The Utah Pride Center, after a couple of years of rebuilding and restructuring, opened its doors to the community last weekend. The space was packed and the jubilation palpable.
My gay heart burst with rainbows and glitter.
Of course, as a queer mama and a lover of acceptance and equality, I’m invested in the center’s success, but also because it’s where I got my first job out of college. I had the pleasure of working with the remarkably resilient (read: homeless and still happy or bullied but still confident) LGBTQ youth when the center was stationed in the Marmalade District of Salt Lake City.
You can imagine my elation — and probably my parents’ — that I landed a job while the ink was drying on my diploma where I could put my gender studies degree to good use.
I loved that job. I got to work with fierce and brilliant programmers and activists, learn from strong women in leadership (including the endlessly fabulous Beano Solomon, whose stalwart support of the center is largely to credit for its sustainability and recent renaissance) and serve a community that had so lovingly embraced me when I came out — and, really, even before.
But I had a curious experience at the opening reception at the center at 1380 S. Main St. in Salt Lake City.
I think it was gay-jà vu or something, because despite never having seen the space, the second I set foot in the building, I had this stunning sense of familiarity. It was odd because it’s a different space with different leaders and different services, but it was like walking into my parents’ house and smelling my favorite meal: I knew right away that I was home.
Belonging is what I felt — intoxicatingly sweet belonging. And safety. And freedom.
Although it’s less about the physicality of the space, this one is gorgeous. It’s open, accessible and bright. But most important, it’s welcoming.
That matters because being a member of the LGBTQ community means the statistical likelihood is that the majority (if not the entirety) of our family members are straight and born in bodies that reflect their identities — making us different. So, unlike being a religious minority like in my case, or coming from a family of racial minorities, we queers have to (get to?) go out and find the places where we see ourselves reflected.
And, like a field of dreams, the Utah Pride Center proves that if you build it, they will come. And hundreds of us did last weekend.
Before the ribbon ceremony, the center’s new executive director, Rob Moolman, spoke about the importance of place. He explained that in Australia where he had lived for some time, they had a ritual he cherished of honoring and acknowledging a space and its legacy at the beginning of any public meeting.
In starting what I hope will become a new tradition, he said, “We acknowledge that we are gathered here in this space to engage our minds and voices in the pursuance of objectives and strategies that are beneficial to our community. We remember the work that has been done by those that have come before us and pay tribute to their dedication and sacrifices that have gotten us to where we are today. Within this space we will strive for kindness, thoughtfulness and an acknowledgment of the dignity and respect of each person here.”
Marina Gomberg’s lifestyle columns appear on sltrib.com. She is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.