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Gay couples who made history lead Utah Pride Parade (videos)

Published June 10, 2014 4:53 pm

The six plaintiffs in marriage court case are grand marshals.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah's 2014 Gay Pride Parade rolled Sunday through downtown Salt Lake City under blue skies and before enthusiastic crowds.

This weekend's celebration is the first since some 1,300 same-sex couples — many of whom were part of the parade — were able to marry during a 17-day window that opened Dec. 20 when U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled the state's voter-approved ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional, and closed when the state won a stay while appealing that ruling.

The parade's grand marshals were the three couples who brought the suit involved in Shelby's ruling — Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, Moudi Sbeity and Derek Kitchen, and Kate Call and Karen Archer.

Scouts lead off • A group of uniformed Boy Scouts carrying the flags of their nation and their state would be a non-event at almost any parade, but not at pride. And that's before adding Geoffrey McGrath, a former scoutmaster in Seattle dismissed by the Boy Scouts of America three months ago for being gay.

McGrath led about 10 former and current Scout leaders and Scouts at the beginning of the Pride Parade on Sunday, carrying an American flag, an Israeli flag and rainbow flags, along with protest signs against the Boy Scout of America. Among the group was Peter Brownstein who made the same walk with Scouts in 2013, only to get reprimanded by the Great Salt Lake Council and threatened with being removed if he made a repeat appearance. The Scouting council won't have to follow through with its threat since the United Jewish Federation in October suspended the troop Brownstein led.

The Boy Scouts don't allow its uniformed members to participate in political events and the Great Salt Lake Council considers the Pride Parade political. Brownstein argues that it is cultural.

Brownstein said he felt it is important to participate in the Pride Parade, even after losing his troop, because he wants to keep the pressure on the Boy Scouts to change.

"I believe the issue needs to stay at the forefront of the discussion as they remake themselves into a more inclusive organization," Brownstein said.

The Scouts have allowed gay youths to join its organization this year but still have a policy against gay scout leaders.

McGrath, an Eagle Scout and a software engineer, founded a troop last fall sponsored by the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, which promotes LGBT equality. His sexuality was mentioned in a NBC News story that prompted the Boy Scouts to remove him from his post in a letter dated March 31.

History makers • Wearing all white and ringing bells, Utah's married gay couples, and others from surrounding states, stretched for a full city block at the head of the 2014 Pride Parade, trailing a massive float carrying among others Michael Ferguson and Seth Anderson, the first same-sex partners to wed in Utah.

Many carried signs with their names, their wedding date and the years they have been together. That included Jody Senninger and Connie Christensen of Heber. In their 18 years together, they have experienced their share of bigotry and hatred from family members, neighbors and employers.

"They think it is a choice," said Senninger. "Love is not a choice."

They married in St. George last December, while they were wintering in their second home. A celebratory event that spurred them to march in their first Pride Parade.

"I want the hate to go away and I want the love to come out," Senninger said.

Similarly, Lindy Fisher and Tina Cushing were married on Dec. 23 and have been together for 19 years and were surprised by just how celebratory the scene was at the Salt Lake County office building. People handed out cupcakes and corsages and there were no protesters.

They dressed in all white and walked with other married couples for one overarching reason, Cushing said.

"We are making history."

Mormons showing Pride • Two groups of churchgoing Mormons made return visits to the Pride Parade, including one that overtly supports gay marriage. And while these Mormons were front and center in 2012, they were far back in the pack this year.

Mormons for Equality, the one that supports gay marriage, came about halfway through the parade, tucked between eBay and Chase Bank. Members in the group of about 50 were conservatively dressed, but not in church clothes like many of those who were prepared to walk in the second group.

Mormons Building Bridges, a group created to improve relationships between Latter-day Saints and the gay community but stays out of the marriage fight, came near the end of the parade. In 2012, about 300 straight Mormons dressed in their Sunday best to march in the Pride Parade in 2012 and about 400 came with the group last year.

This year, Mormons Building Bridges once again brought hundreds in their Sunday best and it was clearly the largest group marching in the parade. A number of the participants carried signs saying such things as "God is love" and "All are alike unto God."

Their slogan this year was "Love Is Spoken Here," the name of a popular LDS children's song.

Mormons Building Bridges, a mix of active and former Mormons, also staffed a table at the Pride Festival where people could stop by and get a hug from a Mormon.

Organizers Doree Burt said it might sound hokey, but the emotions displayed are anything but. Burt, from Logan, participated in the parade in 2012, thinking it sounded nice for Mormons to show some love for LGBT people, but she was taken aback by what she experienced. The crowds roared with applause, people shouted thank you and countless others cried. Burt gets choked up just recounting that memory.

"That first time it, it was transformative for me," she said. Burt, who is a Young Women's leader, believes her faith "has really blown it" on the issue of gay rights.

"It's not just people not going to church. People are killing themselves," she said.

Kelly Butikofer walked in pride parades in Chicago, where he lived before moving back to Utah a few years ago, wearing far less clothing in than he did Sunday, in his first experience with Utah's Pride Parade.

Butikofer wore a white dress shirt and tie and he pinned on his old missionary badge as well.

"I'm a gay, active Mormon. There are not many of us," said Butikofer, explaining how he returned to the faith of his youth after stumbling across LDS General Conference while searching for a game show on TV.

"I want to help other gay Mormons," he said. "You can be active Mormon and gay. You can do it."

The LDS Church has softened its stance on gay issues, saying that being gay is not a choice or a sin, though the faith's leaders have remained steadfastly opposed to same-sex marriage.

And Mormons Building Bridges isn't popular everywhere. The group tried to get into the Days of '47 Parade but was rejected for being too controversial, as was the Utah Pride Center, which organizes the Pride Festival.

Utah County represented • Two Jaguars, a handful of drag queens a group of dozens waving large pride flag represented a new LGBT group in Utah — the Provo Pride Council.

Not even a year old, it's the group's first time participating in the annual celebration. Founder Tosh Metzger said the council formed to assist Utah's homeless youth and address gay suicide rates. "We wanted to form the Provo Pride Council to form awareness for the LGBT community and to support them and let them know they have a place in Utah county and to reduce the gay suicide rate."

The council will host its second annual pride festival in Provo in September.

"We want to be the change we want to see in the world," he said. "We want to be the help we never had."

One big flag • About two hours after it began, the Utah Pride Parade came to an end with dozens of people carrying a massive rainbow flag that spanned the width of 200 South. Spectators high-fived the flag holders, while others threw money onto its colorful surface that will go to the Utah Pride Center, which organized the event.

Be part of Tribune's Pride coverage

Pride participants and spectators can be part of The Salt Lake Tribune's coverage by sending your Pride Instagram photos to #utahpride2014. Those photos will attach to our stories about the pride festival.