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.

TEA of Utah

by JENNIFER MORGAN

Teinamarie Nelson and Rebecca Wilder were having lunch one day and discussing an issue they heard about from the media regarding transgender people that they thought was unfair. The two women wanted to do something to help transgender people and those who interact with them so they didn’t make the news the same way. They decided to form a nonprofit organization but, it wasn’t until Christopher Scuderi came on board that things started moving.

Transgender Education Advocates, or TEA (pronounced “T”), was established in 2003 as a volunteer organization. It is an affiliate program of the Utah Pride Center and its mission is “to educate the public on transgender issues for better understanding and awareness of discrimination towards the transgender population.”

TEA offers a Gender 101 class, which aims to make people aware of individuals who don’t fit the binary gender system. Scuderi said 50 percent of the classes they teach are requested while the other half are through TEA’s outreach efforts. Because TEA doesn’t have an office of its own, classes are offered in the Utah Pride Center or at the organization receiving the training.

One group that received the Gender 101 training recently was the Public Safety Liaison Committee. PSLC is a group of individuals in service-related professions, including firefighters, police officers and EMTs that aim to educate those in their field about LGBT issues. Rachel Hanson of the Utah Pride Center and Scuderi conducted the training for PSLC, which lasted about an hour and half. Hanson felt it was a success because people openly talked a lot about biases and other subjects that came up during the presentation. Another good gauge for determining whether the training went well, is if participants feel free to ask questions. “I can often tell when people feel comfortable because they ask questions without worrying about sounding dumb,” she said. “A lot of people don’t understand transgender people.”

Gary Horenkamp, PSLC’s co-chair, said the training was “a well-organized, well-presented learning activity” with useful information that he hadn’t heard anywhere before. Horenkamp also is the project leader for OUTreach Ogden, which supports the “personal growth, acceptance and equality” of LGBTQ people and serves Box Elder, Morgan, Weber and Davis Counties. Gender 101 classes are available throughout the year, but TEA also hosts special events.

During November, TEA hosted a number of events in recognition of Transgender Awareness Month. For 2007 it brought in two speakers to provide workshops for medical and legal students and professionals. TEA also observes the Day of Remembrance annually on Nov. 20 with a candlelight vigil. The memorial commemorates transgender people who have lost their lives due to hate-crime violence.

Although it wasn’t a hate crime, Scuderi tells of an individual who was involved in a car accident that died because of a lack of understanding. When paramedics arrived they had to cut away clothing and when they discovered the genitalia of the victim didn’t match the rest of their appearance they were shocked. Apparently they laughed and poked fun but never helped, which resulted in the victim’s death. Some people have a hard time seeking medical help because they don’t know how they will be treated.

In the Salt Lake City medical community there are four family doctors who advertise that they treat transgender patients, but only one, Dr. Nicola Riley, is still accepting new patients. The others had to stop because their practices were too large. Riley received TEA’s 2006 award for Individual of the Year, while Equality Utah was given the Organization of the Year award for its work. Riley received this award partly because of her willingness to continue accepting transgender patients.

If a transgender person decides to have gender reassignment surgery, or GRS, they may have a difficult time finding a surgeon as well. Scuderi estimates there are a dozen throughout the United States, but none are in Utah. The closest surgeons are in Colorado, California or Arizona. Outside of the country, Thailand has the most GRS surgeons because of its progressive views regarding gender.

TEA’s 2007 keynote speaker, Dr. Marci Bowers, has a waiting list of 150 people. Her practice is located in Trinidad, Colo., which is the “transgender capital of the world” according to the city welcome sign. Born Mark Bowers, she transitioned later in life after marrying and having children although she had thoughts about becoming a woman by the age of 5. Bowers has helped more than 500 patients through this process and is considered a world-renowned surgeon. She has been a guest on “Oprah” and “Larry King Live.”

Locating a surgeon is just one challenge facing individuals. Securing funding also can be problematic. Many people can only afford changes from the waist up and can feel incomplete because of it. A few insurance companies cover GRS, but it has to be written into the plan. For male-to-female surgery, Scuderi estimates the cost ranges from $8,000 to $22,000. Female-to-male surgery costs considerably more: $30,000 to $150,000.

Because the costs are out of reach for many, TEA established the Cans For Change program. Aluminum cans are collected for recycling and the money goes toward a scholarship. The scholarship fund was developed to help with a portion of general reassignment surgery costs for an individual on a need basis. You can e-mail TEA to arrange a pick up of clean cans any time. While it has yet to raise enough to consider applicants, TEA hopes to have $1,000 soon for this purpose.

