Nathan, Mark and I went to Salt Lake's Pride Festival on Saturday evening and then attended the parade yesterday morning through downtown Salt Lake. It was only my second time attending these events, but it was a first for both Nathan and Mark.
Nathan had a great time. He got a kick out of the Draq Queen performers at the Festival on Saturday night, got an airbrush tattoo and purchased a shirt that said "Free Hugs." He wore the shirt yesterday to the parade, but unfortunately for him the only hug he got was from a guy on a skateboard. "That's ok," he said. "I'll wear the shirt to Lagoon (local amusement park) and get lots of hugs from cute girls."
One could immediately sense that this parade was going to be different from any previous one when the color guard consisted of several scouts and leaders in uniform, despite a clear direction from local Scout executives to not do so. This small act of defiance was hugely symbolic in light of the recent decision to allow openly gay boys to participate in Scouting - and it made national news.
Another big news generator this year, as was the case last year, was the group "Mormons Building Bridges" - a loosely organized organization whose membership consists of active Mormons who want to reach out to the LGBT community. In the past, I have had mixed feelings about this group. But yesterday, as I saw hundreds of Latter-day Saints marching down the street, I admired their courage (knowing that they would likely be "labeled" in their home congregations), and I was grateful for their participation in the effort to change the culture (and, ultimately, doctrine) of the Mormon Church and community.
So, as I stood on the side of the road and clapped, I also yelled out "Thank you!" One woman came over and gave me a high five. Another woman, older, elegantly dressed in a beautiful tie-died rainbow-colored long cotton skirt and top, came over, reached out her arms and gave me a hug. It was so unexpected, so spontaneous and so genuine - and to me represented part of Pride (especially in Utah) is all about: reaching out, accepting and loving.
Another thing that impressed me about this year's parade was all the corporate entries: Wells Fargo Bank, American Express, (even) Zion's Bank, eBay, Starbucks, etc. - all of whom, of course, are not centered in Utah. But there were also a number of local businesses that participated. To me, this is yet another indication that being gay is becoming much more mainstream - even in Utah.
But the main thing I enjoyed about the parade was the sheer fun of being there. It's like there is a collective sense that we can enjoy ourselves as we celebrate our common humanity as well as our diversity. To us, it's not about tolerance. It's not even about acceptance. It's about celebration.
I was also reminded of a post I did on my initial blog after attending the Pride Festival in Seattle a couple of years ago, which I'm copying here.
The words came out of my mouth without thinking. It was a gloriously beautiful Sunday afternoon. My friends and I were seated on a blanket underneath some tall shade trees, eating a delicious lunch that had been lugged around the city all morning in a backpack by my friend. We had come just from the Pride parade.
As I looked around, I saw thousands of people.
There was no violence.
There was little visible presence of state authority.
There was no fear.
No one was telling anyone what was right or wrong.
No one was trying to tell others what or how to think.
There was no judgment.
There were many gay people around.
There were many straight people around.
There were old people.
There were children.
Diversity was everywhere.
Tolerance was everywhere.
Acceptance was everywhere.
Here, I thought, is the best of America. Here, the ideals of America are not being sung about, not being preached, not being lauded or paraded, worshipped and idealized. Here, the ideals of America are simply being lived.
Thus, I said to my friends, almost absent-mindedly: “This represents the best of America.” An America I can be proud of. An America I believe in. An America where ideals are not used as weapons by one group of people against another, but are respected as shared beliefs of which none are owners and all are stewards.