Pride 2011

The history of Utah Pride

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We celebrate Gay Pride Day in Utah as part of a directive which originated in 1969 when the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ECHO) adopted the motion to hold “parallel demonstrations on the last Saturday in June to commemorate the rebellion on Christopher Street.” The reference to the rebellion, of course, refers to the Stonewall Inn riots in New York City. Utah has celebrated being “Gay and Proud” for the last 36 years and perhaps even longer by some individuals.


A “Beer Bust Kegger,” sponsored in 1974 by Joe Redburn owner of the Sun Tavern, was the first attempt at bringing people together to celebrate the emergence of an openly gay community in Utah. Over 200 gay men and women celebrated “Gay Pride” along the shores of the Great Salt Lake at, what was once known as, “Bare Bum Beach.”

The first official community-wide sponsored Pride celebration was called “Gay Freedom Day” and was held June 1, 1975. Sponsored by the Gay Community Service Center, it was held in City Creek Canyon where  festivities included free beer, food, soft drinks, volleyball, an all-day “do your own thing” talent revue and sing-a-long, games for prizes and a white-elephant auction. A shuttle service from local gay bars provided additional transportation.

Over the next three years Gay Freedom Days were promoted mainly by the Gay Service Committee and the Salt Lake Coalition of Human Rights. The most ambitious of these celebrations was a festival and conference held in 1977, which featured Sgt. Leonard Matlovich as keynote speaker.  Matlovich was an ex-Air Force sergeant and recepient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and also a gay Mormon.

As the heady “Gay Power Days” of the 1970s began to wane, a fragmented community ravaged by the onslaught of a conservative backlash tried to hold scaled-down celebrations. Without widespread support, the spirit of Gay Pride was kept going by individual groups such as the Tavern Guild, Affirmation and LGSU.


In 1983 members of the Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire met to revitalize the true concept of a “Gay Pride Day.” Tim Leming, Marshall Brunner, Larry Pacheco and Mel Rohland, among others, formed a committee and an event billed as a “Basket Social” held in Fairmont Park.

This Pride Day Committee sponsored the event over the next three years, and was the first to adopt a national Pride Day Committee’s theme. The chairs were Marshall Brunner, Nikki Boyer and Beau Chaine.

Chaine was the last chairman during these years and held Gay and Lesbian Pride Day in Pioneer Park in 1986.

In 1987 the newly-formed Gay and Lesbian Community Council of Utah took over the responsibilities of Utah’s annual event. Donnie Eastepp, Emperor XII of the RCGSE, was elected chair of the Pride Day Committee. He created a community service award that was presented to Dr. Kristen Ries for her efforts treating AIDS patients when no other doctors in Utah were willing to do so. The award was established to recognize outstanding service to the gay and lesbian community. Eastepp also moved the location of Gay Pride Day to Sunnyside Park where it remained until 1989.

Floyd Gamble, Steven Lloyd, Julie Pollock and Curtis Jensen, Kevin Hillman, Deborah Rosenberg, Antonia Dela Guerra, Kyle Kennedy, Kathy Matthews and Julie Hale where the chairs and co-chairs of GLCCU’s Pride Day Committee over these seven years. They provided Utah’s gay community a consistently successful event celebrating Utah’s sexual minorities.

The Kristen Ries Community Service recipients were Rev. Bruce Barton, KUTV Channel 2, Chuck Whyte, Nikki Boyer, Becky Moss, Ben Williams, the College of Monarchs of the RCGSE, Craig Miller, Ben Barr, Val Mansfield, Kathy Worthington and Kim Russo.


In 1990, on the 21st anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, the Salt Lake City Gay community held its first Gay and Lesbian Pride March. Nearly 200 people gathered on the steps of the state capitol to listen to speeches by Connell “Rocky” O’Donovan, who organized the march, Becky Moorman, Angela Nutt and Robert Austin. The Pride festival was held at the Northwest Community Center.

Under the direction of Kevin Hillman and his co-chairs, Pride Day expanded, and in 1991 moved to the Salt Lake County Fairgrounds in Murray. The 1991 Pride Committee added to the festival a pride guide, an art show and contest, sponsored by Angela Nutt and David Thometz, and a Utah Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, created by Marlin Criddle.

They also brought in a nationally syndicated columnist, Dell Richards, as keynote speaker. For entertainment, Lynn Lavner, a nationally known lesbian singer performed, with interruption by a contingency of Neo-Nazi skinheads who marched into the celebration and were met by Anti-Violence Project founder Michael Aaron. While no violence occurred, it was a tense situation. Dozens of Pride-goers surrounded the skinheads and turned their backs on them, making them invisible to the crowd and, thus, negating the reason they were there. They left after less than 10 minutes.

Connell “Rocky” O’Donovan’s second Gay Pride March was also disrupted by Neo-Nazis who stood on the east steps of the City-County Building taunting the marchers rallying at Washington Square.

The tradition of an annual Pride March and Rally ended when O’Donovan left Salt Lake City in 1992. No one came forward to organize a third and it would be two years before Bruce Harmon and Rev. Bruce Barton, along with then-Pride Chair Jeff Freedman, stepped forward to re-invent the Pride March and Rally and transform it into something even greater: the Gay Pride Parade.

