pinkdot events come to Utah, by way of Singapore

Story and slideshow  by CHAD MOBLEY

Experience the pinkdot events.

While locked out of her office and waiting on an uncomfortable orange couch for someone to let her in, Valerie Larabee, director of the Utah Pride Center, got started on another busy day by going through emails on her smart phone. Little did she know, she would soon open a message that could effectively spark a revolution for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community nationwide.

The email, from a man she had never met face to face, contained a YouTube video of an event that took place in Singapore in 2009. It was a powerful visual representation of an extravagant affair that encouraged people to gather in celebration of love — love between all people, regardless of sexual orientation. This celebration was the first of its kind worldwide.

The pinkdot events provide a venue for straight people to come out and publicly display their support of their friends, family members and complete strangers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It is a family-friendly celebration with live entertainment, celebrity appearances, refreshments and fun for all people. All races, sexual orientations, genders, religions and ages are invited to attend.

“I saw the video and I immediately knew that we had to do this,” Larabee said. “We had to start doing this here in the US. We particularly needed to start it here in Utah because our big challenge here is getting straight parents to understand that they too could have a gay kid. It’s very likely that they have a gay person in their lives and we would hope that the love that they have for them is enough for them to come out and be visible in their support of them.”

Larabee and her colleagues got to work that day in the fall of 2011.

They instantly envisioned a national phenomenon, so one of the initial steps was purchasing the web addresses for pinkdot in each state; PinkDotUtah.org was the first they acquired. Next they created a task force, called the Support Love Courage Council, whose only objective is planning the pinkdot Utah events. After that, they had to execute the project.

The first pinkdot Utah public celebration occurred in 2011 in Salt Lake City. Another was held in September 2012. Both had more than 2,000 participants.

The most recent event happened in St. George, Utah, on Nov. 3, 2012. It was the first pinkdot to be held outside of Salt Lake City since the celebrations were launched in the United States.

“We were the first permitted public gay event in St. George,” Larabee said. “Pinkdot got covered in their paper, which was amazing. That’s what we are striving for, is to come out and be visible.”

Ken Kimball is the man who sent Larabee the email that ignited the campaign. Since then, he has been at the helm of the Support Love Courage Council as the project lead.

“It’s amazing that it even got through her filter because she gets thousands of emails,” Kimball said. “I sent her the video and Valerie wrote back, ‘You wanna play?'”

Kimball grew up LDS in Utah, but moved away after graduating from Brigham Young University because, he said, he knew he was gay.  He spent the next 20 years living in cities across the country, including Los Angeles; Austin and Dallas, Texas; and Tampa and Miami, Fla. Fifteen of those years he spent with his husband, Miguel. As they prepared to move back to Utah, he said they were scared.

Kimball’s roots within the LDS faith go back to the foundation of the Mormon Church. His ancestors were among the first four Mormon families to come to Utah.

“There might be families that have as much time in the LDS church, but nobody has more heritage than me,” he said.

With that heritage comes a rift within his own family. Kimball is the third oldest of nine siblings.

“I have some siblings that are fully accepting, my parents are really accepting … and I have siblings that won’t let their kids interact with me,” Kimball said. “There’s nieces and nephews I don’t even know.”

In a state that is predominantly Mormon, Kimball and the rest of the 18-member Support Love Courage Council thought it was paramount to craft the pinkdot events in a way that could include all religions. Kimball said he thinks about his family’s inclusion with every decision he makes.

“We didn’t want it to be a political statement. We didn’t want it to be a statement about marriage equality. There were a lot of things we didn’t want pinkdot to be about,” Kimball said. “[Mormon] theology and what they talk about is being loving, being supportive and being caring for all people. So it’s a message of inclusion and celebration by those individuals.”

Events are family-friendly and alcohol-free in an effort to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and welcome.

Ann Clark, a straight ally on the board for the Support Love Courage Council, is one person helping to maximize inclusion in the pinkdot events.

“I’m a parent. I want to show my children that we’re all the same,” Clark said in a phone interview. “I think that’s something as well, that’s why we try to aim for family-friendly.”

Clark became an ally not because she has a gay family member, not because she has a lesbian friend, but because she said she doesn’t understand why people are separated by whom they choose to love. Before joining the Support Love Courage Council, Clark worked on planning the Utah Pride Festival and subsequently became a member of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

She understands the importance of holding pinkdot events in large metropolitan areas like Salt Lake City, but feels the events can have a bigger impact on smaller communities, like St. George.

“I think it’s almost more important than doing it here [in Salt Lake City],” Clark said. “I’m an ally and we have a really strong ally backing in Salt Lake City. It’s almost a necessity [in rural places] because there’s not as much acceptance and not as much outreach…. If you put it in communities where more people can join together and watch that acceptance, that’s an important thing.”

Spreading these events across the country has been a slow process, but it is gaining momentum. Kathy Godwin, Mountain West regional director of PFLAG, said in an email how her organization is helping spread the word.

“We use email, we distribute fliers, we get our members to each bring at least one friend,” Godwin said. “It is a simple as that to begin. Outside of Utah, PFLAG does try to report on Facebook, the national PFLAG blog, etc. This builds awareness of this event and the purpose outside of our community. The power of social media.”

The goal of the Support Love Courage Council is to generate awareness of pinkdot Utah events until every state holds its own celebration. It wants to see these events in major cities and smaller rural communities as well. Groups in Florida and New Mexico, among other states, have formally expressed interest in holding their own pinkdot events in the near future. However, Ken Kimball hopes to see a day that these events are no longer necessary.

“I hope that someday the whole pinkdot concept is irrelevant,” Kimball said. “The support, the love and the courage is to love people for who they are. Hopefully it will become something that we don’t need to talk about, that people just do, but we’re not there yet.”