Peg McEntee: Tears, hugs and hope greet Mormon marchers in Pride Parade
Everyone could see them comingÂ. One by one, and moms, dads and kids, all dressed in their church clothes, gathered Sunday to march in Salt Lake City's Pride Parade and what a hit they were.
They had a lot of competition. There were Boy Scouts in uniform, a brass band, a stagecoach drawn by four beautiful horses, dancing young men in Speedos and women on motorcycles. The Moab Pride people drove up in a freaky old bus. Burt and Ernie held hands. There were zombies.
And, of course, there were thousands of men, women and children who cheered and whistled and grabbed for swag tossed into the crowd.
But when the Mormons Building Bridges contingent marched by, the spectators went crazy.
On both sides of the street, and crossing the green line the motorcycle cops kept telling us not to cross, people raised their hands for high-fives and hugs and yelled, "Thank you!"
I was among them, possibly a bit teary.
For their part, the MBB troops in a repeat appearance brandished signs: "LDS [heart] LGBT," "Family Reunion" and my favorite, "My gay son said there would be donuts." A man with graying hair held a poster that read, "All are alike under God 2 Nephi 26:33," from the faith's signature scripture, the Book of Mormon.
Like other Mormon groups that push for LGBT equality, Mormons Building Bridges is about getting the message to their LDS friends that being gay is not a choice, that minds can be changed and that people should speak out according to their consciences, says Susan Mikesell, a member of the group's steering committee.
MBB members also are keenly aware of the suicide and homelessness rates among LGBT youths who sometimes bear the bitter reality of rejection by their own families and friends.
In keeping with church teachings, MBB doesn't advocate for or against gay marriage.
"We're trying to come to a face-to-face, family-, ward-based approach," Mikesell says. "To listen to [gay members'] stories and understand their experiences. We're not forcing anyone to change their minds, but just to experience" others' lives.
"That," she says, "is the route to big change."
Well, the parade route was the place to do just that. One MBB marcher tells of a 75-year-old woman who told her that in the 1950s, she'd been jailed for being a lesbian.
The woman, who has lived in Utah for 25 years now, marveled at how much has changed here, and how much progress has been made.
Another MBB steering committee member, Doree Burt, describes an "air of happiness" along the route. She was with her husband, son and daughter; another son is serving a Mormon mission in Northern Ireland.
"It was the best Sunday of my year, hands down," she says. "To borrow a phrase â¦ we worshipped with our feet."
Now, one parade does not mean instant and universal acceptance for our LGBT sisters and brothers. But it's a testament to the fact that, gradually, people of all faiths or no faiths are coming around to the idea that the LGBT community is not a threat, but just family and friends and the neighbors down the street.
On that hot, sunny morning, we spectators celebrated all of our lives. When it was over, my husband and I walked to Washington Square for lunch and a tour of the booths.
As we headed home, I thought, one day the Pride Parade will be just another parade.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter: @Peg McEntee.