McEntee: Moab's gay festival a symbol of getting along
Pride Parade organizer Helena Rohr said it all: "Welcome to Moab, where acceptance begins."
One of four principals who put together the town's first gay pride parade and festival, Rohr was decked out in combat boots, a short, white skirt, a top hat, paste-on mustache and round, dark glasses.
It was just one of the myriad costumes that adorned dozens of the roughly 300 people in downtown Moab on Saturday as bystanders waved and whistled from the sidewalk. It's one of only two such festivals in Utah, the other being in Salt Lake City. (The Springdale event went dormant after 2008.)
It's appropriate that the event "organically sort of happened," in Moab, a magnet for international tourists and hikers, bicyclists, river runners and four-wheelers who flock to redrock country and the adjacent Arches National Park, says Sallie Hodges, the event's creative director.
Specifically, Amy Stocks, who grew up gay and lonely in Moab, posted on her Facebook page a video from the faux news site "The Onion" featuring a small town throwing a pride festival for its only gay resident.
"When's my pride festival?" Stocks asked, then she, Rohr, Hodges and Ali Lingel got busy.
The Utah Pride Center offered its expertise and made the nonprofit Moab Pride an affiliate.
In the spring, the four had planned the parade, recruited acts for the festival, sold ads for the event's program and recruited sponsors, among them the Utah Pride Center, Equality Utah, the Human Rights Campaign as well as Zions and Wells Fargo banks and local businesses.
"One of my favorite quotes, canvassing for sponsorships, was 'It's about time,' " Hodges says.
Judging from the multitude of ads in the festival program, the message resonated.
Lots of people from Salt Lake City showed up in solidarity, and others came in from Colorado, Arizona and California, among other states. Mac Maker of North Hollywood drove a bus decorated with onion domes that he dubbed the Disco Kremlin (although Rohr prefers Homo Sapien Bus) and, dressed in a rough elf costume, danced at the front of the parade.
Once it ended, the crowd decamped to Moab's Old City Park, a lovely place with green grass and enormous old cottonwood trees. Bands played, and Sister Dottie S. Dixon, the alter ego of actor Charles Lynn Frost, served as mistress of ceremonies.
As people sat on blankets or lawn chairs, danced or browsed at stalls and ate pizza and brats, I asked a couple of Moab residents what they thought of the whole, often flamboyant, thing.
"I see it as a chance to recognize that everybody's human," said Patty Larsen. "For us who are straight, it's a chance for us to show support for people who live a different life."
Then she lowered her voice.
"Moab's not part of Utah," she said. "We're a lot more tolerant here."
Lingel, a founder who moved to Moab from Seattle after college, said the city by and large has welcomed the festival. That, she said, has made her and her three colleagues even more resolute about keeping it going.
"I love this festival. It's what we wanted it to be: family friendly, with kids running around," she said.
Under the blue sky and occasional clouds, ringed by redrock cliffs and with the La Sal Mountains looming to the south, it was a beautiful place to be on a Saturday afternoon.
I can see how the festival would take its place among others throughout the country, becoming yet another symbol of how disparate people can get along.
I asked Lingel what she planned on doing Sunday, her work done.
Quick answer: "Take a nap."
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and Facebook/pegmcentee.