Small town pride festivals play important role

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.
Every summer I have heard the same thing–why do gay people celebrate Pride. As gay people have become more and more open and visibility and acceptance has increased, I hear this question even more frequently.

It is a fair assumption to say that the majority of Utah’s LGBT population lives in Salt Lake City. But even in Salt Lake City, it can be difficult for gay people to find like-minded individuals who they can relate to. It can still be scary and possibly risky, to openly acknowledge that you are gay. Pride Festivals offer a place where LGBT people can feel loved and accepted, in public, for who they are.

Underscoring the significance of feeling at peace with oneself and one’s community was the occurrence of Pride events for the first time this year in Provo, and for the third time in Moab. Salt Lake Pride is an important show of solidarity and acceptance, but the importance of Pride Festivals in very small towns like Moab, or very conservative cities like Provo, cannot be overstated. Far from being sites for what the morality police might call “homosexual indoctrination,” Pride events create a safe place for members of Utah’s LGBT community.

provo pride imageWhile staffing an Alliance for a Better UTAH booth at the Provo Pride Festival two weeks ago, a young, gay woman from south eastern Utah came up to me. She explained that she lived in a small town and that the bullying she was subjected to had gotten so unbearable that she had finally dropped out of high school and was attempting to get her diploma online. Her parents had been rather unsympathetic to her situation simply saying that her bullies were “just being cowboys” and that she should just tough it out.

She had told her parents she was going to a youth dance in Provo so she could attend Pride.

Here was a young woman who, in her hometown, was almost totally alone. But not at Provo Pride. At Provo Pride she was loved and accepted as a bright, lesbian with an exciting future. It was her first time around a large group of people who shared her same life experience.

I did what any mother of daughters would do–I gave her a big hug, encouraged her to work hard to finish high school and move out of her small town. I told her the words that have become synonymous with LGBT bullying—It Gets Better.

Pride is not only a sanctuary for many Utahns, like the young woman I met, but an important rallying point for advocating for basic human rights for LGBT Utahns–rights like non-discrimination ordinances and marriage equality. But organizing for gay issues needs to maintain a multi-issue focus if it is going to retain its effectiveness. In fact, you might call this the “queer” dimension of progressive organizing.

The queer dimension means organizing for marriage equality without throwing our transgender sisters and brothers under the bus by ensuring that basic fairness in the work place applies to transgender people, too.

It means that gays below the poverty line have access to basic needs such as fair housing, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, and healthy food choices.

It means that gays who work for large corporations have the right to bargain with their employers in cooperation with their coworkers in order to determine fair wages.

It means that gays who visit Utah’s beautiful mountains and national parks can enjoy their surroundings without the sound of harsh drills and the smell of fracking chemicals.

It means that gays who live in the congested northern valleys can breathe without fear of an increased risk for asthma or other respiratory diseases.

If these things are better for our LGBT brothers and sisters, they will necessarily be better for everyone else. This is why gay rights are appropriately called human rights. It’s also why LGBT Utahns as they go forward will need to celebrate Pride not as a single-issue call for action, but as a multi-issue approach to making Utah a better place for all Utahns, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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