Abigail was fussy. It was raining again and it didn’t look like she and her older sister, Amanda, would be going with their grandparents to the beach that morning. The North Carolina weather was unpredictable this time of year and it looked like this might be another day of playing games inside.
But Grandma Rose had a different idea. “Let’s look at some old photos,” she suggested. “Why don’t you bring me my computer? It’s on the dining room table.”
Abigail carefully lifted the laptop off its charger and brought it to her grandmother. She waited patiently as her grandmother logged in and then brought up the web albums.
“Okay, “ mused Grandma Rose as she scrolled through the albums. “What sounds interesting? How about your baby pictures? Your parents’ wedding? I even have some old photos of your dad!”
“What about pictures of Dad in high school?” suggested Amanda, who had just walked into the sitting area with a towel wrapped around her wet hair. Abigail quickly agreed. She would be starting sixth grade next month, but knew many of Amanda’s high school friends.
Grandma Rose found the album she wanted and pointed to a slender blond boy. “This is your dad as a sophomore—just the same age that Amanda is now.”
The girls bent over the photos, exclaiming at the funny hairstyles and clothing fashions from twenty years earlier. “What’s with the baggy shorts?” asked Amanda. “Ewww, is that Dad’s underwear?”
“Oh yes!” chuckled her grandmother. “I just hated that those boys went around with their shorts hanging down so low and their underwear showing. I guess I got used to it after awhile. In fact, I had forgotten all about that silly fashion!”
“Well, here’s another silly fashion,” declared Abigail. “Look at this picture. All these kids are wearing pink! Even the boys! Yuk! Since when do boys wear pink?”
“Let me see,” said Grandma Rose as she reached for her reading glasses. “Ah, yes! Those are all members of his church youth group. That was the year your dad went to the Mennonite Youth Convention in Columbus. Pink was a popular color that year.”
“I don’t know why Dad would ever want to wear a pink bandana around his head,” commented Abigail. “And look, he’s even wearing a pink bracelet!”
Amanda looked over her sister’s shoulder to more carefully examine the digital photo. “We studied that in my ‘Exploring Faith’ class last year. Wasn’t that some kind of movement to show support for letting gays and lesbians join the church?”
“That’s exactly what it was,” replied Grandma Rose. “You see, for many years there were rules against homosexuals being allowed membership in the church.” She paused and then turned to Abigail, “’Homosexual’ is a word we sometimes use instead of ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian.’ It just means someone who loves a person that is the same gender.”
After a moment Abigail said, “Like Uncle Ben and Uncle Travis?”
“Yes, just like your Uncle Ben and his partner, Travis,” replied her grandmother.
“You mean, they couldn’t be part of the church back then?”
“Well, they could go to church, but they couldn’t be formal members,” explained Grandma Rose. “They couldn’t vote in church meetings, or be elders, or even go to school to become pastors.”
“So that’s why my dad was wearing pink? So he could help Uncle Ben?” asked Abigail.
“Yes–,” began her grandmother but Amanda interrupted, excitedly, “Oh, it was brilliant!” she exclaimed. “We learned all about it. Someone got this bright idea that everyone who wanted gays and lesbians to be accepted should wear pink. When the church leaders saw pink everywhere, they realized that homosexuals should be part of the church!”
“Slow down,” exclaimed Grandma Rose. “I wish it had happened that fast, but that wasn’t the case. It took years of talking and listening to each other and of praying and singing together before the church was ready to accept gays and lesbians. But I do think that the Pink Mennos got the ball rolling.”
“Pink Mennos? Is that what they were called? What’s so important about wearing pink?” asked Abigail even as she looked down to admire her own pink tennis shoes.
“It gets noticed,” declared her sister. “How can you not notice someone who is wearing pink? Look at you,” she pointed to Abigail’s shoes. “You practically glow in the dark!”
“Well, I like pink,” declared Abigail. “And I like to be noticed! But I still don’t get why Dad was wearing a pink bandana at a church convention.”
“Amanda is right,” explained Grandma Rose. “You see, for many years gays and lesbians had to choose between being true to themselves or being accepted by the church. Some homosexuals stayed ‘in the closet’ because they didn’t want anyone to know.”
“They stayed in a closet?” Amanda scrunched up her face in confusion.
“Not really in a closet, silly.” Amanda rolled her eyes at her younger sister. “It just means that you don’t tell anybody that you like girls—if you’re a girl, or that you like boys—if you’re a boy.”
“Right,” agreed her grandmother. “Gradually, more and more homosexuals began to say to the church, ‘Hey, you need to accept us the way God made us.’ Then some family members started to wonder why their homosexual sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles couldn’t be part of the church. One day a young man was talking to his lesbian sister and they came up with the idea that everyone who thought homosexuals should be able to be members of the church should wear pink to the convention. All that pink demonstrated how many people’s lives are touched by homosexuality. It was very visible. It made a point.”
“It’s so hard to imagine that once homosexuals couldn’t be members of the church,” declared Amanda. “I mean, it’s not like gays and lesbians choose to be the way they are. That’s like saying you can’t be a member if you have blue eyes instead of brown!”
“That’s how we see it now,” agreed Grandma Rose, “but it wasn’t always that way. “Twenty years ago many people still believed that homosexuals were choosing to live a life of sin.”
“You’re kidding!” Amanda sputtered. “How ridiculous!”
“Well, you have to remember that there are other examples that we now think are ridiculous,” continued her grandmother. “I remember meeting people who lost their church membership when they divorced. And there were also many people who did not believe that women should be allowed to be pastors.” The girls looked at their grandmother in disbelief. “In fact,” their grandmother lowered her voice to whisper, “I even remember when we girls were scolded for wearing pants to church!”
“No way!” Abigail’s voice registered her shock.
Grandma Rose nodded as she looked at her granddaughters with twinkling eyes. “Just imagine…I had to wear a dress every Sunday! And hose. And heels!”
Abigail resumed toweling her hair as she said, “I bet you looked as dumb as Dad did in those baggy pants.”
“Actually, we girls always looked very nice,” countered her grandmother, “although I was happy to give up looking good for feeling comfortable in pants. But my point is that times change. Issues that cause conflict in one generation may look ridiculous to another generation.”
“I wonder what the issue for our generation will be,” mused Amanda.
“Whatever it is, I hope we get to wear more pink,” declared Abigail, once again admiring her tennis shoes.
“Me, too,” agreed Grandma Rose. “In fact, I’ve worn a bit of pink almost every day since that convention in Columbus.”
“I thought you always wore pink because your name is Rose,” said Amanda.
“That’s partly right,” agreed her grandmother, “but wearing pink connects me with something bigger than myself. A pink scarf is about choosing to be visible. Pink earrings are about identifying with a community. A pink shirt reminds me to be sensitive to those who are not welcome and appreciated.”
“And a pink swimming suit means it’s time to go to the beach,” declared Abigail as she pointed out the window to where the sky was clearing.
Grandma Rose agreed and Abigail scampered to her room to change. “I think that’s enough church history for one morning,” she said as she shut down the computer. “And Abigail,” she called after her youngest granddaughter, “don’t let me forget to bring the camera. We’ll need to take some pictures for your children to see in about twenty years!”
– Jeni Hiett Umble