Cars lined the streets surrounding Memorial Park as visitors from across the state came to attend a bit of an oddity in Provo. Music rang throughout the park while attendants visited the vendors and informational booths set to be part of Provo’s very first Pride festival.
This historic event featured hundreds of supporters who gathered in downtown Provo on a sunny Saturday morning to learn more about the Provo Pride Council and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community in Utah county. Neither protesting nor public opposition took place; the daytime event was family-friendly, and an “after-party” was held that evening.
The festival was a collaborative effort the Provo Pride organization has been planning since mid-May. Curtis Penfold, a BYU student and one of the event organizers, said the organization has had the Provo community in mind from the very beginning.
“This is very much geared toward Provo,” said Penfold. “We tried to make this a kid-friendly event. You have LGBT families that want that type of child-friendly environment and sometimes they don’t find it, so it’s great that we are going to have that there too. Hopefully this is just great for the whole family.”
Children played freely in a large multicolored bouncy house erected behind live entertainment and participated in a variety of games during the day’s events.
“I’ve seen families come together, parents, straight-allies. It’s been really nice,” said Randall Thacker, president of Affirmation.
Affirmation is the oldest Latter-day Saint- oriented LGBT group and provides support and helps encourage spirituality for those who are trying to reconcile their faith and their sexuality. The organization helps create a dialogue within the Church about LGBT issues and provides resources to help people and their families as they understand the subject.
“It’s exciting to think that I just lived up here years ago and I could’ve walked up here and seen all the people like me when I was feeling so alone,” said Thacker. “I didn’t know anyone who was gay when I went to BYU.”
He said he is hopeful the festival will have a positive impact on the community.
“I hope it makes Provo feel like a more inclusive place to be,” Thacker said. “I hope it brings awareness (and) visibility to all of the LGBT people and their families that live in Provo. And maybe it makes it even more of a happy valley.”
Thacker also said BYU’s Understanding Same-gender Attraction (USGA) organization has had the greatest impact in the Provo community in bringing awareness to the Provo community.
“If they can talk about it at BYU, maybe we can talk about it outside of BYU,” he said.
USGA meets every week to support LGBT students, but it also welcomes other students who want to understand more about the subject.
“I go and speak to classes, and I very honestly share my experience growing up in the Church and going to BYU and also being an out-lesbian,” said Bridey Jensen, a BYU senior and one of the presidents of USGA. “When you just talk to people, they understand and they get it. We would love to get rid of that stigma that BYU is this homophobic place. Overall, it’s a wonderful place to be.”
Jensen said the members of USGA were excited to be able to participate in the festival and have been planning on attending for quite some time.
“It lets people know that we’re here and that we support the community,” she said. “As a part of BYU, as a part of the LDS Church, we’re trying to do more to bring the two communities together.”