Due to confidentiality and stigma, few statistics are available on the transgender population. But Scuderi and Rachel Hanson believe the transgender youth population is growing. They think this is partly due to the media. Films such as “Boys Don’t Cry” and Barbara Walter’s segment on “20/20” bring exposure to the transgender community. Also, the Internet provides a forum for youth to discuss their lives and issues in a safe environment.

Hanson is the youth director at the Utah Pride Center and facilitates the transgender youth group that meets weekly. She said many transgender people are not receiving support from family or friends so they are at a higher risk for suicide and other self-destructive behavior than gay and lesbian youth.

Utah law doesn’t allow the promotion of homosexuality in schools. Hanson says that when they have approached schools to educate them they often shy away from the training because they’re afraid it’ll fall under the “promotion” of alternative lifestyles.

Scuderi says TEA has had conversations with two school boards. “We’ve contacted most of them, but they’ve either declined or haven’t returned emails or phone calls.”

On campus and elsewhere, the most obvious place transgender people encounter problems is the bathrooms. If a female has male genitalia and goes into the boy’s bathroom she’s more likely to have a problem than using a girl’s restroom.

Another place that is high risk for transgender people is correctional facilities. Currently when someone is picked up they are placed in holding cells based on their genitalia. Because their outward appearance is generally different than those their holed up with, they become easy targets for harassment or worse. Horenkamp said there was a senior officer from SLCPD at the Gender 101 training and he felt it was well received.

SLC drag troupe raises funds, morale

by AMANDA CHAMBERLAIN

Forty-five-year-old Don Steward says he’s about as mainstream as it gets. The West Valley City resident has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in public administration, owns a small business and attends church every week.

“If I was an ice cream flavor I would be vanilla – probably sugar free,” Steward said. “I’m that dull.”

Perhaps it’s Steward’s dull home life that makes his charity work seem even more intriguing. He makes it a priority to stay active doing volunteer work, and has traveled across Utah and Wyoming mentoring nonprofit organizations. But it’s when he stuffs his 6-foot, 230-pound frame into a curve-hugging, polyester dress and 5-inch heels that his charity work appears the most vibrant.

Meet Ruby Ridge, Steward’s alter ego. He transitions into this bearded drag queen – brazenly outfitted with loud makeup, fluorescent hair and a sassy attitude – when he appears with the fundraising performance troupe, the Utah Cyber Sluts. As one of the about 10 rotating members in the troupe, Ridge performs improvisational comedy and lends herself to charitable events within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, such as Pride and WinterFest.

Most recently, the Cyber Sluts kicked off University of Utah’s Pride Week on Oct. 15, 2007, performing a colorful show for attendees free of charge. On Nov. 29, the troupe will doll themselves up in the finest Deseret Industries dresses and attend The Red Party at the Hotel Monaco to raise money for AIDS awareness. Just one night later, they will unveil their Christmas performance “Cyber Night, Slutty Night, What’s in Your Stocking?” at the Paper Moon.

But perhaps the Cyber Sluts’ most famous fundraising effort is Cyber Slut Bingo. Each month, the merry bunch hosts a different-themed game night in order to raise money for the Utah Pride Center.

“The Pride Center has had a partnership with them for couple of years now, and one amazing thing about the Cyber Sluts is how much they do for charity,” said Jennifer Nuttall, the Center’s adult-program director. “Initially, the Center was having difficulty raising funds, and it was their idea to come and do the Bingo nights to help out the center. Now that we’ve gotten to a much better place financially, we’re able to split the proceeds to go to both the Pride Center and the Cyber Sluts’ other charities throughout the community.”

In September, the Cyber Sluts collected more than $2,000 from Bingo night alone. And according to Nuttall, who attends Bingo night to direct “the Pride Center side of things,” the number will only continue to grow. She said the game night fundraiser is attracting a bigger and “more diverse crowd,” and at $5 admission per person, that can add up.

Nuttall also noted that the Cyber Sluts plan to take the event “on the road,” hosting Bingo night starting Dec. 14, 2007, at the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society (6876 S. Highland Dr., Salt Lake City) for the next few months, then moving it to another part of the valley.

The Cyber Sluts experience no shortage of Bingo, AIDS benefits and Pride weeks, but just how does one find himself performing in drag for charity? Steward’s story starts with the formation of the troupe itself, which was inspired by the Denver Cycle Sluts, a similar fundraising outfit. Two inquisitive Utahns, Rand Bodily and Chris Trujillo, caught a Cycle Slut performance nearly 17 years ago and felt inspired to mimic their antics and generosity, according to an article published in the November 2007 issue of QSaltLake.

