Mormons to march in church clothes in Utah gay pride parade
Erika Munson has never been to a pride parade.
But this weekend, she will be in one, along with at least 100 other active Mormons who decked out in their Sunday best will march at the head of the Utah Pride Parade to show support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
"There have been so many years of heartbreak and strife between the LDS and LGBT community," said Munson, organizer of the group Mormons Building Bridges. "We just want to send out a message of love to the LGBT community that God loves them because of who they are."
Munson is not gay, and she's not someone who became involved because of a gay family member or friend. Rather, she started the group Mormons Building Bridges a few weeks ago to support LGBT Utahns, to show other Latter-day Saints that it's all right to embrace the LGBT community and to reach out to LGBT teens in hopes of stemming suicide rates.
"We're going to be marching in our church clothes," Munson said, "and we want other LDS people to see us and say, 'Oh, they're just like me. Maybe I can reach out to a gay person in my congregation or not be afraid to discuss this issue.' "
Munson got involved after seeing her own children, as young adults, question their Mormon faith because of its stand on homosexuality, which, to them, seemed at odds with their own attitudes toward LGBT teachers, friends and neighbors and Jesus Christ's message of love.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that it is no sin to have same-sex attraction, but it condones sexual relations only within the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman. The Utah-based faith also helped pass California's Proposition 8, which limited marriages in the Golden State to unions between only men and women.
"I felt that there must be people like me," Munson said, "who are committed to the church, who believe in the gospel and want to live Jesus' word, which is, 'love one another.' "
Munson's group is not affiliated with the LDS Church or any political party, and though it started just a few weeks ago, it's been gaining steam through social media. As of Wednesday, the group had more than 900 members on Facebook; more than 100 had committed to Sunday's march in downtown Salt Lake City.
The group will likely march at the front of the parade directly behind grand marshal Dustin Lance Black, Oscar-winning screenwriter of "Milk," a film about openly gay politician Harvey Milk, said Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center.
Larabee called the group's message "poignant."
"We all want to support and heal the families who have LGBT members," Larabee said, "and that's really the most important thing."
Marchers also hope to show another side of Mormonism.
"I'm a lifelong member of the church, I love being Mormon, and I have felt I have grown up in a church that taught me that God loves his children, and I feel sad that sometimes that message has been lost," explained Luana Uluave, of Cottonwood Heights, "so a chance to say 'God is love' just seems like a really great thing."
Others have personal reasons for wanting to take part.
Michele Rideout, of Sandy, has watched a family member who is bisexual leave the church because she felt out of place. Rideout said it pains her to see LGBT Mormons abandon a faith that she feels has much good to offer.
"It's important for our gay and lesbian members, brothers and sisters, to know that they are loved and they are welcomed, and I think it's really important for members of the church to step up and be modern-day pioneers," Rideout said. "I just don't want to see any more hurt when it doesn't need to be there."
She hopes the group's participation on Sunday shows there are "plenty of people who belong to the LDS Church who are very warm, very embracing, very supportive."
Mormons Building Bridges is just one of a number of LDS groups planning to march in pride parades across the country in June, though Munson said her group is not connected to the others. Groups also plan to march in San Francisco, Memphis, Boise, Cleveland, Portland, Seattle, New York and Washington, D.C., according to mormonpride.org.
The Utah group plans to hand out lollipops labeled with stickers that read "Love One Another" and carry signs with religious messages such as "Love thy neighbor as thyself" and "God is love."
That the Utah parade is taking place on a Sunday morning is not lost on marchers.
"That's a big deal," Munson said. "Some people will be missing their regular church meetings ... but this is an act of worship for us. We're dedicating this, really, to the gospel of Jesus Christ and loving one another."
Utah Pride Festival
The Utah Pride Festival is Saturday and Sunday with events at the Utah Capitol, St. Mark's Cathedral and, primarily, Washington Square around Salt Lake City and County Building. The Utah Pride Parade will begin Sunday at 10 a.m. at the corner of 400 East and 300 South. For more information go to http://utahpridefestival.org/