy the counterfeit, except for Christ.
What our Mardi-Gras-focussed brothers and sisters are missing out on we as Christians often take for granted: the deep inner freedom found in repentance, the indescribable inner connection and nourishment found in receiving of Christ in the Eucharist, an insight and appreciation into the true masculine and feminine, made ever sharper when we actively invite Mary into our hearts.
Each one of us has at some point made our home in the counterfeits of God’s ways, and yet the humble, mercy-filled journey of Lent found after our liturgical Mardi Gras beckons us back to reality and sanity.
We are called to witness
We can no longer remain a distant people of the Ten Commandments wagging our fingers and merely screeching “no” at our LGBTIQ neighbours. We are called to become a people of the Beatitudes, to journey alongside one another irrespective of our sexual attractions and challenged identities.
We are to be living witnesses of what is spoken to us through Jeremiah 17 where the prophet speaks about a “curse on the man who puts his trust in man, who relies on things of flesh, whose heart turns from the Lord”. Our calling is to manifest the “blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord, with the Lord for his hope”.
We have failed to be true witnesses to our same-sex attracted and gender-questioning brothers and sisters in what for them is often a very painful and gnawing search for identity, compassion, truth and community. We have left them, like Howard, “tired from the dancing and drinking, and also from all the social posturing that comes along with any night out in a gay male space”.
The choice we must make
So, as Catholics we are left with a choice. Many will understandably choose not to attend Mardi Gras and yet time can be well spent on arranging the return of honouring true, humble and pure masculinity and femininity into our midst through larger or more numerous Eucharistic and Marian processions.
Alternatively, or ideally jointly, we can get stuck in with lining Sydney’s streets in prayerful search of those who, like Howard, yearn for connection, validation and a taste of true community. A cup of coffee in a café with you listening to one person’s story might just be the greatest highlight of that person’s 16-day festival.
The Gospel compels us not to rest until we can confidently echo words similar to those of Sydney’s Lord Mayor that “the rainbow is the colourful symbol of God’s long-standing support and redeeming love for all those both inside and out of the LGBTIQ community”.
My hope is that the rainbow crossing at Taylor Square will serve as a continuous reminder during its existence that we as Christians have significant work to do across towns and cities, but above all within the hearts of lonely individuals
Let’s consider bringing the message and presence of God’s love back onto our streets through processions and through engaging with the hearts of those who are hoodwinked into counterfeit love.
Above all, it is time for us to witness to the vertical, seven-coloured rainbow which screams of humility before heaven, and to witness to it with godly pride.