After a sold-out success last year, the second annual Southern Utah Equality Celebration is expanding to host 400 guests. Nearly doubling in size, the upcoming fundraising dinner will include a live performance and an awards ceremony. Guests are encouraged to wear a costume to accent the event’s theme, Equality Evolution.
With no gay bars, pride centers or other overtly visible signs of gay people, it’s easy to ignore the issue, said Linda Stay who, along with her husband Steven, is co-chairing the dinner. The first year’s event yielded funding for an awareness and education campaign that included a billboard along the freeway as well as participation in three fairs: the Washington County Fair, the What Women Want Show and the Home and Garden Show.
“We’ve become very well known for fighting against causes; fighting against encroachment on marriage equality, fighting against discrimination,” Steven said. “But here’s an opportunity to celebrate. We can make the community more visible.”
To be held May 19 at the beautiful Coyote Gulch Art Village, in Ivins, Utah, the event will honor local queer-rights activists Diane Bernard and George Stoddard along with the University of Utah St George HIV Clinic staff. The evening will include a silent auction, live music and a dramatic performance.
“We’re going to use this money and opportunity to help make the gay community more visible in Southern Utah,” Linda said. “There is such a strong and powerful community down here, but no one knows about it. Everyone ignores it. No one wants to have to address the issue.”
The planning process has proved to be useful and it has helped start conversations that lead to more understanding, Linda said. The local department of tourism has even helped fund the event.
“We have seen so much progress in the last year. We’re starting conversations and seeing so much progress,” she said. “We are looking forward to this dinner and we think it will be as big of a success as last year. People who went to the event described it as a spiritual experience.”
Most people just want to ignore the fact that there are gay people in Southern Utah, said Benjamin King Smith, former president of the Queer-Straight Alliance at Southern Utah University. There are cases of discrimination every day, especially in the workplace, Smith said.
“I know of a lot of cases of discrimination,” Smith said. “Most cases are covert discrimination and there’s not a lot of people who are willing to stand up and say, ‘I’ve been discriminated against.’ And it’s not because it doesn’t happen.”
The first year’s planning-committee meetings attracted around a dozen people, but this year’s initial gathering brought out more than 80 people, Linda said.
While people who live in Southern Utah may not have access to all the resources available in Salt Lake, there are great people and great progress happening, said Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah.
“I see the growth in Southern Utah and it is all coming about because of fantastic people who are doing fantastic things,” Balken said.
However, there is still room to grow, Linda said.
“I still know people who are losing their jobs when they are outed at work. I know people who are afraid to tell their friends and families they are gay. We have so much work to do, but the celebration is a great place to start,” she said.
For more information and to buy tickets to the event, go to equalityutah.org.