ST. GEORGE – Hundreds of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community along with supporters and allies painted the town rainbow as they gathered at Vernon Worthen park in St. George Saturday for the first official gay pride event and celebration held in the city.
June is designated as Gay Pride Month for the LGBT community and celebrations are held throughout the United States and in parts of the world to honor the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had and will continue to have on history.
While several celebrations centered around pride month have been held in Southern Utah, including one held in Springdale about six years ago and an informal potluck held on July 3, 2015, at Sandtown Park on Bluff Street, this year’s event marks the first official St. George Gay Pride.
The idea for the event was sparked by two high school students who felt St. George should have a gay pride celebration. Spurred on by the recent shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people and injured 53 others, the young duo reached out to area LGBT activists to help bring the event together.
One of the organizers, Sam, whose last name has been withheld for safety and privacy reasons, said that the shooting in Orlando really hurt the community and added that this event was really needed.
From planning to fruition, organizers had about 10 days to secure the needed permits to hold the event at Vernon Worthen Park, create a lineup of entertainment and solicit volunteers to help, but the event came together in spectacular fashion, drawing a large crowd of supporters who came to celebrate their diversity in a safe and welcoming space.
Elise West, one of the event organizers and a co-chair for the Equality Utah Celebration, which has been held annually for the past six years in Southern Utah, said that she, along with fellow Equality Utah Celebration co-chair Linda Stay were asked to help because of their expertise in organizing events and gatherings.
“As far as the pride event here, the pride festival, we were contacted to see if we could help and offer our expertise since we love to throw happy parties,” West said. “So we offered our support and it’s been pretty much nonstop for the last 10 days from six in the morning until midnight and beyond and we knew that it was going to be very, very important to the community.”
Stay and West were joined by a group of volunteer organizers – including Cody Ham, whom West and Stay credit with taking the lead on the organization – who shared the same passion for seeing the St. George gay pride event be realized on such short notice
“This event, really, I think it’s miraculous,” Stay said. “I don’t think it’s ever been done to pull together a pride event, especially at this magnitude, in 10 days.”
The large turnout surprised event organizers who had originally estimated a crowd of around 200 people. But as the event drew nearer, West said, they watched as the Facebook event page was shared nearly 1,000 times and over 500 people said they planned on attending.
The event was free to attend but donations were accepted and items such as buttons and bracelets were sold to cover expenses. Money raised beyond the expenses of the event are going to be donated to the new LGBTQIA – which generally refers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex and asexual community – Resource Center which is set to open on the Dixie State University campus in August.
The center is part of the Multicultural Inclusion Center and will be located in the Browning Building.
“Our purpose is to be a resource for DSU students, faculty and staff,” Barrett Beck, the LGBTQIA community specialist said adding that they will first and foremost be a resource for the students who may be living openly for the fist time.
Beck said the new facility will provide education and mentors and that the money donated from the gay pride event will go directly toward establishing a scholarship fund for LGBT students.
On June 12, after hearing of the tragic events of Orlando, Stay and West organized a candlelight vigil, also held in Vernon Worthen park, to honor the victims and to provide a safe space for the LGBT community and their allies to come together to mourn the events and find healing through a connection to each other.
From that event grew the catchphrase and social media hashtag #LoveLouder, a play on the more well-known phrase used by proponents of equality; “love wins.”
For organizers and attendees of the gay pride event, love was the prevailing theme; loving diversity, choosing love over fear, as well as self-love and acceptance.
“Love is everywhere,” Amanda Barrick, Stay’s daughter said, “and that’s all that matters is that we’re here and we’re going to love who we choose to love and that’s it.”
At the celebration a moment of silence was observed and 102 balloons were released to honor all 102 victims, those who were killed or injured, of the Orlando attack.
The vigil also featured music, food trucks, games, live entertainment and a conga line parade that saw hundreds of people dancing and enjoying themselves in the park.
“We’re not going to give our energy to fear,” Stay said. “We’re going to give it to more love.”
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