On Tuesday, June 16, 2009, I attended the mandatory marshal training for groups accepted into the New York City Gay Pride March on June 28th.
I sat in the vast Cronin Auditorium of the St. Vincent Catholic Hospital among more than a hundred marshals at what was the third training session. This parade will be the biggest one ever.
The speaker, Heritage of Pride's Maurice Michaane, led us through the specifics, standing at a podium bearing the escutcheoned words "Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, a few feet from a giant flag bearing the papal coat of arms and near a wall-mounted wooden cross bearing a sculpture of the crucified Jesus.
The happy collision of gay celebration and Roman Catholic imagery was delightful, and the fact that the Roman Catholic Church would welcome the LGBT marchers and organizers into its facilities was heartening.
Heartening and significant when one considers the fact that this hospital does not offer abortion services because of the Catholic Church's clear anti-abortion stance, and the fact that Dignity, the gay Catholic group not sponsored by the Catholic Church has in recent years been booted out of Catholic facilities that had previously housed their services. The security and receptionist staff of the hospital were well aware of the nature of our group, as in "Oh, you mean the gay pride meeting? Down the hall and up to the tenth floor. Follow the green signs."
After the training, I asked the handsome and engaging Maurice Michaane if the hospital had donated its space for the meeting or was Heritage of Pride paying for the use of the hyper-Catholic auditorium. He said he could not disclose that information. When I assured him that I could easily get the answer, he decided to have a bit of fun with me, and responded confidently that I would never be able to discover the answer to that question. He then told me how happy he was to have our group of bloggers in the parade and that he hoped we would become a regular feature.
A single inquiry to the hospital's public relations office got me a response from Mary Mooney who said that an elected official who is a friend of the hospital had arranged for the usage of the auditorium on behalf of Heritage of Pride at no cost to that organization. She said that the hospital often allows usage of the auditorium by community groups.
I didn't press the issue of the vetting of community groups by the hospital to make sure that the doors aren't flung open to "sinful" organizations that might relish abortion rights or cross-burnings, but I am quite certain that not everyone gets in.
I was especially delighted to make the acquaintance of the fellow sitting next to me at the training, Reverend Russell, the founder and pastor of the Church of Rubber Enlightenment (and when you go to the site, treat yourself to the amazing - and very NSFW - video they present). He gave me his card. His logo is similar to that of the hospital, but the motto is different: Connubialis Licentia Per Purgamentum (Loosely, Enlightenment through Sexual Freedom).
I know the Catholic Church well enough to tell you that if pressed about this, they will probably deny knowing the true nature of "Heritage of Pride", but that doesn't matter. Gay-sympathetic Roman Catholic leaders are legion and will always find small but constant ways to erode the church's outdated and self-defeating homophobia. I still long for the big gesture. Would it kill the new archbishop of New York, Tim Dolan, to join us for a few steps when the parade passes his cathedral?
PS: Are you a blogger planning to be in New York City on June 28th for Pride? If you would like to march with our group, there is still room for a few more. Let me know.