Because of Covid, the annual Pride march and festival in Salt Lake City has been canceled this year. However, instead, the Utah Pride Center is throwing a one-off, unique Pride Week (June 1-7), which it hopes will inspire other parts of the country – and offer local residents a way to mark Pride.
Salt Lake City may not have a reputation as one of the country’s gay hotspots but it does have an active and welcoming LGBTQ scene to go with its breathtaking mountain scenery. It’s also had some sort of LGBTQ community center since the 1970s.
This began with the Gay Community Services Center from 1975-1979, and then the Gay Community Service Center and Clinic in 1984. This was followed by the Utah Stonewall Center in 1991. The latter has gone through several changes of name and leadership, becoming the Utah Pride Center in 2006.
It moved to its current location, at 1380 S Main St, Salt Lake City, UT 84115, in 2018. It provides a range of services for all sectors of the community, from health and wellness, to specific services for seniors, youth and families.
Its Pride Week is a typical example of how it comes up with innovative programs to support the local community. It will be an in-person, Covid-safe event with several options and different activities.
“Nationwide Pride Centers and people from all over the country are looking to Utah to see how we’re going to pull this off,” said a spokesperson in a press statement. “Several cities have canceled their Pride events, Utah is the first big Pride Week event of the year nationwide.”
“This incredible event will probably never happen again, in this form and on this scale. It’s going to be unique, fun, educational and offer an opportunity to come out of our houses, be together again and do so safely,” added Rob Moolman, Executive Director at the Utah Pride Center.
Two of the highlights will be the Pride Story Garden and a small Rainbow March and Rally.
The Pride Story Garden will be an outdoor, interactive exhibition in Washington Square to illustrate “Our History, Our Stories, Our communities.” It will be open from 3-7 June. “A limited number of guests will be allowed access to roam and find their way through this a-maze-ing exhibit.” Book a ticket for a specific time slot online.
“It’s basically a maze-like outdoor art exhibit,” said spokesperson Kevin Randall. “Ticket holders pay $10-$25 to enter the garden which wraps around the City and County Building on Washington Square in downtown Salt Lake City.
“There, people will walk through 20 different themed gardens with their own unique set of history and stories.
“Given all the civil unrest and politics surrounding LGBTQ+ rights in this state and country, we felt it was important for our community to remember where they came from and how far we’ve come. People will learn and explore topics like: Utah Queer History, Civil Rights timeline, Stonewall Archives, Drag, memorials and tributes, LGBTQIA+ flags, arts and entertainment and LGBTQ+ people and events around the world. We also have a garden dedicated to LGBTQ+ people of color.”
The Rainbow March and Rally will take place on Sunday, June 6 at 10am. It will start at the Capital and proceed down State Street & Harvey Milk Boulevard, ending at Liberty Park. Others can join at any point.
Other events will include a Pride Month proclamation and flag raising, and a virtual Interfaith Service.
When people think of Salt Lake City, they inevitably think of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Does this throw up additional challenges for the local LGBTQ community?
“Existing in a state like Utah, with a large majority of the population coming from a religious and conservative background, it certainly comes with its challenges,” says Randall.
“Just this year, we’ve had a school board member speak out against the Pride Center saying we’re ‘indoctrinating children’ through our education programs. There was a pride flag that was cut down at a high school in Cache County. And last week the Salt Lake County Council voted to ban any flags that weren’t approved by the city, including LGBTQ+ flags.
“With the recent bill targeting trans girls in high school, that didn’t pass, we’ve had a significant amount of harmful debate here in Utah. But the Utah Pride Center has stood up to it all and been a vocal leader in pushing for equality, understanding and providing education where it’s needed most.”
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Indeed, there are signs that some of its efforts may be paying dividends within the wider community. Just this week, the Utah state governor, Spencer Cox, a Republican, issued a proclamation acknowledging Pride Month. He’s believed to be the first Utah governor to do so.
“We must encourage relevant and vital conversations about what it means to love each other, understand our differences, and support our LGBTQ+ friends and family members,” Gov. Cox said in the declaration.
“We can strengthen resilience in the LGBTQ+ community through family and community inclusion and by providing access to help, and giving them our support, respect, understanding, and friendship.”
Here in Utah, we strive to create a culture of hope, love, understanding, and respect by celebrating our common humanity.
— Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox (@GovCox) June 1, 2021