Though the military personnel who marched in uniform at San Diego's Pride Parade on Saturday received the most enthusiastic reception from the crowd of nearly 200,000 people, the dozens of believers who participated in the parade were fondly embraced as well.
"Religion and the LGBT community seem to have come a long way over the last decade or so," Brian Kelly, the president of Dignity/San Diego, told Raw Story. His organization, founded in 1969, is dedicated to providing a safe and supportive community for LGBT Catholics.
"It seems that more and more LGBT people are deciding that their sexual orientation and their spiritual traditions can be harmonized, and that it isn't necessary to abandon one's religious faith in order to become part of the LGBT community," Kelly added. "It seems to me that there is less stigma attached to being 'out' about one's religious commitment or faith, and even LGBT atheists and agnostics are more tolerant of their brothers and sisters who choose to remain affiliated with a faith tradition."
He noted that this year's Pride Parade included an Interfaith Garden, where religious groups could share their literature for free.
The annual parade began as a 400 person march in 1974. Since then, the parade has steadily grown and received support from city officials as well as local businesses. Now, the faithful appear to be the next major segment of San Diego to back the Pride Parade.
At least 16 churches and religious organizations participated in the parade this year, including Christ Chapel North Park San Diego, Unitarian Universalist Churches, Temple Emanu-El, St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, Pilgrim United Church of Christ, Mission Hills United Church of Christ, Universal Spirit Center, University Christian Church, Congregation Dor Hadash, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), University City United Church of Christ, Mormons for Marriage Equality, Dignity San Diego, Catholics for Same Sex Marriage, First Lutheran Church, and Pilgrim United Church of Christ.
"It is important for religious groups to visibly participate in Pride because there will always be LGBT people at various stages of coming out who need the reassurance that they are not alone and that it is possible to reconcile one's spiritual beliefs with one's orientation," Kelly said. "Such people need to know that there are groups that they can seek out for support and learning."
The churches and groups received cheers of support as they marched holding signs that read "Jesus didn't reject people, neither do we," "God is love," "Sorry we're Late," and "We celebrate diversity."
"We were happy to be there, and the spirit of love I felt was tremendous," Megan K. Benton, who marched with Mormons for Marriage Equality, told Raw Story. "We may not be able to change the Church's policy. That will change in its own timeframe and by its own forces. But we wanted to demonstrate our love for the LGBTQ community in this way. We wanted people to know there are Mormon hearts sitting in Mormon congregations who love you, who want you with us, and will advocate for you and your families."
"It was unbelievably one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had -- and this will be the second time I march in Pride," Jose Luis, who also marched with Mormons for Marriage Equality, told Raw Story. "It is time to march on the right side of history."
The Mormon Church was a major supporter of California's Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriage in the state. The Mormon Church, officially known as Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has also fought against attempts to legalize same sex marriage in other states. However, a Pew Research Center survey from January found that almost a quarter of Mormons disagreed with the Mormon Church's current stance on same sex marriage.
The relationship between the Mormon church and the anti-LGBT policies made Mormons for Marriage Equality one of the most unexpected -- and one of the most welcomed -- sights at the parade.
"To demonstrate that there are Mormons who support marriage equality, we marched," Emily Whittemore explained. "In attempt to build bridges across the divides created by Prop 8, we marched. In affirmation, solidarity, and support of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, we marched. Hugs were given, tears were shed, love was felt."