No gay group loves an award ceremony as much as the Royal Court system, which has been handing out awards since 1976 for things as lofty as “life time achievement awards” to “Best Baths Attendants.” It seems that almost every Gay organization in this state gives out awards of some kind or another often at banquets or other fundraising events. It’s nice to be recognized. And a thank you is always appreciated when serving others.
I’ve never been big on awards myself. I’ve always wondered how you can single out one individual for recognition when so many incredibly talented, dedicated people have given money — and more importantly, time — towards building up this community. I’ve always believed in the maxim “you love who you serve,” and I’ve tried to live my life in service to Utah’s gay community. It doesn’t pay well but man oh man, I love the benefits. I’ve met some of the finest human beings gathered in one place on earth, here in the Crossroads of the West.
One award is given out at Pride Day that I’d like to let young people and those new to the community know about. This particular award is called the Dr. Kristen Ries Community Service Award. It’s given to honor and recognize dedication and outstanding service to Utah’s queer community by individuals, groups, or organizations.
In 1987 the Gay and Lesbian Community Council elected Donny Eastepp, co-owner of the InBetween Tavern (now Club Sound), to co-chair that year’s Gay Pride Day event. Eastepp was also the reigning Emperor of the Royal Court. Did I mention that the Royal Court loves handing out awards?
Well, Gay Pride Day 1987 was the first Pride Day event under the auspices of the GLCCU, which was like a mini-United Nations of Utah’s squabbling gay and lesbian organizations and activists. Eastepp, as chair of Pride Day Committee, was granted free reign to organize the celebration in any way he chose and within the confines of having no budget. Being emperor, however, he had connections and knew how to throw a party.
Eastepp’s lover Bobby Dupray was the other co-owner of the InBetween, and he had been diagnosed with HIV in 1984. In the 1980s AIDS was a death sentence and there was only one doctor in the entire state who would treat people who had it. That was Dr. Kristen Ries, who practiced out of the Catholic-owned Holy Cross Hospital.
Eastepp learned firsthand of Dr. Ries’ compassion and dedication to serve a population that was despised by other physicians and most Utahns in general. He wanted to honor her at the Gay Pride Day event with a community service award. Since she was the first recipient this award was named in her honor. Before stepping down Eastepp decreed that a community service award would be given out each year at Pride Day to recognize unselfish labor in the service of gay people.
For the first couple of years Pride Day committee members selected the recipient from a number of candidates. During the Pride Day leadership of Kevin Hillman and Deb Rosenberg in the early 1990s criteria were set in place for choosing a recipient as well as rules on who could nominate and who could vote on the nominations. It was then decided that anyone from the gay community could nominate anyone from the gay community for the award, but that only past recipients could vote on the nominees.
One of the criteria put in place at this time was that a candidate must be self-identified as a member of our community. This provision was enacted by GLCCU after controversy over the choice to honor KUTV Channel Two with the award in 1989 for its help in bringing the AIDS Quilt panels to the Salt Palace. Another proviso was the longevity of service to the community. GLCCU agreed on a minimum of three years of volunteerism and service.
Pride Day has transformed over the years since the first Community Service Award was given, but for the most part these rules have been followed to this day.
Since 1987, 34 people and two organizations have been honored with the Dr. Kristen Ries Community Service Award. This year another person will join the ranks of some of the most devoted members of our community. Some recipients have since died, many have moved out of state, some are still here as emeritus community activists, and some are still fighting the good fight.
Space does not permit more than a simple roll call of the former recipients of the most prestigious honor that we bestow on our own. They are: Dr. Kristen Ries; Rev. Bruce Barton; KUTV Channel Two; Chuck Whyte; Nikki Boyer; Becky Moss; Ben Williams; College of Monarchs of the Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire; Craig Miller; Ben Barr; Val Mansfield; the late Kathy Worthington; Kim Russo; Bruce Harmon; Clariss Cartier (Doug Tollstrup); Charlene Orchard; the late Barb Barnhart; Rev. Kelly Byrnes; Jeff Freedman; Maggie Snyder, PA-C; LaDonna Moore; Dr. Patty Reagan, Ph.D.; Marlin Criddle; Brenda Voisard; Laura Milliken Gray; Brook Heart-Song; Kevin Hillman; Doug Wortham; Luci Malin; Jane and Tami Marquardt; Jackie Biskupski; Doug Fadel; Stan Penfold; and Walt Larabee.
Great and wonderful things are happening in our community today. But lest we forget, we are standing on the shoulders of giants, people who in their own ways shaped us and set us on the path to victory for civil rights for all queer Utahns. We were the radicals that transformed Utah. By radical I mean we all in our own ways got to the root of the problem of homophobia and helped people overcome it. And you can do this, too.
May be next year your name will be added to this list. We all started out just like you. So roll up your sleeves and get to work. Pride is more than a party.