Why Pride Matters in Small Town Moab, Utah

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

October 24 2011 5:00 AM ET

After Amy Stocks and her
partner Ali Lingel watched a satiric video
from The Onion about a small town
throwing a pride festival for its only gay man, she posted the video on her
Facebook page with a note asking when her own hometown, Moab, Utah, was going
to throw a party for her. The response eventually turned into the city’s first
ever LGBT Pride parade and festival, an event that attracted a full 10% of its
citizens.

For Moab — a small town
nestled between Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, in rural conservative
southern Utah — last month’s Pride was more than
just a party and a parade. It was a political statement heard far beyond the city’s
borders, in part because the state’s predominant religion — the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints (the official name of the Mormon faith) — has been
in the national spotlight all year and in LGBT crosshairs for several more.

Two GOP presidential candidates — former Utah governor Jon
Huntsman and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney — have put Mormonism in
the national conversation, notes Celia Alario, media strategist and founder of
PR for People the Planet. And the Mormon Church’s role in funding the 2008
campaign for Proposition 8 in California, she said “put the church and the
state of Utah smack in the middle of a national debate on issues impacting
members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex community.”

By hosting Pride in Moab, LGBT organizers recognized that
their little town could potentially impact the entire state “by raising
awareness and encouraging understanding and acceptance of LGBTQI people,” said Sallie
Hodges, Moab Pride Festival Creative Director. “Having attended many Pride
festivals in cities such as London, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, I
can't help but feel that this festival is as important if not more so than the
bigger metropolitan festivals.”

Alario, a Moab resident, agrees: “Perhaps more significant
than the massive Pride events that draw tens of thousands to big cities across
the nation, the hundreds that attend this inaugural Pride festival in Moab…send
a strong message to the nation that many in the state of Utah do, in fact,
support diversity.”

And indeed it did.

Hodges
says the success of the festival really “opened up an awareness within the
community that there are LGBTQ people out there. If there was one 15-year-old
struggling with their sexuality and feeling isolated then I think that them
knowing the festival was happening and that they are not alone means we
accomplished what we set out to achieve — it's one step closer to equality and
acceptance.”

What was good for the gays was also good for local
businesses. Organizers expect next year’s number of festival attendees to
double, and they’re banking on the region’s appeal as a tourism destination to
help that along. Next year the festivities in Moab will include a gay adventure
week — perhaps the first locale in the country to tie outdoor recreation with
LGBT Pride as part of annual festivities, a fitting partnership for a city
known as a paradise for outdoor sports such as mountain biking, whitewater rafting,
and hiking.

This year, Moab Pride included an Orange party (a fitting
redux of the classic gay white party theme and a local nod to Moab’s
reddish-orange sandstone cliffs) plus a festival, but it kicked off with their
“Visibility March,” attendance at which surprised even Hodges. “I thought maybe
we would get between 30 to 50 people marching. Instead, between 400 to 500
showed up.”

Unlike other cities where first time Pride-goers hid behind
costumes (Boise, we’re talking to you), Hodges says, “I don't think any one of
them felt they had to hide behind a mask or costume, although costumes were in
abundance. I can't really describe the emotions I felt by being a part of such
a life affirming experience. As we marched, people on the sidelines clapped and
cheered, there were no jeering or mean spirited expletives. In fact, the
community as a whole — from the police department to City Hall — have been
nothing but incredibly accommodating and very supportive.”

That
image doesn’t jibe with how Utahns have been portrayed in the past.

“Utah
in general is a very conservative Mormon state,” says Hodges. “And I'm excited
by the fact that our festival, through its success will serve as an outreach
beacon for other small towns in southern Utah which are not as progressive as
Moab. I think that one other aspect of the march and the festival in general
that made it so enjoyable was that as organizers we wanted to include everyone
and so our invite was addressed to all regardless of age, gender, religious or
political affiliation and those were a lot of the people that showed up in
support and solidarity.”

Having
500 people march in the first Pride parade ever held in a town of less than
5,000 people (that’s a full 10%) is telling, and not too shabby for an event
that started almost as a lark.

“The response Amy got from her posting,
rather than being humorous, was more in line with ‘what a great idea’ and that
was how the festival was spawned,” says Hodges who helped organize the festival
and garnered community support — from groups including Utah Pride, HRC, ACLU,
Planned Parenthood, Equality Utah, Utah Film Center and The Community
Foundation of Utah, and Q Salt Lake — along with Stocks, Lingel, and Helene
Rohr. “I think the actual impetus for the festival was quite simply, It's
about time
!”


 

MOAB UTAH PRIDE TEAM 560x (COURTESY) ADVOCATE.COM

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