The Pride wave swelling from New York City in the late ’60s had a great distance to travel to crash over present-day Utah cities. Around the country, Pride celebrations have sprung up in major metropoles and tiny towns alike. Utah’s own Salt Lake City, Ogden, St. George, and Provo have celebrated to raucous response their Pride festivities.
The state, with a consistently Republican government and conservative culture, however, has experienced its fair share of resistance. Just this summer, after the Salt Lake City Pride Parade, a group of homophobic individuals harassed and chased after a gay man.
And so the need for the spirit of rebellion and advocacy, of community and solidarity at the root of Pride’s beginnings is alive and well here at home. Project Rainbow is one of many local organizations keeping the ferocious spirit of Pride present and poignant.
Begun as a clever way to encourage visibility while raising funds, Project Rainbow has developed into an operation fiercely fueling the success of an authentic Utah Pride. They stake yards with rainbow flags during Pride week and collect funds which go to a local LGBT cause.
Lucas Horns, the founder of Project Rainbow, had serious intentions when he started the organization, as well as lighthearted creativity.
“I like to say that the Boy Scouts came up with the idea, I just made it more colorful,” he said in an interview with QSaltLake Magazine.
Last year, the Boy Scouts’ impressive, sprawling distribution of American Flags for Memorial Day delighted Lucas. So with Pride coming up the next week, he dreamed up Project Rainbow.
“I love the sense of community and camaraderie in the Boy Scouts when they put those flags out. I knew the same rallying could happen with the LGBT community,” said Horns.
What started at the Pride epicenter of Utah in Salt Lake City has now spread into a multi-city operation. Project Rainbow currently serves three other Utah Pride areas — St. George, Provo, and Ogden. A growing presence in less urban areas is vital to Horns’ mission.
“I’ve always thought that the areas outside of Salt Lake would have the most impact, so we were excited to expand there,” Lucas said. “One flag in Spanish Fork is more important than 200 in Sugar House.”
The people affected by the presence of the flags in their neighborhoods are essential to Lucas and his team. As he puts it, “It’s so important for kids in those communities to see those flags and know that they don’t have to move to be welcomed. There are allies everywhere.”
With a successful inaugural year, staking a total of 550 flags for Utah’s capital city Pride alone and receiving hundreds of phone calls for additional flags, Lucas has his sights set on further expansion.
Additionally, Project Rainbow hopes to hone its activism.
“There’s a lot of visibility for gay and lesbian people, but not for transgender folks. I’m excited to use the momentum we have to educate people about Trans Remembrance Day,” Horns said on their upcoming November campaign to stake transgender flags across Utah lawns.
The successes won by Project Rainbow have been hard fought. Instances of vandalism, including one this week in Provo where a flag was defaced, are an ongoing challenge. Instead of becoming discouraged, Lucas describes the incident saying, “It’s just an indication of why this work is so important. There are still people out there who feel we shouldn’t be prideful of who we are. It makes it more important that we keep standing up and speaking out.”
“For every sad story, there are 100 happy stories,” Lucas shared, highlighting the uplifting energy that keeps the project afloat. Among the happiest: receiving drawings from local children of their rainbow banners. “I didn’t have anything like this growing up,” said Horns. “I only saw a rainbow flag if I drove downtown past the Pride Center. To have kids leaving those drawings for us, it’s so cool to see the world they’re growing up in.”
The group’s efforts have raised over $10,000 for various organizations, including the Utah Pride Center, Ogden Pride, Provo Pride, and the LGBT Resource Center at Dixie State University.
When complimented on his impressive work, Lucas only had this to say, “Really it’s the community — this wouldn’t be anything if it weren’t for the 550 who signed.”
His parting message to QSaltLake readers is this, “I want people to know how proud of Utah I am. I had faith that people in Salt Lake would come out and show their colors, and they did. I think it speaks a lot of the inclusivity here in Utah.”
Photo by Christopher Scuderi