U2's Pride Celebration

Screenshot of U2 / 4K / "Pride (In the Name of Love)" (Live) / United Center, Chicago / June 28th, 2015
Screenshot of U2 / 4K / "Pride (In the Name of Love)" (Live) / United Center, Chicago

David Wichman grew up in the 1980s listening to U2. He also grew up gay during the early days of the AIDS pandemic and experienced the double humiliations of bigoted demonizations and heartbreaking tragedies.

In the last 30 years, the fights against AIDS and for gay rights have come a long, long way, and some of the key allies for progress have been artists, actors, and musicians — including Bono and his bandmates in U2.

On Sunday, June 28, the day of gay pride parades in Chicago and around the world, millions celebrated the recent United States’ Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized gay marriage at the national level. But David Wichman took his personal Pride rally to the General Admission (GA) line at the United Center.

With his hand-decorated rainbow flag in tow, he wanted to get a place close to the stage. His flag simply said: “IN THE NAME OF LOVE – THANK YOU!” Wichman wanted Bono and the band to know their work as allies had not gone unnoticed.

Dozens of fans bring their banners and signs to the GA floor on each night of the tour — but not every fan has their banner or sign lifted high by the lead singer onstage. As Bono had done in Arizona in May after the news of Ireland’s successful marriage referendum, he turned this spirited Sunday night show into a celebration of marriage (his wife Ali was in attendance), and a joyful tribute to the civil rights advocates who worked to make marriage equality a reality for the whole United States.

U2 made their support for Ireland’s marriage referendum known on the band’s official website, and these sentiments were been picked up by mainstream media. Now, that support came to the American audience on the North American leg of the "Innocence + Experience" tour, in a city where one million people had particiapted in the Pride celebrations earlier that day.

Bono took Wichman’s rainbow flag and paraded it onstage during “Pride (In the Name of Love),” a track that has been soaring and shining this tour as a new civil rights anthem — not only for gay rights, but for the people of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston. Bono dancing the catwalk and approaching the mainstage while unfurling the universal symbol of gay rights was not just a bold statement for the new equality paradigm — it was also an affirmation for all the bands’ fans who are proundly part of the LGBTQ community.

David Wichman shared his jubilant and eloquent response to the evening on his personal Facebook page, writing: “What does it matter that I tossed my pride flag onto the stage last night? Fans all over the world throw things on the stage and Bono happily acknowledges many of these gestures with love. What does it matter for Bono to take the time to acknowledge Gay Pride and the SCOTUS marriage decision?”

Wichman continues,

“It matters because to have one of the most famous and loving generous humans on the planet support you and your community, this saves lives. People from every corner of the planet were watching Bono dancing with, spinning, and then gently carrying this flag across the stage, holding it up and then hanging it on the stage.”

He shares from his history of struggling with shame:

“Some of them are just like me. They grow up in a world that tells them that they don’t count. A world that says that their life is a shameful disease. A world that feels like the only alternative to the pain of being who they are is suicide or blotting out reality with alcohol & drugs. So when your heroes and idols tell you that you matter, there is real hope.”

The pain and then hope Wichman mentions are real:

“I buried a generation of friends and watched helplessly as many of my brothers & sisters around the world continue to be publicly brutalized, hanged, killed, shamed, and imprisoned. This counts! This matters!

I am so proud of this moment right now. My U2 family is more than just a fan base we are a worldwide network of Awesome.”

Bono’s celebration of David Wichman, and many fans like him, is not just a humanitarian gesture for universal rights. It’s an acknowledgement of the unique beauty and struggle of the LGBTQ community for its integrity and its sanctity.

Bono’s activist crusades to fight AIDS in Africa have involved overt gestures of honest conversation and sometimes conversion with evangelical Christians. Bono is a respected Christ-follower among the fans who share his theology, and his faith inspires his advocacy. Perhaps his bold unapologetic support for gay rights intimates a shift in Chrisitianity more generally, where full inclusion for LGBTQ members is now policy in many major mainline denominations.

Certain songs in the band’s setlist have generally accompanied Bono’s remarks for full equality — songs like “Pride,” “Beautiful Day,” and “One,” with these songs attaching themselves to the ascending rainbow consciousness and the ubiqitous motto #LoveWins.

During “Pride,” with Wichman’s flag in his hands, Bono announced, “Gay pride in the name of love.”

During “Beautiful Day,” Bono tweaked a line, “A rainbow of colors right in front of you.”

Before “One,” Bono boasted that Ireland beat America to full equality by putting “the gay into Gaelic” and spoke on how difficult commitment is, but “Love rules! Love wins!” 

After dedicating the finale to the Pride marchers, the fans carried the closing song as a group singalong, 20,000 voices strong.

And if there were any lingering doubts, after the band left the stage, “Same Love” — Macklemore’s anthem in support of marriage equality — was the first tune to blare from the loudspeakers as the house lights went up. 

Andrew William Smith is an English professor by day and DJ by night who works as the Faculty Head of Tree House living and learning village at Tennessee Tech. He’s an activist, poet, blogger, writer/editor at Interference.com, seminarian, unlikely Sunday school teacher, and aspiring preacher. Follow Andrew on Twitter @teacheronradio

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