Taking their concept back to Utah’s salty turf, Bodily adopted the name Lucky Charms, and Trujillo became Andromeda Strange. As they acquired more volunteers, the twosome blossomed into a full-fledged performance troupe, which they named the Utah Cyber Sluts — tweaking the moniker to slightly differ from the Denver group’s.

As one of their first charitable efforts, they started Camp Pinecliff Weekend, an annual camping retreat for people with HIV/AIDS, their family and their caregivers. And while the camp acts to bring hope to those with the disease, it also serves as the birthplace of Ruby Ridge, who now is one of the event’s main coordinators.

“I knew Rand and Chris, and we just got to talking one night in the lodge and boom! Ruby was born,” Steward explained. “They are great performers and sort of dragged me along by my boot straps until I learned the basics.”

Though founders Bodily and Trujillo have passed the leadership torch on to other Sluts, such as Ida Slapter, the current “Madame,” Ridge and the rest of the troupe continue to reach out to the LGBT community, and beyond.

“They really promote a sense of community,” Nuttall said, “and they’re a great and fun social outlet for both our community and the community at large.”

Just like the Sluts aren’t limited to raising funds for just one demographic of the community, Steward isn’t limited to playing Ridge only under the Cyber Slut name. He also flexes Ridge’s sharp-tongued wit as a columnist for the local LGBT news and entertainment newspaper, QSaltLake. Her column, in which she touches on current events amid a bounty of endearment terms (calling readers “muffins,” “petals,” etc.), has gained a steady following. According to Assistant Editor JoSelle Vanderhooft, Ridge’s column, “Rocky Meadows Mascara,” is one of the paper’s most popular features.

“I’m really surprised at how many people actually read my column,” Ridge said. “I always did it as a joke, but people really respond to it.”

In many ways, the same sentiment applies to the Utah Cyber Sluts. Though they joke with funny names, bad fashion sense and diva attitudes, they get the attention of many in the community at large, and it’s due to their unique and entertaining take on charity work.

Stuck in the middle: Some bisexuals struggle to overcome stereotypes

by MISSY THOMPSON

They are called fence-sitters, undecided or confused. Generally they are not accepted by straight or gay people, although the straight community lumps them in with the LGBT community.

Bisexuals have been marginalized for many years because they are underrepresented within the LGBT community. Stereotypes surround them like a cloud.

One misconception is that they are promiscuous because they are attracted to both sexes. However, many don’t fit this stereotype because they believe in monogamous relationships, whether it’s with a man or woman.

“There is not a lot of respect for bisexuals,” said Bonnie Owens, a senior at the University of Utah and an intern at the campus LGBT Resource Center. “Some people believe it’s just a transition period.”

Bisexuals are included in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) acronym that has become the most widely accepted term for describing members of this population. But, the problem with bisexuality being part of the LGBT acronym is that they are not accepted by either gays or straight individuals, Owens said.

“There’s a saying: ‘Bi now, gay later,'” she said, referring to the misperception that bisexuals will eventually become gay or lesbian.

Owens and LGBT Resource Center Director Cathy Martinez are working to reaching out to misrepresented LGBT communities — including bisexuals — by making them feel as if they are part of the community. Although no definite plans have been made, Owens believes they need to be included considering they are part of the acronym.

“We are bringing bisexuality into a light of inclusiveness,” Owens said. “[The media] have sexualized bisexuality.”

But making bisexuals feel included in the LGBT community will be difficult because they are looked down on by gays, lesbians and straight people.

“Female bisexuality is more acceptable,” Owens said. “For males it is more of an issue of if you are [gay] or aren’t. A man is questioned more and thought of as testing the waters. It’s much less accepted.”

Bisexuality in younger males is questioned even more. Tom Campbell, 17, a senior at Tooele High School in Tooele, Utah, has been out about his bisexuality for a year. He has seen some people be completely supportive of his lifestyle, while others are less inclined to treat him the same as they did before they learned he is bi.

“There are a lot of people who treat you different in high school,” Campbell said. “Kids give you a lot of crap [for being bisexual]. My doctor even put me on anti-depressants.”

Campbell believes it’s difficult for people, especially high school teenagers, to understand that having equal interest in males and females is normal for him.

“I’m asked if I’m gay a lot and I say, ‘No, I’m bi, there’s a big difference between the two,'” he said. “I have a strong attraction to both [men and women]. I like variety.”

He has also seen the difference in the way bisexual women are treated compared to bisexual men.

“When you’re at a dance club and two girls are dancing together in a cage it’s OK,” Campbell said. “But when I’m up there with another guy, it isn’t.”

