Pride weekend in Salt Lake City has changed over the years

Published: Friday, June 6 2014 6:15 p.m. MDT

Erika Munson, co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges, talks at her home in Sandy on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Participants in the Utah Pride parade have seen the event change over the years.

They started in 1983 with members of the Utah LGBT community holding small festivals in parks off the beaten path, keeping media at a distance in nearby parking lots to protect the identity of participants who feared retribution.

Utah's first "March for Lesbian and Gay Pride" was on June 27, 1990, commemorating the Stonewall Inn riot that occurred in New York two decades earlier and marked the beginning of gay rights demonstrations. Utah's march featured 270 people who walked from the steps of the state Capitol down Main Street and over to Abravanel Hall.

Few spectators watched the procession and many seemed surprised by the group, but most smiled and waved, recalled Utah Pride Festival entertainment director Matthew Landis. The following year, participation in the parade doubled, and the group, following a new route, was met by members of the Aryan Nation at the City-County Building, according to Connell O'Donovan, who organized the first two Pride marches in Utah.

Saturday's festival and Sunday's parade in Salt Lake City are expected to draw thousands of spectators and will have more than 100 parade entries. The festival has attracted more vendors than in the past, activities have expanded onto Library Square and festival organizers said Friday they expect to bring at least 30,000 people to events this weekend.

Landis estimates that LGBT supporters who are heterosexual could outnumber the LGBT participants, although the group does not "count who is and who isn't."

"There's a really strong sense of community in Salt Lake," Landis said. "I think people kind of band together and support each other in ways I haven't seen in other (festivals)."

Still, the growth of the parade and festival isn't pleasing everyone both within and outside the LGBT community.

Building community

Count among those supporters Mormons Building Bridges co-founder Erika Munson, who said she was seeking to connect communities when she decided to march as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Utah Pride Parade in 2012.

She said some in the LGBT community were marginalized by society and by some fellow church members and she wanted to show her love for those in the LGBT community.

"I wanted to try and see if there's anything we could do about that because there was a lot of good will among Mormons. We are welcoming, loving, non-judgmental people who follow the Savior and I felt like we could use that to help make a place for those people."

She emailed 25 people and expected as many people to show up. Munson was met with more than 300.

"We realized there's really a need for communication between the LGBT communities and the Mormon community and also providing love and support for LGBT Mormons within our wards and congregations and homes," she said. "What we really are about is the LDS community."

From this, Mormons Building Bridges was born.

"We really wanted to create a group where faithful practicing Mormons could feel comfortable and they could use the principles of their religion to reach out to their LGBT brothers and sisters."

Munson said it is an "interesting fine line to walk" to make sure Mormons Building Bridges operates distinctly and independently from the LDS Church while promoting the church's doctrine and policies. She sees the group as being similar to a blog that gives suggestions on how to be a better Primary teacher.

"We consider ourselves a bunch of saints who are sharing ideas with each other on how to better to reach out to our gay brothers and sisters," she said.

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