Extraordinary Journeys of the Heart, Mind, and Soul: Finding Your Own "Summer of Pride"
Summers are sacred.
Whether it's sleepaway camp, holidays with fireworks and far away relatives, or epic cross-country road trips, there's something about summer that says, "I will be different. I will shake your norm."
Growing up in the American Midwest, summer was initially a time to break the monotony of cold spring weather for backyard pools, lightening bugs and church softball games.
When college came, that respite became more than just a release from lectures and term papers, but an opportunity to completely change both the pace and surrounding of life. Whether it was being a camp counselor in China or teaching English to over-privileged youth in Switzerland, summer allowed me to reside in a new place and have its alternate reality shape me in ways the academic year couldn't.
It should be no surprise then, that one of my life's biggest changes not only happened during summer, but on a journey far from home...
I was 24 and took a summer break from Montreal's McGill University to work at a Lutheran camp in northwest Wisconsin.
On one weekend off, I made the short drive to nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul to visit my sister. Having come out of the closet only two years earlier, I was both excited and terrified to find that the Twin Cities were hosting their LGBT Pride festival that same weekend.
After growing up in a state which passed a constitutional amendment 70% to 30% to define marriage as one man/one woman, my only exposure to Prides had been through TV newscasts reporting all attendees as either men in Speedos or drag queens.
To add even more anxiety to the mix, my straight childhood best friend had decided to visit that weekend, and would be tagging along during my time in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Mustering my courage, I led my sister and best friend to the gathering area for Minnesota's welcoming and affirming Lutheran churches and we were handed signs representing various congregations across the state.
A short way down Minneapolis' packed Hennepin Ave, I was startled by a crowd member pointing at my sign and cheering, "I'm from St. Cloud too!"
"I actually live in Canada!" was not enough to deter this Minnesotan from running into the street, hugging me, and pointing at the group while shouting, "Thank you Lutherans! You're doing it! You're making a difference!"
As the national ELCA Lutheran church had recently held their Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis, and voted to allow the ordination of clergy in same-gender relationships, I found my St. Cloud resident was not the only person to boisterously cheer the arrival of the Lutherans. In the state with America's highest population of ELCA Lutherans, our approach saw the entire crowd burst into screams and waves of delight, and even the parade's emcee announced his Lutheranism to a roar of support.
The positivity was so contagious that I found myself looking back at my best friend, who I had once worried would abandon me after I revealed my orientation, and seeing a similar glee in his heterosexual eyes.
All the anxiety washed away, and I was suddenly able to feel that which had inspired this and so many similar celebrations:
The positivity radiating through the Twin Cities that day was so infectious that my future summer travel became about visiting as many Prides as possible:
Five years later, after attending twenty Prides in places like New York, Stockholm, and Amsterdam, I was about to march in the parade of my one-time home, Montreal.
The same city I had left as a somewhat insecure gay man for an Upper Midwest summer.
Climbing to the top of Montreal's iconic Mont Royal, overlooking the sights and sounds of my former life, I reflected on the changes that had occurred since my first Pride:
- When I marched in Minneapolis, same-sex marriage was only permitted in five U.S. states; now it was legal in all 50.
- LGBT rights had switched from being the topic of a few fringe politicians to a staple in an entire party's platform.
- And LGBT people went from existing in a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" society to one where it's de rigueur to support your openly LGBT family, friends, and co-workers.
Though my Canadian friends felt it necessary to remind me how far ahead they are from those of us "down south," their jokes couldn't diminish the joy I felt as I grabbed my boyfriend's hand and turned to the French Canadian parade attendants to offer câlins gratuits (free hugs).
Marching down a street packed with everything from grandpas waving flags to toddlers in rainbow onesies, I was once again overtaken by the positivity of the Pride experience.
I reveled not only in the changes of humanity, but also in my own heart; the journey of acceptance I had taken over the years of Pride expeditions.
And it sent me right back to Hennepin Ave in Minneapolis, when I had first experienced pride.
It was a reminder that summers are sacred. A time for change and a time for extraordinary journeys, both physical and beyond.
What extraordinary journey will your heart take this summer?
Click here to read about Mikah's current journey to all 400+ U.S. National Parks.