Love equals love. That was the theme at this years Pride, and it couldn’t have been more fitting. The theme calls back to the 17 days—from December 20, 2013 to January 6, 2014—when same-sex couples could legally marry here in the state of Utah after Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down Amendment 3 as unconstitutional, and it draws attention to the current legal limbo same-sex couples have been stuck in as the appeals process against Judge Shelby’s ruling slowly grinds forward. But the love equals love theme does even more than that: It also calls to how things should be, how everyone should be treated and how important equality truly is.
2014 marked my 11th year attending the Utah Pride Festival. I first went with my cute girlfriend, Bethanie (who is now my cute wife), and a handful of our friends—it’s since turned into our annual celebration of diversity. Some years we pick and choose which events we’ll attend, and other years we go to as much of the festival as we can pack into our schedule. This year leaned more towards the picky and choosey side of things, though there were certainly a couple of missed festival events that I wish we could have fit into the weekend.
We kicked off the festival with the Grand Marshall Reception. It’s a ticketed event that costs a little extra, but I highly recommend it—especially if you haven’t experienced one before. A section of Washington Square had been fenced off for the reception, with several white couches and some other seating set up between the North stage and the VIP lounge. Le Croissant Catering took care of the food this year—and did a marvelous job. Infused waters and a cash bar stood ready to quench ones thirst, and there may have been Jell-O shots served in hollowed-out strawberries, but I don’t want to get you too excited.
After most of the food—and all of the Jell-O shots—had been consumed and people had had a chance to rub some elbows and share in some conversation, the reception officially kicked off. There was an introduction and speech from Steven Ha, the Utah Pride Center’s Executive Director. The Pete Suazo Political Action Award—an award for elected officials whose work towards LGBTQ equal rights stands out as exemplary—went to SLC District Attorney Sim Gill, and hopefully someone recorded his acceptance speech, because it was super heartfelt and quite moving. This year there were two awardees for the Dr. Kristen Ries Community Service Award: Fran Pruyn and Mark Lawrence—this award acknowledges exceptional and needed service to the LGBTQ community. Finally, the 2014 Pride Festival Grand Marshals were introduced—the three couples standing against Amendment 3 in Utah’s marriage equality case: Laurie Wood & Kody Partridge, Moudi Sbeity & Derek Kitchen and Kate Call & Karen Archer. Each gave a little speech about their experiences, and each made me proud to be here in Utah during this momentous time on the road towards equality.
Some previous engagements earlier in the day required missing out on the Dyke, Transgender and Interfaith Marches. In previous years, Bethanie and I have made a habit of alternating every other year between walking in the Dyke March and walking in the Transgender March. With many friends in both crowds, it’s something we plan to continue for years to come. It was mid-afternoon by the time we arrived at Washington Square, with the festival in full swing—local band MiNX was diving into their set on the East Stage and, if you’ve ever seen them perform, you know that no one has more energy than Ischa B.
Exploring the booths along the west side of Washington Square, we discovered that the Karaoke Stage had once again returned to Pride … and hastily began a trek to get as far away from that as was humanly possible. We met up with some friends back over at the North Stage, where Sherry Vine was dripping in NSFW gloriousness. Vine threw down crowd pleasers like “Grindr Queen,” “Shit My Pants” and “You’re A Whore” before having some very entertaining fun with the translator during a crazy-dirty cover of “Hallelujah” called “How I Blew Ya.”
After all that drag queen action, it was time to put something in our mouths … by heading over to the festival’s food/dining area! At any festival here in Utah, you’ll always find me over at the House of Tibet food stand—loading up on the spicy potatoes. Unlike many restaurants here in Utah, they doesn’t tone it down when it comes to the spicy, and I think they might even throw in a little extra when they come out to the festivals and Twilight and such, which is just fine by me since there’s always plenty of beer flowing at these events to temper that heat. Once the food had been consumed, we resumed browsing more of the booths, caught a bit of local ska band Show Me Island on the East Stage, tried a Bud Light Lime Straw-beer-rita (not their best work) and then decided to call it a night.
Sunday began with a bike trip amongst the SLUG crew in the Pride parade. The parade is always a highlight of the festival weekend, but this year was particularly fun. This was my third time in the parade, but just my first time with SLUG (my previous experiences were with Westminster’s Alphabet Soup and Planned Parenthood). Geoffrey McGrath, a former Seattle scoutmaster dismissed by the Boy Scouts of America for being gay, lead the way with several other scouts of varying ages, carrying the National and rainbow colors. The Grand Marshalls rode on a special “marriage equality” float—designed and built by Utah Chapter leaders of Marriage Equality—and were joined by many of the other 1,308 same-sex couples who were legally married here in Utah during that previously-mentioned 17-day window. There’s a fabulous rumor (which very much looks to be true) that, during their Music & the Spoken Word performance which took place at the same time as the Pride parade, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang “Over the Rainbow” and projected a rainbow image onto the back wall of the LDS Conference Center in a grand nod to the LGBTQ community. After all the history between the LDS church and the gay community, I really do hope this rumor turns out to be true.
Once I was done being in the parade, I circled back to find Bethanie and watched the end of it with her—this really is Utah’s largest parade of the year—then we headed into the festival grounds to get some more of those delicious spicy potatoes! What? Riding a bike through a parade really works up your appetite.
We cruised the last of the booth sections (had to make sure we saw everything!), and then headed back to the North Stage to catch Joey Arias’ performance. I’d missed Arias’ last visit to Salt Lake, so this was a must for me during the festival. We stuck around for the beginning of headliner Steve Grand’s performance. His band was quite good, but his lyrics are a bit too basic for my taste. He stepped into a cover of “Bennie and the Jets” and I decided it was time to grab one last plate of spicy potatoes and call it a day.
Every Pride festival I’ve attended has been meaningful in one way or another. This year stood out with an overwhelming message of love and equality. We’re on the doorstep of marriage equality here in Utah and, after years of working against Proposition 8 and Amendment 3, it tastes even better than those spicy potatoes.