Jason CoZmo as Dolly Parton dazzles at Southern Utah’s ‘Equality Celebration’ in support of LGBTQ community

ST. GEORGE — Hundreds gathered for a sold-out event in St. George Saturday to see a convincing impression of Dolly Parton, as celebrity impersonator Jason CoZmo entertained the audience with an evening of laughter and celebration in recognition of the many victories achieved by the LGBTQ community in Utah.

Celebrity impersonator Jason CoZmo as Dolly Parton entertains a sold-out crowd during the “Equality Celebration” held at The Ledges, St. George, Utah, April 27, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The ninth annual “Equality Celebration” took place at the Fish Rock Grill at The Ledges, a spacious dining hall and outdoor patio nestled within the desert landscape. This year’s event was themed “Here I Am.”

During the event, many were honored for their continuing efforts in progressing LGBTQ causes in Southern Utah. Held in part to raise awareness and money for Equality Utah, the event also celebrated the great strides the organization has achieved in securing equal rights and protections for the LGBTQ community and their families throughout Utah.

In addition to entertaining the lively, boisterous crowd, CoZmo helped with the fundraising portion of the evening by asking for donations during a dance lesson that involved several special guests called to the stage, including St. George Mayor Jon Pike.

Pike told St. George News he was invited to the event and chose to attend “because it was too important to miss,” adding that seeing similarities beyond differences is where understanding comes from.

Celebrity impersonator Jason CoZmo teaches a small group, including St. George Mayor Jon Pike, new dance moves during the ninth annual “Equality Celebration” held at The Ledges, St. George, Utah, April 27, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“I’m the mayor of all of the people in St. George, and I want everyone to feel welcome, wanted and safe,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who they are or what they believe, they have a right to feel loved here.”

One of the event’s major focuses was on protecting the rights of Utah’s most vulnerable communities, including LGBTQ youth.

While addressing the crowd, Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams said too many LGBTQ youth aren’t getting enough support from their families and communities, making them more susceptible to abuse, homelessness and even suicide.

Watch Williams deliver part of his speech in the video player at the top of this report.

One obstacle of great concern relates to “conversion therapy,” a pseudoscientific practice that attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual using psychological or spiritual interventions — a practice that can have catastrophic effects on youth, Williams said.

Equaltiy Utah Executive Director Troy Willliams speaks about LGBTQ youth and other issues in Utah during the ninth annual “Equality Celebration” held at The Ledges, St. George, Utah, April 27, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

While explaining the damaging effects of the practice, Williams said he met with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City who, “to their great credit,” told him the following:

We will not stand in the way of this. We no longer practice conversion therapy, nor will we ever send any of our clients in LDS Family Services to conversion therapy ever again.

According to the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth and young adults, gay youth are particularly vulnerable to suicide ideation and seriously contemplate suicide at almost 3 times the rate of heterosexual youth. They are also nearly 5 times as likely to have attempted suicide, compared to heterosexual youth.

Even in the face of these challenges, Williams said there have been tremendous gains by the LGBTQ community in the years since landmark gay rights events like the Stonewall riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village in 1969.

“Look how far we’ve come,” he said.

In fact, Williams said, over the past four years, three bills providing greater protections to the LGBTQ community have been passed by the Utah Legislature and signed into law by the “most conservative governor in the most conservative state.”

The first of these accomplishments came in March 2015 when Gov. Gary Herbert signed SB 296 into law, a landmark gay rights bill that added the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Utah’s Antidiscrimination and Fair Housing Acts, which has helped protect LGBTQ Utahns against discrimination at work and in the housing market.

A sold-out crowd attends the ninth annual “Equality Celebration” event held at The Ledges, St. George, Utah, April 27, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

In 2017, the Utah Legislature passed SB 196, a bill repealing a state law that prohibited supportive discussions of homosexuality in public and charter school curricula and classrooms.

Most recently, Herbert signed SB 103 earlier this month, which gives judges more latitude to stiffen penalties for those convicted of crimes based on identifying factors such as a person’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

While conservative Utah continues to move forward in protecting the LGBTQ community, Williams said many states to the east are resisting the movement. He said Utah is in a unique position when it comes to undermined communities.

“Utahns are loving people,” Williams said, “and historically they are no stranger to being ostracized and persecuted, so they understand how that feels and are more compassionate as a result.”

After providing an evening of top-notch entertainment to the exuberant crowd, CoZmo shared some final thoughts reinforcing the purpose behind the festivities:

I personally believe there are two forces in this universe, and everything we do and say comes from one of those. There is fear and love, and guess what folks — we need a lot more love — we really do.

The evening was a resounding success, with the group raising more than $27,000.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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