Utah Pride Festival unites community

Participants in the annual Utah Pride Festival show their colors as they march holding rainbow flags. Photo courtesy of the Utah Pride Center.

Story by AINSLEY YOUNG

The Utah Pride Festival is a three-day event held each June that allows people of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies to come together to celebrate who they are and to show their true colors.

“People know they can attend the festival and are free to be who they are and they will see 20,000 other people also being free to be who they are. People will also find acceptance and love at the Pride Festival,” said Megan Risbon, executive assistant and volunteer program manager at the Utah Pride Center.

In 2012, there were around 23,000 attendees.

“I think people attend the Pride Festival for many reasons,” Risbon said. “Most people know they can see how diverse our community here in Utah really is at the Festival.”

Risbon said it’s important to attend the festival and make new friends and allies. One way to do this is by volunteering.

“This volunteer had recently come out and was afraid to attend his first Pride Festival without any friends or family. Even though he was hesitant, he signed up to volunteer for a three-hour shift. I assigned him to take tickets at the main gate for that one shift but he ended up working another shift for us that day,” Risbon said.

“After the festival, he emailed me and told me what a wonderful time he had volunteering. He had met so many people when taking tickets and it was a great experience for him. He stated that he was usually quite shy but decided to be super friendly and extroverted while volunteering and because of that, he made many new friends,” she said.

Bexi Lee, a volunteer at Ogden Outreach and the Utah Pride Center, said she has been to the Utah Pride Festival for the last three years in a row.

“It’s a weekend off from work, a chance to hang out with friends and an opportunity to join my community in voicing our needs and wants. Oh, it’s also the first sunburn of the summer,” she said.

Lee said in addition to the parade and shows, there is a lot of information on sexual health. The Utah Pride Festival is also where she discovered the organizations she’s a part of now.

“The more we continue to have the festival, the more opportunities we have to spread our message,” Lee said. “Those who have a different idea of how life should be lived would consider it a victory on their part if the festival was discontinued.”

Brenden Beery, who volunteered as parade monitor at the festival in 2012, said he goes to get more acquainted with the LGBTQ+ community.

“Being a gay male, I wanna know what’s going on in my demographic. It’s more than just a parade; they have political booths and other things like that,” he said.

The booths inform people about the human rights movement and goings on in the fight for marriage equality. There was also a booth from the U doing a study on same-gender attraction.

To Beery, knowing he isn’t the only one is comforting, and he finds that comfort at the Utah Pride Festival.

People attending the festival shows that they are proud of who they are, Beery said.

“It shows there is a generational shift in values regarding the LGBT community,” he said. “They welcome all aspects of human sexuality; it’s not so much a gay pride parade as an equality parade.”

Each year, the festival kicks off with the Grand Marshal Reception where the Utah Pride Center honors its Grand Marshal along with other award recipients.

Saturday’s festivities begin with a 5K run in the morning. Following the run are three simultaneous rallies and marches. The Interfaith Service, Gender Rally and Dyke Rally are held, followed by a joint march to the festival grounds.

When these groups reach the festival grounds, the opening ceremonies are held (national anthem, raising of the rainbow flag above the City/County Building) and the festival is officially opened.

The first few hours of Saturday’s events are set aside for family-friendly activities. Parents may bring their children for family-specific events (clowns, magicians, cotton candy, kid crafts, etc.). Saturday night finishes up with a dance party at the Main Stage.

Sunday begins with the annual Pride Parade. The 2012 festival marked the largest Pride Parade and the largest parade in the State of Utah with over 150 entries, Risbon said.

Also in 2012, the festival welcomed 300 active and faithful LDS members representing Mormons Building Bridges, along with allies and parents of LGBTQ+ people to march at the beginning of the Pride Parade. After the parade, the festival grounds open with music, speakers, vendor booths, bingo, karaoke and other activities being held from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.