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Utah native Justin Utley attended the Utah Pride Festival twice before he left the Beehive State — and the Mormon faith of his youth — for New York in 2006.

This weekend, the singer/songwriter will return to his hometown as one of the featured performers at the 2011 Utah Pride Festival.

Utley, performing at 2 p.m. on Sunday on the East Café Stage, has experienced a break-out year and a half.

As 2010 began, Next Magazine, a high-profile gay lifestyle magazine published in New York City, included Utley on their "Who's Next" list. That was followed by a packed interview and gig schedule, which in turn was followed by the release of his most popular song, "Stand for Something."

Finally, he was nominated for four OUTMUSIC Awards, presented by the LGBT Academy of Recording Arts. At a ceremony last week, he won one of those awards — Best Country/Folk Song of the Year, for "Stand for Something."

The song was inspired after a meeting in upstate New York with legislators about gay marriage and conflicting state and federal laws, Utley said in an interview with The Tribune. The federal law doesn't recognize gay marriages. New York state legislation doesn't allow gays to marry, yet it recognizes gay unions performed in other states. That confusing thicket made him alter a relationship-inspired song to one calling for political action:

If there's a hell and a heaven on opposite sides of the fence, and I got this weight on my shoulders, who is for me, who is against?

So I spoke to a wise man who can see much more than my eyes can.

He told me how to behave and gave me a reason to pray ...

There are those who believe they're the best thing God ever made and they think all that matters is their consequence after the grave, And they're so sadly mistaken and so lost in the river that breaks them.

Utley grew up praying as a young Mormon in West Valley City and later, South Jordan. He served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and when he returned he endured two years of training against same-gender attraction, hoping to overcome his gay nature.

It didn't work.

He became a loan officer at a local credit union, and once his employers learned he was gay, they told him he never would have been hired had he disclosed it at the job interview. "That offended me, huge," Utley said.

In 2006, he decided to leave Utah to pursue a music career, but not before sending a letter to the LDS Church that he labeled a "self-excommunication" notice.

"It's important for everyone to have equality," he said. "Love is love no matter who it's with."

In addition to Utley, the pop trio Exposé will perform in another slot, taking the stage Sunday at 4 p.m. on the North Main Stage. The dance-music group was at the height of their success in the late 1980s and 1990s, when they became the first group to have four Top 10 hits on the Billboard singles chart from their debut album, including their 1988 No. 1 hit "Seasons Change." The group toured and recorded music from 1985 to 1995, then disbanded for a time before reuniting in 2003.

"I don't know if we formally retired," said vocalist Ann Curless. "We all got married, had children, took breaks."

Like Utley, Curless has Utah ties. She lived in Salt Lake City for three years when she was young when her father, a pediatric neurologist, was a resident at the University of Utah.

The group developed a strong gay following during the 1990s. "They are very loyal," Curless said. "They are core fans. We have performed at many pride festivals."

The original three members — Curless, Jeanette Jurado and Gioia Bruno — are recording a new album, which Curless described as a contemporary dance-oriented album. This weekend, the three musicians will have one goal: "Part of our job is to take you back to the '80s," Curless said. "The '80s were pretty awesome."


Twitter: @davidburger —

Utah Pride Festival 2011

When • Friday, June 3 through Sunday, June 5

Where • Washington Square, Salt Lake City; entrances to the festival are available at State Street; at the corner of 500 S. 200 East; and the corner of 400 S. 2000 East

Tickets • $10 Saturday; $10 Sunday; available at the door.

Race •The Pride Day 5K begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 4 on Capitol Boulevard, directly east of the Utah State Capitol building, and finishes near the entrance of Memory Grove Park. To pick up your registration packet or to register, go to the starting line between 7:15 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. Day-of registration is $30.

Parade • Sunday's Utah Pride Parade, set to begin at 10 a.m., is expected to be one of the largest in the state. The parade will follow a new route this year, beginning at the corner of 400 East and 300 South, heading north to 200 South, turning west on 200 South, then turning left on West Temple, where it will finish. Lineup for registered participants begins at 8:30 a.m. Comedian and Salt Lake City native Roseanne Barr will be the grand marshal of the parade.

For the parade map • Visit

Info • For more complete schedule information, visit

Schedule at a glance:

Saturday, June 4

9 a.m. • Pride Day 5K begins

2 p.m. • Pride Interfaith Service at First United Methodist Church, 203 S. 200 East, Salt Lake City

3 p.m. • Dyke march/Transgender March, begins at the Utah State Capitol

4 p.m. • Opening ceremonies, corner of 400 South 200 East

4-7 p.m.• Kids carnival at Washington Square

6:30 p.m. • Grand Marshall: Comic and Utah native Roseanne Barr, North Main Stage

8 p.m. • Headliner: Kat DeLuna on North Main Stage

9 p.m.• Club music dance party on North Main Stage

11 p.m. • Festival gates close

Sunday, June 5

8:30 a.m. • Parade lineup begins

10 a.m. • Utah Pride Parade

11 a.m. • Festival Gates Open at Washington Square

Noon • Entertainment begins on festival stages

Noon • Featured act: Justin Utley on East Cafe Stage

4 p.m. • Headliner act: Expose on North Main Stage

7 p.m. • Festival closes