“We stand here together today to affirm and never forget that Pride is indeed a protest,” Salt Lake County Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani told a cheering crowd at this year’s Pride March and Rally on the steps of the Utah Capitol.
Her pronouncement echoed the festival’s theme of “Exist. Resist. Persist.” and commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a series of violent clashes between police and the LGBTQ community in New York City that ignited the Gay Liberation Movement.
Saturday’s rally, which featured a variety of speakers and drag performers, attracted some 500 people who marched from the Capitol to the Pride festival at Washington Square Park. The rally also included a non-profit fair with booths from Voterise, Mormons Building Bridges and Citizens Climate Lobby and others.
Eri Hayward, a transgender woman known for her short documentary film, Transmormon, said members of the LGBTQ community should affirm their identities and find pride in sharing stories and experiences.
“When I was still hiding in the closet, when I was still a ‘little boy’ down in Utah County, I lost my voice all the time,” Hayward said. “Everytime I wanted to say, ‘Oh my, I love these girly cute things,’ … society or my parents or my religion would dictate what I could and couldn’t do and I wouldn’t say it anymore. I lost my voice.”
Hayward’s film documented her transition and her relationship with her LDS family. It was recognized as the 2014 Best Utah Short Film of the Year at the Utah Arts Festival.
“Take a deep breath, smile, and speak your truth. Have your voice. Share with everybody who you are because who you are is beautiful,” Hayward declared.
Gregg Schultz, a grassroots organizer and founder of Primary/Out, called on young people to vote, explaining that his passion for mobilizing voters stems from his dedication to marriage equality.
“Overwhelmingly, though, it's getting better ... [older generations] vote against the kind of LGBTQ equality and rights that you want,” Schultz said. “That's why things like the Equality Bill stall out, it’s because the young people—who are the largest voting block in America—are not turning up.”
Introduced to Congress in March, the Equality Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of federally protected classes. The bill passed the House on May 17 and now moves on to the Senate.
Schultz also urged young people to participate in municipal elections, noting that mayoral and city council positions often have the largest effect on people’s day-to-day lives.
Pandora Fox, a 16-year-old gender-neutral drag queen, presented a poem about the emotional trauma she faced from her abusive father.
“Because of you I’m smothered in the arms of anxiety and depression while under the foot of insomnia,” Fox recited. “Why the hell did you make me the last person that I would ever want to be?”
Fox also spoke about her experiences with suicidal thoughts and self-harm. She concluded her poem by explaining that she found pride in her identity and wants to help other LGBTQ children facing similar difficulties. Fox followed her poem with a drag performance.
Alli Martin, assistant principal at Northwest Middle School and member of the Utah Steering Committee of the Human Rights Campaign, called for a repeal of Utah’s Student Clubs Act which she argued places excessive restrictions on schools and students trying to form queer-straight alliances or provide resources to LGBTQ students.
Eva Lopez, vice president of the Utah Coalition of La Raza and deputy campaign manager of David Ibarra’s mayoral bid, said she discovered her queer identity when she was young. After dealing with anxiety and confusion about her sexual orientation as a teenager, Lopez said she found a home in Utah that accepted her.
“I came out for love,” Lopez declared. “I ask you to stop living in fear and to join your chosen family, for our arms are open and waiting to rejoice.”