Fifth annual Provo Pride Festival promotes acceptance, builds community

Patrons enjoy the fifth annual Provo Pride Festival, held outside the historic Utah County Courthouse on Sept. 16. BYU professor Roni Jo Draper said the event is about mending misconceptions surrounding LGBTQ people. (Savannah Hopkinson)

Colorful tent canopies, flags and costumes burst outside the historic Utah County Courthouse during the fifth annual Provo Pride Festival on Sept. 16. It was the first time the festival was held outside its usual Memorial Park location.

“This is the first year we’ve been (here), and it’s cool to see that this is growing,” said Sammi Taylor, a graduate student at BYU studying communication disorders. “There’s a need for it in Provo, so … I hope that people will see that this is important.”

Taylor, who is openly gay, is a member of Understanding Same Gender Attraction, an “unofficial group of Brigham Young University students, faculty and guests who wish to strengthen families and the BYU community by providing a place for open, respectful discussions on the topic of same-gender attraction and LGBTQ issues,” according to the group’s website.

The 24-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio, said she first heard about the group through a sociology class, but only began attending meetings, held Thursdays at 7 p.m. in the Provo City Library, about a year ago — an experience she called “healing.”

“(The meetings are) a space where I can be open and figure out how I can make these two parts of my identity fit together,” she said. “And it’s nice to have people who are trying to do the same thing.”

Understanding Same Gender Attraction was far from the only organization represented at the festival, created this year around the theme “Moving Mountains.” With booths for a number of organizations from Equality Utah to UVU’s LGBT Student Services and a stage lineup that included acts like Cheer Salt Lake and band Savage Daughters, the Provo Pride Festival was bigger than it’s ever been.

A booth displays rainbow paraphernalia for sale at the fifth annual Provo Pride Festival, held outside the historic Utah County Courthouse on Sept. 16. Event coordinator Kaisha Medford said the festival had 70 booths this year, up from over 50 booths last year. (Savannah Hopkinson)

“The first year it was maybe 1,000 people with 13 booths,” said event coordinator Kaisha Medford. “This year we have 70 (booths).”

Though this year’s attendance numbers were not immediately available, last year’s festival drew over 5,000 people and had over 50 booths, according to the festival’s website.

Medford has attended every Provo Pride Festival since its start in 2013 and began volunteering in 2015 after seeing a Facebook post. She said the festival is about “creating a community.”

“I think (the festival is about) being able to see people who aren’t like you as much as seeing people who are like you,” Medford said.

For BYU education professor Roni Jo Draper, the Provo Pride Festival is about mending misconceptions.

“I think that there’s some misunderstanding, perhaps, that LGBTQ people are super weird or strange or maybe evil, even,” Draper said. “But I think you can find a lot of people (at the festival) who are interested in having a good time, interested in being open about who they are and wanting other people to know about it.”

Draper, who teaches courses in multicultural education, said she’s always been interested in LGBTQ issues but became more involved when her son came out as queer. Three years ago, she helped organize a local PFLAG chapter, which sponsored the kids corner at the Provo Pride Festival for the second time this year.

To Draper, the community’s challenge is embracing LGBTQ people and helping them thrive.

“I think going to a Pride festival, meeting people (and) talking to folks, that’s how we learn to understand (LGBTQ) people and learn how to love (them),” she said.

Draper said what she really loves about LGBTQ people is the way they treat others.

“When I’m hanging out with LGBTQ people, I can always feel the absolute acceptance and love … and I feel like that’s what you should should always feel like,” Draper said.

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