Sunday’s Utah Pride Parade celebrated 50 years since New York City protesters — incensed by a police raid on a Greenwich Village gay club — held demonstrations that would help catalyze the nation’s LGBTQ rights movement.
For Kayla Walker, though, the day marked a more personal anniversary. It was exactly two years ago that, inspired by her first Utah Pride Festival, she decided to come out to her friends and family.
She had been nervous about how her loved ones would respond, and she remembers hesitating before sharing a selfie from the festival on Facebook.
“But I was like, I’m done. I’m 18. I’m not going to hide anymore. I’m going to be who I am,” said the Clinton resident, who wore a rainbow tutu to Sunday’s parade.
Marchers, roller skaters and float riders streamed down 200 South for about two and a half hours for the 44th annual parade, the highlight of the Utah Pride Festival. Jaxon Gray of Salt Lake, one of thousands of onlookers, said the free-spirited parade acts as a kind of “cleanser” from daily life.
And he said he doesn’t take the event’s lightheartedness for granted.
“Gay people from the past have come so far to risk what they have to give us this,” he said.
The theme of this year’s pride festival was “Exist. Resist. Persist. Celebrating 50 years of Stonewall.” Several parade floats also paid homage to the Stonewall demonstrations that became a touchstone for the gay rights movement.
Attendees pointed to everything from marriage equality to the proliferation of rainbow flags across Salt Lake City as evidence of a welcome societal shift over the past five decades. Jackie Biskupski, the city’s first openly gay mayor, marched Sunday in the final Pride Parade of her term, and several of the candidates to replace her are also publicly gay.
But there’s still plenty of room for growth, said Beverly Stoddard, a Salt Lake City resident who watched the parade with her wife and two children.
“I wish that ... the diversity of the community could expand farther than just the urban part of Salt Lake City and would expand a little more up north and south to those communities that just kind of stay far away,” she said.
Stoddard also said that she thinks The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should refrain from any involvement in secular issues, especially those that affect the LGBTQ community.
Earlier this year, the church scrapped a policy that declared same-sex married couples “apostates” and generally barred their children from baptism. The reversal came as welcome news to many but was also criticized for being too little, too late.
Stoddard said she brings her children to the parade because of the sense of inclusivity and belonging that pervades the event.
Zack Wilde, who climbed to the roof of a parking garage to watch the procession, was another attendee who said the accepting atmosphere is what draws him.
“No one should feel judged here,” said Wilde, a rainbow flag draped around his shoulders. “Everyone shows their true colors, and that’s what I love most about Pride.”