Provo • While many think this Utah County city ranks among the most conservative in the United States, many of those attending the first Provo Pride Festival at Memorial Park on Saturday found themselves pleasantly surprised.
"Provo hosting an event standing up for equality is amazing," said Samantha Sowers, a volunteer for Equality of Utah who was trying to get those attending the event to support nondiscrimination laws at the Utah Legislature. "The rest of the nation will listen."
Even before Mr. Gay Pride Utah Kolton Starr Von-Cartiay, a Utah County resident for 23 years, welcomed festival participants and music began to play at 11 a.m., a good number of folks already had started to visit booths representing groups as diverse as Atheists of Utah, Post Mormons and Friends. Utah Gay Fathers Association, Mormons Building Bridges, the Provo Community Church of Christ and the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
That pleased David Pate, president of the Provo Pride Council, who worked with students at BYU and Utah Valley University to set up this first-time event. He didn't expect to see a fairly large crowd so early in the day.
He said holding a Pride Festival is important because 30 percent of youth suicides and 40 percent of homeless teens are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) nationally and that Utah's rates are even higher than that. His hope was an event of this type would educate parents.
Brian Stewart of Lehi, who had some of his nine children in tow at the festival, fit into that target audience.
"We want to teach our kids that it [being LGBT] is not a choice and there is nothing wrong with being gay," he said. "We want to educate our children that though some may have different skin color or sexual preferences, we're all the same."
Corey Howard, of Salt Lake City, worked in the Mormons Building Bridges booth offering "free hugs from a Mormon."
"Some are surprised there is a Provo Pride Festival," she said. "It's kind of well-known as the conservative center of Utah. People assume they don't support LGBT, but we found that might not necessarily be true. There is a misunderstanding that Provo is all right wing. There are silent, less vocal groups, but they are here."
Bridey Jensen, of Understanding Same Gender Attraction, a BYU group, said it was important to be part of the event and celebrate.
"A lot of people still think BYU and Provo are homophobic and hateful," she said. "That's not true."
Bev Larsen, of Provo's United Church of Christ, was there to tell festivalgoers that "we are one of the open and affirming churches in Utah County. We are accepting of people. We are glad that people have the opportunity to be who they are."
Though this event is far smaller than Salt Lake City's Utah Pride Festival, which drew about 28,000 people this year, some commercial vendors also showed up in Provo to introduce their products.
Tanner Street, of Winder Dairy, for example, said buying a booth offered his company a chance to spread a product to a wide range of potential customers that his company typically might have difficulty reaching.