Pride Days under the directions of the GLCCU transformed the celebration from simply a day in the park to a major annual event where Salt Lake City’s politicians began to attend and the quality of entertainers and speakers increased.

With the election of Jeff Freedman as chair of the GLCCU’s Gay Pride Day Committee, the organization began its transition from being simply a committee, to being GLCCU’s sole entity when the organization collapsed in 1995. Freedman and co-chair Julie Hale were the last formally elected chairs of the Gay Pride Day committee under the direction of GLCCU.

Jeff Freedman, a former emperor of the Royal Court, served longer than any other Gay Pride Day volunteer in Utah. His vision of Pride Day encompassed the entire spectrum of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight allies communities. The Pride Day events of the latter half of the 1990s were thus stamped indelibly with Freedman’s concept that Pride Day was a community party. He brought professionalism to the job as he endeavored to ensure gender parity. Freedman’s co-chairs were Julie Hale, Carrie Gaylor and Kim Russo.

The Kristen Ries Award recipients during Freedman’s era were Bruce Harmon, Clariss (Doug Tollstrup) Cartier, Charlene Orchard, Barb Barnhart, Rev. Kelly Byrnes, Jeff Freedman, Maggie Snyder, LaDonna Moore and Dr. Patty Reagan.

In 1994 the first Pride Parade was organized as the kick-off event for Pride Day. The late Emperor XV, Bruce Harmon, assisted by his partner Rev. Bruce Barton, established the annual parade that continues to this day. Bruce Barton nearly single-handedly, on his own sewing machine, created the 100-foot rainbow flag that is carried annually in the parade.

In 1996 Jeff Freedman, Carrie Gaylor and Bruce Harmon invited Chastity Bono, daughter of Sonny and Cher and spokeswoman of the Human Rights Campaign’s National Coming Out Project, to be the first Grand Marshal of Utah’s Gay Pride Parade.

Freedman and his committees also invited Candace Gingrich, Deb Burington and Charlene Orchard, and actor Dan Butler to serve as Grand Marshals.

Freedman was instrumental in getting corporate sponsorships of Pride Day and moving it to downtown Salt Lake City — first to the Gallivan Center and later to Washington Square. Freedman’s last act of the period was organizing Pride Day, Inc. as a separate entity from the defunct GLCCU.


With the new millennium came controversy as Pride Day began to expand exponentially. Kim Russo became director of the new corporation for two years, assisted by co-chairs Adam Frost and Billy Lewis.

During the Russo years, Utah State Rep. Jackie Biskupski and Mayor Rocky Anderson served as Grand Marshals for the Pride Parade and Marlin Criddle, Brenda Voisard, Laura Milliken Gray and Brook Heart-Song became Kristen Ries Award recipients.

Unfortunately without the community’s oversight, fiduciary problems surfaced during 2001.

Pride Day 2002 was run by a committee headed by Sherry Booth with Chad Keller as chair of the Pride Parade. Steve Kmetko, host of E! News Live, was Grand Marshal and the tradition of a Grand Marshal Reception was started. Additionally in 2002, the Community Volunteer, Organization of the Year and the Pete Suazo Political Action Awards were created to recognize contributions to the community. The Utah Pride Interfaith Service was also added to Pride Day.

The 2002 committee tried to rebuild the image of Pride Day, but because Pride Day, Inc. had found itself in serious debt, the committee elected to be absorbed by the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Utah, a move that generated much controversy in the community because of the secrecy surrounding the move.

The Utah Pride Center has provided direction for the event for the past nine years and even changed its name to reflect this. Under the auspices of the former Gay and Lesbian Community Center, the volunteer position of director of Pride Day, Inc. became salaried for the first time in 2003. The same year a Dyke March was added to the annual Pride Day Parade.  Donald Steward was Pride Parade coordinator for three of those years.

In 2004 the SLC Film Center was asked to curate a series of films during Pride Week that reflected the best in Gay cinema. The Damn These Heels film celebration was held annually afterward.

The year 2005 saw Pride Day organizers charging a first-time $5 admission fee for the events on Library Square and Washington Square.  This move generated considerable discontent but eventually provided for higher quality of performers at Pride.

In 2009 Cleve Jones, during a rally at the Utah Pride Festival, called for a March on Washington to coincide with National Coming Out Day and kick off a grass-roots campaign for equality in each of the nation’s 435 congressional districts to launch a new chapter in the gay-rights movement.

The grand marshals chosen under the direction of the Center were Kate Kendall, Bruce Bastian, Utah State Senator Scott McCoy, J. Boyer Jarvis,  John  Amaechi, Mayor Ralph Becker, Cleve Jones and Dottie S Dixon.

The Kristen Ries Award recipients were Doug Wortham, Lucia Malin, Jane and Tami Marquardt, Utah State Rep. Jackie Biskupski, Doug Fadel, Stan Penfold, Walter Larabee and Mark Swonson.

By 2010 Utah’s Pride Day Parade was listed as Utah’s second-largest parade. In the new decade let’s try for number 1!

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