I think everyone remembers their first Pride Day whether you are 15 or 65. There’s something powerful and magical about gathering with people of your own kind in large numbers. As a minority, it is important to find a place that is welcoming and safe. That is what Pride Days in Utah has always been, a day when one can throw off the shame that a disapproving society would have us feel and replace it with feeling proud of who and what we are.
Various celebratory events have been held in Utah since 1974, whether these occasions were called “Gay Freedom Day,” “A Day in the Park,” “Gay Pride Day,” or simply Pride Day as the festival has become to be known.
There are still seniors in our community who remember attending the Gay Freedom Day beer busts held on the shores of the Great Salt Lake or up in Rotary Park. My memories do not go back that far. The first Gay Pride Day I attended was in 1986 when it was held in Pioneer Park. That was a different time when, outside of the bars and support groups, one did not see homosexuals in large numbers. I am talking maybe 100 on a good night at the Sun Club.
I first heard that Gay Pride Day 1986 was being organized by Beau Chaine. He had taken over the Gay Pride Day event after members of the Royal Court, which had organized it for a few years, had stepped away.
I attended my first Gay Pride Day planning meeting on 26 April 1986. I was bored and needed to get out of the house, so I attended the meeting which was held at the old Salt Lake Public Library. I wrote in my journal that in attendance were only Beau Chaine, Donny Eastepp, Marc Lamar, and myself. Donny Eastepp’s lover Bobby Dupray was the owner of the In-Between Bar and was well connected with members of the Royal Court and the Gay Rodeo Association. He would later become Emperor of the Royal Court. He died from AIDS. Marc Lamar was a former U.S. Marine Gay activist who wanted to become a drag queen performer. He had a good singing voice, did not lip-sync, and did fun campy drag. He would later be nearly stabbed to death and so he fled from Utah.
Gay Pride Day 1986 was held on Sunday, July 13 at Pioneer Park. The event was sponsored by Chaine’s Cabaret Corp as he was chair of Pride Day ’86. Approximately 200 people attended. Performers were Marc Lamar, Julliard-trained pianist Steve Oldroyd, Walt Larabee’s “New Orleans’ Waylon and Madame” act, singers Darrel Rojoit, and Ron Richardson, the Salt Lake Men’s Choir, and the Saliva Sisters.
The Saliva Sisters are a campy novelty act parodying Utah culture. Joe Redburn, the owner of the Sun Tavern, gave them their first break booking them in his club and they, in turn, have been loyal ever since to their appreciative Gay audience. Pride 1986 was the first of many of their appearances at Pride Days in Utah. They were then the headline act having their fee donated by Redburn. Redburn was the keynote speaker. He spoke out about the unfair legal harassment of Gay people by the police.
Community organizations that sponsored booths were the Libertarian Party staffed by Bob Waldrop, Restoration Church of Jesus Christ staffed by Bob McIntier, the AIDS Project Utah staffed mainly by Duane Dawson, Wasatch Affirmation staffed by myself, the Restoration Metropolitan Community Church staffed by Rev. Bruce Barton, and Triangle Magazine, staffed by John Sassaman and Michael Aaron. Additionally, Richard “Ragnar” McCall, a local artist, sold his pagan artwork. He died on October 3, 1994, at the age of 35 of AIDS.
Besides the normal concession fare sold by Chaine, I was the only one selling food. I had made cookies for a bake sale to raise funds for the Wasatch Affirmation. I called them “Whole Wheat Mormon Faggot Cookies.”
I wrote in my journal, “I brought with me about 30 giant cookies I called “Whole Wheat Mormon Faggot Cookies,” which I was selling at fifty cents apiece. I made $12 for affirmation after two cookies were stolen by transients and I had given away four more. It turned out that I was the only one to have brought anything for the Affirmation Booth’s bake sale.
“Russ Lane, the founder and director of Wasatch Affirmation, was already at the park by the time I arrived and he was in a tizzy because Affirmation’s booth was in the direct sun without any cover. So I said “let’s just move it to where you want it” so we did, beneath a shade tree.
“There were supposed to be police at the park during the fair but I didn’t see any. I did see two transients steal cookies from me, and an Indian chasing some other Indian with a knife, which Chaine intervened by taking the knife away. So no one was seriously bothered or hurt. All in all the transients kept to their side of the park and the faggots kept to our side of the park.
“Marc Lamar came dressed as Alice Foxx. When he saw me, this six-foot three-inch, former Marine-slash-drag-queen comes running at me and just scooped me up into his arms. That was the most excitement I had all day!
“Later I asked Jon Butler if he would run me home because no one thought to provide folding chairs for the booth and I didn’t want to stand all afternoon. He complied and I brought back chairs and paperweights to hold down our pamphlets that were blowing in the wind.
“As we were leaving I spotted a car driving around the park with a photographer leaning out of the window taking pictures. We drove up next to them and yelled “what the hell are you doing?” And they sped off but not without us getting their car plate numbers. We are going to give them to Willy Marshall, who works as a police dispatcher, to trace. [The plates turned out to be unregistered so we were under surveillance. Willy Marshall later became the first openly Gay Mayor in Utah.]
“I sat at the Affirmation booth for most of the afternoon while Russ Lane proselytized. However, when the Saliva Sisters performed, I went to the makeshift stage to see them better. They were great! I laid out on a blanket with Eddie Muldong and Mike Howard listening to the campy girl group. [Mike Howard later died of AIDS]
“It was hot in the park and at one point I left with Lon Wright and Jon Butler to go get some drinks. I bought Russ a soda and some California wine coolers for me which I poured into my Bota bag. I guess after a bit I was getting pretty smashed, having not eaten anything but a Faggot Cookie since morning. [Lon Wright later died of AIDS]
“I asked Russ if he wanted a drink from my Bota bag after he had finished his soda and he assumed that it was water in my bag. I, on my part, assumed that he knew that I had been pouring coolers into my Bota bag but evidently he didn’t and after the first mouthful he spit the wine out, and made such a fuss, being a Word-of-Wisdom-Mormon still. I almost wanted to burst out laughing. What a wimp. Anyway, I said I was sorry and said I thought he knew what I was drinking since I had told everyone else what was in the bag. Maybe if he would have paid me more attention he would have known also.
“By late afternoon I was pretty smashed and when the shindig was all over Jon Butler took my drunk butt home. Lon Wright had left the party early in a huff, mad at Jon for not giving him enough attention. How we fags love our drama.
“My first Pride day.”