From the gay meccas of Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Springs and New York, Chris McArdle found his way to St. George. It was the beauty of the red rock and the weather that first attracted him, he said.
“It was kind of like Sedona, but times 10, and I loved Sedona,” McArdle said.
After landing in Utah in 2004, MacArdle started being involved in the community and he hit the ground running.
“I was helping with a Pride festival in one of the most conservative places in the nation,” McArdle said. “But we all knew going in that if we helped even just one kid not feel alone. If we helped even just one person know they weren’t the only gay people in St. George, then it was a success.”
McArdle was the president and in charge of planning the Pride festival in Southern Utah in 2007 and 2008; the festivals were huge successes attracting more than 1,000 people to each event. During this time he also started the Southern Utah Pride Association.
But the parades and festivals were also forl the people that didn’t make it to the event, he said.
“Kids in St. George used to be able to think they were the only ones in the area that were gay,” McArdle said. “But after the festivals and the GSAs, that’s just not possible. There’s still a lot of progress, but we’ve come so far.”
McArdle, along with PFLAG St. George founder, Claudia Bradshaw, will be receiving honors at the First Annual Southern Utah Equality Celebration.
“It’s because of people like Chris that we’ve come so far,” Bradshaw said. “He worked so hard and helped start the movement is St. George.”
While working with McArdle it was easy to see his passion for what he was doing and his passion for helping the community grow, Bradshaw said.
McArdle said that despite all the progress, there’s a still area for improvement and that people still don’t feel comfortable coming out in Southern Utah.
“When I first moved to St. George it was like I was moving into the dark ages,” McArdle said. “The mindset of the community was struggling too; there was no self esteem, no faith in themselves, and there was a lot of self-destructive images and behavior.”
Through different programs in Southern Utah such as the GSAs and other progress in the state and in the nation, the environment is changing, he said.
“Full equality is inevitable,” McArdle said. “The ball is rolling. I don’t know if I’ll see it, but it’s coming, there’s no doubt about it.”
The Equality Celebration Dinner will be held on May 21. For more information, go to EqualityUtah.org. Tickets are sold out, but there is a wait list option available. The dinner will honor a different youth and adult leaders as well as raise money for a campaign to help raise awareness in Southern Utah.