Campbell is a member of the Tooele High stage crew where he helps build and design scenery for the plays the school produces. Some of the crew members who know he is sexual orientation have treated him differently.

“It’s funny because when you’re with [stage] crew it’s like your family, but I’m not myself,” he said. “It’s the people you’re around that make you feel comfortable and OK with your sexuality.”

Although lesbian and gay have overshadowed the ‘B’ in LGBT, it is a lifestyle that bisexuals accept despite pressure from both the LGBT and straight communities.

For instance, Wendy Lynn, 43, an environmental studies student at the U, never questioned her bisexuality and has embraced her lifestyle.

“I didn’t realize I was different,” Lynn said in the Ray Olpin Union building over a cup of coffee. “I thought it was acceptable if men were with men and women were with women. I reasoned this as an 11-year-old.”

Lynn was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and during a
Primary lesson — a Sunday school-like teaching session for children — challenged a teacher who couldn’t give her the answers she wanted. She was taken to the Bishop, who told her not to vocalize her thoughts.

“I didn’t realize I was voicing an anti-opinion,” she said. “I stopped attending church at age 12.”

Her sexual orientation didn’t come up again until after she was married at the age of 18. When she was driving with her husband one day, Lynn saw a woman who she believed was beautiful. Lynn didn’t think twice about telling her husband that they should ask the woman to go out to dinner with them. Later, she wondered, “What was I thinking?”

“I was in a marriage and at that moment [of seeing the woman] all I wanted to do was spend time with her,” Lynn said. “A time came when it was clear to my husband that I was different. But I didn’t plan on pursuing it.”

Lynn and her husband divorced after three years of marriage. Eventually she began a 10-year relationship with a woman. Lynn said they would still be together if it weren’t for her partner’s alcohol abuse.

The only time Lynn felt accepted by the LGBT community was when she was with a woman. Her life revolved around this community while she was with her girlfriend. She hung out at bars that her friends frequented. But, once she began a relationship with a man, Lynn lost the majority of her friends.

“[Gays] have their own social network,” she said. “It was my social life. When I chose to be with a man [my life] was gone and now I have very few friends. [Bisexuality] is not a choice for most people,” she said. “Because it was for me, people can’t accept that.”

Lynn has been in a relationship with the same man since 1998. They were married, then divorced. Now, they are living together again, but are no longer married.

“For me, I grow more spiritually when I’m in a committed relationship,” Lynn said. “You don’t learn enough about yourself when you’re not. You have to find a partner who mirrors you, it’s easier to survive that way. I commit everything I can to one relationship, otherwise I get lonely.”

Since she has been with a man, her parents have been more supportive about her sexuality. Because they don’t see Lynn with another woman it’s as if they can pretend she is straight.

“I can be honest with who I am,” she said. “My boyfriend doesn’t care what [other people] think. He will always support who I am.”

Ultimately it doesn’t matter to Lynn whether her partner is male or female.

“I will never stop being attracted to men and women,” she added.

Lynn’s philosophy is that in any population, 10 percent are gay and 10 percent are straight. Everyone else – mainly bisexuals – fall in the middle. That large gray area is where she, and many others, fit in.

“Some people who are bisexual may just be experimenting,” she said. “Sexuality is fluid and more people are deciding that it’s OK to be different.”

Because Lynn is older, she has seen many of the hardships bisexuals have faced over the years. Most of the time, she said, they weren’t necessarily persecuted, but definitely had a hard time fitting in with both the LGBT and straight communities.

Lynn has lived in Utah, California and Montana, but the only time she felt her life was threatened was in Wyoming where LGBT individuals have been killed because of their orientation. On another occasion at the gay club, Sun, in downtown Salt Lake City, a group of men surrounded the exit. Lynn, unaware they were there, nearly walked out but was pulled back inside before she could get hurt.

“I look conservative, I’m never dishonest,” Lynn said. “I’m not one of those in-your-face people. I feel safe sitting here in the Union when a few years ago, I never would have.”

Nevertheless, bisexuals still have to fight for approval from society.

For instance, the Utah Bisexual Support Group was only recently allowed to hold meetings at the Utah Pride Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

“We are viewed with as much suspicion in the gay community as in the straight,”
Lynn said. “Bisexuality for me has very little to do with who I choose — whether male or female. I don’t take sex seriously, but there has to be a serious attraction. In that case I don’t want to limit myself.”

Campbell and Lynn are just two of many bisexual individuals living in Utah who don’t feel at home in the gay and lesbian or straight communities. Until one, or both, sides decide to accept them, bisexuals will continue to live in limbo.