Michelle McCardell has been mulling the idea of a sports festival in Utah for a few years now. Then, the story of a man whose plans for his life were destroyed when he was outed in high school cemented McCardell’s decision to move forward.
“I spoke to a gentleman from New York and he told his story about being a competitive tennis player in high school with college scholarship offers,” McCardell explains. “He was ‘outed’ and harassed so much that he quit participating in the only sport that he really loved.”
“He became so depressed and suicidal that he didn’t go to college for a few years because he just couldn’t bring himself to pay for an education that he should have had under a tennis scholarship,” she continued. “Fortunately, he stumbled across an LGBTQ+ sports league in his community, got back into playing tennis and is now happy.”
His story seemed foreign to McCardell.
“As a lesbian in Salt Lake, I couldn’t imagine that happening. I have always felt so safe and fearless; I was never an incredible athlete, but always felt welcome to participate in any sporting event. It was incredibly sad to listen to his story,” she said. “That was truly the moment that I felt like the idea of starting a sports festival in Salt Lake would be a great opportunity to show off how progressive and accepting our beautiful city is and that we would welcome anyone and everyone to participate in the Salt Lake Unity Fest.”
This year, the inaugural Unity Fest will take place at the Salt Palace Convention Center and locations across the valley.
The Salt Lake Unity Fest is a multi-day festival uniting the LGBTQ+ community and allies through sports while highlighting the urban amenities of Salt Lake. Organizers McCardell, Heather Simon, and Kyle Manwaring want this event to be a safe environment for everyone to participate.
“We hope to bring people from all over the world to compete in this annual sports festival, stay in Salt Lake, ski, shop, and enjoy our amazing state,” said Simon. “We also want to give back by donating money back to our local LGBTQ+ community,” explained Manwaring.
“We hope to have over 250 people participating in at least one of the sports this year,” McCardell said. “But we would love to see over 2,000 come through the doors to hear the opening band, Foreign Figures, perform.”
For its first year, the organizers chose nine varied sports categories in which people can compete, including roller derby, basketball, bowling, dodgeball, pickleball, and swimming.
For those perhaps more skilled in the mind than body, there is a trivia competition as well.
Registration to participate in the competitions runs through Nov. 25.
At the Salt Palace, Unity Fest will have a vendor area and lounge with food and beer each night.
The kickoff party, at which Orem-born band Foreign Figures will perform, will raise money to be donated to local LGBTQ+ organizations including Encircle, Stonewall Sports Salt Lake, and the Utah Pride Center.
Foreign Figures released a single this year, “Jank”, which rounds out their six-song EP released last year, Overzealous.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski will welcome Unity Fest guests to the city, followed by dance, music, and art performances by local LGBTQ+ talent. There will also be raffle giveaways and prize drawings.
“We would love to see the community come out to support this event and have a great time,” Manwaring said.
On Friday night, a Family Game Night with drag performers and an ugly sweater contest, as well as a Bar Bus will take place.
A dance party will be hosted by DJ Pauley on Saturday night.
Spectators are also welcome at most of the sports competitions.
Sponsors and Volunteers
Unity Fest needs additional volunteers and sponsors to make the event possible. Those interested can email [email protected].
Events at the Salt Palace unless otherwise noted.
Subject to change. See SaltLakeUnityFest.com.
Friday, Dec. 13
• Family Game Night
• Bar Bus
More information about Unity Fest can be found at SaltLakeUnityFest.com, on Facebook and Instagram @saltlakeunityfest, and Twitter @slunityfest. Register by Nov. 25 to participate in the competitions.