Despite dampened boas and rain-draggled flags, the 2009 Utah Pride Parade carried on as usual through a downpour on the morning of June 7.
Although some spectators fled the storm and onlookers were sparse at a few points along the parade route, more than 75 entrants participated in this year’s parade. These included gay civic and political organizations, gay and transgender-friendly churches, businesses, bars and clubs and newspapers such as Salt Lake Underground, City Weekly and, of course, QSaltLake. Many parade entrants also had booths on the festival grounds, which once again encompassed all of the Salt Lake City/County Building’s grounds and a portion of Library Square.
Attendance at the festival picked up significantly around noon when the rain finally let up. While official attendance numbers will take some time to be released, KSL reported that festival organizers estimated attendance at 20,000 — a total similar to attendance records in 2007 and 2008. Drink sales, however, apparently seemed a little lower than in years past as festival organizers repeatedly urged the crowd to purchase drinks, sales of which help pay for future Pride Festivals.
Also, this festival seemed to be somewhat more political than even those of recent years. Along with the annual Dyke March, Utah Pride 2009 organizers put together a rally held across the street at the courthouse. One of the speakers at this rally was festival Grand Marshal Cleve Jones, an intern in openly gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk’s office and the founder of the NAMES Project’s AIDS Memorial Quilt.
In an address to festival goers before the rally, Jones thanked the LDS Church for supporting California’s Proposition 8, and thus spurring the revitalization in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activism across the country that some have dubbed “Stonewall 2.0” after the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969.
“We thank you for unifying us as never before,” the Salt Lake Tribune quoted Jones as saying. “We thank you for teaching our young people that they must be prepared to fight for freedom.” Jones also predicted that Proposition 8 would not last long, and that history would record its passage as another turning point in the struggle for gay rights in the U.S.
In a move that captured national attention, Jones also called upon gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to march on Washington, D.C. on Oct. 11 to demand that President Obama and Congress support federal legislation to protect queer people, instead of the “patchwork” of state protections in place now. The rally is timed to coincide with National Coming Out Day as well as the 30h anniversary of a similar march on the nation’s capitol held almost a year after Milk’s assassination.
“Our community has many, many leaders, but we have not yet forged a national movement, and that’s what many of us are trying to accomplish right now,” Jones told the Deseret News after his address. “More and more of our rank-and-file activists are beginning to understand that it’s time to shift our focus to Washington, D.C.”
Jones also noted that the course of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s had shaped the new strategy he is now calling for.
“Southern states and many others would never really extend equal protection to African Americans,” he explained, noting that gay and transgender people now faced a similar situation.
Already, Utah groups are preparing to join the October march. Just hours after the Utah Pride Festival’s closing, for example, the group Utahns for Marriage Equality announced over Facebook that it will organize a large scale road trip to D.C. for the protest.
But the Utah Pride Festival wasn’t all politics. As in years past, a number of local and out-of-state entertainers performed on the festivals’ three stages for the crowd’s enjoyment. These included the all-female rock blues group Sister Wives, Salty Frogs lead singer Bronwen Beecher and her band, Kid Madusa and several local poets and writers who read for the crowds on one of the side stages. Festival headliner comedian Paula Poundstone also kept a crowd of hundreds entertained on Saturday night with a set that included several jokes about Utah.
And as always, the festival attracted a number of brightly-dressed partiers. Along with the usual festival-goers clad in rainbow colors and drag, this year’s festival boasted a number of people walking on stilts, wearing records as hats, and even wearing animal costumes.