ST. GEORGE — Town Square Park was adorned in rainbow flags and banners Saturday during the Southern Utah Pride celebration. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, their family, friends and supporters all gathered for the second annual fest which carried the theme “Discover Pride.”
It was a theme with meanings as varied as the individuals who attended the event, Stephen Lambert said. Lambert is the chairman of Southern Utah Pride and one of the event’s main organizers and biggest champions.
While planning the festival, Lambert said, the feedback he got about the theme was that it touched people in different and very personal ways. For some, discovering pride meant finding pride in their community or learning to love and accept themselves.
For Lambert, discovering pride means that he can be his authentic self, he said, while helping others on their own personal journeys in the LGBT community and beyond.
“Discover pride, to me, means that I can use my talents and my abilities to help share the love of everybody … and to bring together an entire community of individuals that can show support.”
Dozens of people messaged Lambert their gratitude to him for creating a space where they could feel loved and accepted, he said.
“I would say the festival is more about support than anything else, that’s really what it means to me” attendee Kyle Braeburn said, “and just knowing we have a big community here and we are not alone.”
Finding that community is particularly important for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders living in Utah, a state where the predominant religion and the major political figures often oppose legislation that the LGBT community proposes would allow for more equality.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints along with the majority of the Utah Senate recently filed their support for a Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple’s reception on the grounds of his personal religious convictions. The case is being heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.
But despite opposition from the LDS church as well as other religions, Lambert said acceptance has come a long way.
“We’ve come a long way as a society,” Lambert said. “It’s amazing to me that we can do something like this in a community and have so much love and support.”
Advocacy groups including the Mama Dragons, Equality Utah and PFLAG – parents, families and friends of lesbians and gays – set up booths at the Discover Pride event where they were able to reach out to members of the community and provide important health screenings, suicide prevention information and other services … including free hugs.
Those hugs were doled out at the Mama Dragons booth where Liisa Frei, a member of the LDS church and mother of a gay son was volunteering her time and sharing her message of hope and support.
She had her first inkling that her son might be gay when he was very young, Frei said. Though she was not sure where the idea came from she decided that she would learn all about same-sex attraction and try to understand what it meant to be gay. Even if her son was not gay, she said, someone’s child was, and that child would need love and support.
Frei’s son came out as gay when he was 23, she said. He had served a two-year mission for the LDS church and Frei said she was afraid for him, especially in the LDS culture.
“In our culture I was really worried about things that I had heard said about LGBT individuals or towards them,” Frei said explaining why she joined the Mama Dragons, “and I just wanted to foster greater love and acceptance and understanding between both groups.”
So many people, youth especially, in the LGBT community assume that they are not loved or could never be loved for who they are, Frei said. She encouraged others to work harder at reaching out and showing acceptance.
Saturday’s festival was the second official gay pride celebration held in St. George. In 2016, the event was held at Vernon Worthen Park in June when the LGBT community and their allies typically celebrate Pride month.
That 2016 event was sparked by two high school students who felt St. George should have a gay pride celebration particularly in the aftermath of a shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people and injured 53 others. The 2016 pride event was thrown together in the space of only 10 days, Lambert said. But even in such a short amount of time, the community quickly rallied behind the idea and nearly 1,000 people attended.
Organizers began planning this year’s iteration of the colorful festival in May, Lambert said. In addition to the gathering at Town Square Park, several other events surrounding “Discover Pride” took place over the space of three days, including a “Paint Nite” gathering, a neon rainbow dance party, a burlesque and drag show and an interfaith pride service and pancake breakfast.
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