April Wilcox knew it was a corny joke and was laughing even before all the words were out.
When asked what it meant to be among some 60,000 to 70,000 people gathered in downtown Salt Lake City on Sunday morning for the first Utah Pride Parade in three years due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Wilcox let the quip fly.
“It’s just like everybody’s been in the closet for awhile.”
More seriously, Wilcox, visiting Utah from Twin Falls, Idaho, had been traipsing around assorted national parks with partner Mandy Breaux, but made it a point to have SLC be the last stop on their itinerary. Wilcox had attended the Utah Pride Festival about five years before, “and it was a great time, so I wanted to bring her. She hasn’t been to the Pride parade before.”
Breaux, it turns out, hadn’t been to any kind of pride event before. So, what did the Louisiana native think?
“I’ve been to Mardi Gras, and it’s kind of similar!” she said.
That’s maybe not the exact vibe that the Utah Pride Center — which hosted this year’s Pride festival and Pride parade — was going for, but that doesn’t make it wrong, either.
Kevin Randall, public relations manager for the pride center, said that once organizers saw COVID-19 numbers trending in the right direction, they made the decision that “we kind of didn’t have a choice, we needed to do this.”
Utah’s LGBTQ community was in want of a feel-good event, he said — a theme echoed by several of the parade’s attendees.
“It’s a time for celebration. A lot of times, the gay community comes together to fight for the cause and go through the struggle, which is important, but I think it’s great to have a time to come together and celebrate and just have a lot of joy,” said Farmington’s Michael Parrish, who was there with husband Nic Rowley.
Centerville’s Jaron Rose put it even more bluntly.
“I just want to have a gay old time!” he exclaimed. “A gay … old … time. Yes, a place for just the gays, the shes, the theys, the thems. Yes, that’s why I’m here.
“We’re everywhere, and we deserve to be celebrated,” Rose added.
He was there along with boyfriend Matt Price, and friend Maddy Farrer, of Vineyard. The latter proclaimed she wanted “to represent the bisexual community, and to show everyone on the LGBTQ spectrum that there is a community that loves you and a community of support.”
And for Price, it was about taking a bigger step into that community after growing up as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but finally coming out in February 2021.
“This is my first time being out here. I was closeted the last time [the parade] happened,” he said. “It means a lot to me, being here. … I’m a lot different now than I was two, three years ago, even last year.”
This parade also was a bit different this time, having expanded from a seven-block route to 13 blocks in order to provide both social distancing and better viewing opportunities, Randall said. It began at the intersection of 200 South and 200 West, proceeded east along 200 South up to 400 East, then went south up to 700 South, before heading west and concluding at 700 South and 200 East.
Randall said there were several challenging logistical issues in pulling off the festival, including not knowing as recently as this past December (which is usually deep into the planning stages) if the event would even be able to return this year, and then having myriad newbie festival and parade planners.
Still, he wound up happy with the result.
“It is the largest pride festival event in the western United States — which surprises people that that is happening in Utah,” Randall said. “But I think there’s a big reason for that. I think it’s because we have to fight to be seen here in Utah. And we have some opposition when it comes to equality. And so, our community is motivated and they’re excited to be here.”
That excitement reached a fever pitch with the sound of engines roaring to life, as the self-proclaimed lesbian motorcycle group Dykes on Bikes led off the proceedings. They were followed by all manner of people and groups — drag queens, bears, “Dragon dads,” a drum line, a jazz band, a roller derby group, corporations large and small, various political candidates, a collection of Utah educators carrying oversized inflatable pencils of all colors, a UTA bus featuring the message “Ride With Pride,” and even an interfaith collaboration featuring people holding signs with messages that began with one of, “I am Atheist/Jewish/Baptist/Muslim/Catholic/Agnostic/Pentecostal,” and all concluding with “and I pivoted towards a higher love.”
All of the parade participants were observed by an equally eclectic throng of humanity, including lots of parents pushing their small children around in strollers.
One of them, Jessica McDonald of West Jordan, had her 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son with her, as well as her younger sister. She said she hadn’t attended in recent years, but was encouraged by a friend in the LGBTQ community to come back this year to show her support, which she happily did.
“I’m just out here to support love. I think people should be treated equally — it doesn’t matter which direction you go,” McDonald said. “No matter what, I want to show my kids that love is love.”
Several of those from the LGBTQ community in attendance, meanwhile, expressed hope that the festival and parade will continue unabated for years to come, because as much as it means to them to be there and to have a celebration, it could well mean more to those who had no idea their community was so expansive and full.
“I’m just excited to be in a place where there’s lots of other people that have something in common with me,” said Parrish. “I grew up feeling isolated and alone, like there is nobody else like me, so I love being in a place where there’s kind of tons of other queer people.
“Even if you think that you’re the only one like you and there’s no one else like you, and there’s no place for you,” he continued, “your tribe is somewhere out there just waiting for you.”