Salt Lake City’s annual Pride Festival took place in downtown’s Washington Square in a spectacle of color, culture and pride in the LGBTQ community.
The Utah Pride Center, a nonprofit organization focused on providing support for the LGBTQ community in striving for acceptance and equality, has been putting on the festival since 2004.
Over the past nine years, Valerie Larabee, the executive director of Utah Pride, has helped to create Utah’s second-largest event next to the Days of’ ’47 Parade and the largest Pride Festival in the country after Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Larabee said the Utah Pride Festival is a family-oriented event with exhibits and entertainment for all ages.
“We really do recognize that we share Utah with people of all types and all thought preferences and religions, and we want to honor that,” Larabee said. “We also are citizens of this great state, and yet we never want to forget our own history and put our people at the very center of why we do this.”
Nikki Boyer, the president of the board of directors for Utah Pride and the manager of VIP and club areas of the festival, said the festival began as a small and secretive gathering known to its members as “Keggers” in the early ’70s and has since grown exponentially.
“The true organization came in 1983,” Boyer said. “That was the first time we said it was a gay pride festival.”
Approximately 3,000-5,000 attended that first true festival, located at Sunny Side Park. This year, attendance was estimated at more than 30,000, said Megan Risbon, the director of events for the Utah Pride Center.
The Utah Pride Center has seen a major influx of support this year with the present prominence of LGBTQ issues, such as the U.S. Supreme Court debating the issue of same-sex marriage. It is expected to reach a decision sometime this month. The Pride Center has 15 community partners this year, 52 sponsors providing roughly $100,000 in donations, 175 vendors at the festival and a wide array of entertainment.
“Gotta Be Real” was this year’s festival theme. The event started on Friday evening with the announcement of David Testo as this year’s grand marshal at the Leonardo Museum downtown. Testo is North America’s first professional soccer player to publicly come out as gay and the first openly gay man to serve as a member of the U.S. Soccer Athletic Council, as shown in the Pride pamphlet.
Mike Aguilar, the director of visitor services for the Leonardo and a member of the LGBTQ community, said the event was beautiful, with many key players from the government and the LGBTQ community coming together.
“It had a wonderful feeling of progress,” Aguilar said.
Festivities kicked off Saturday morning with the fourth annual Pride 5K. The DYKE and Interfaith and Transgender Marches began at the Capitol building on Saturday afternoon, and Weber State University had one of its own marching in support. Wendy Dulin, a freshman at WSU, said she has been walking in the DYKE marches for six years in support of her sister, Heather Dulin.
“You don’t have to be gay to participate,” Heather Dulin said. “It’s all about acceptance and equality and tolerance and respect.”
Wendy Dulin agreed that the marches weren’t limited to those who identify as LGBTQ.
“It’s about knowing what civil rights are and that everyone deserves to be equal,” she said.
Thousands of Utah residents lined the streets on Sunday morning for the annual Pride parade. Wildcat GSA, the WSU gay-straight alliance club, had members in the parade.
Jackson Carter, a local celebrity for his third-place win on Season 14 of “The Biggest Loser,” was awarded the Utah Pride Center Local Hero Award for his work with Ogden OUTreach, a support center for at-risk LGBT youth. Carter, a theater major at WSU, has worked with Ogden OUTreach for more than six years. He waved to the parade crowds from the back seat of a convertible.
Thomas Sawyer, a criminal justice student at WSU and an employee at the Salt Lake City Police Department, directed traffic during the parade. Sawyer said the parade is his favorite event each year, and that he’s always enjoyed taking part in it. Sawyer came out as gay after returning from a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and is a proud member of the LGBTQ community.
Sawyer said he has hopes for WSU students in their relations with the LGBTQ community.
“Open your mind and be willing to become friends with people who are not like you and are different and accept the person for who they are and not what you think they are,” he said.