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It's the death knell for Utah stereotypes: A group that includes BYU students banded together to launch an LGBT pride festival in Provo.
On Sept. 21 at Memorial Park, Provo Pride will host an all-day, free and family-friendly festival that between 800 and 1,000 people are expected to attend, and it will all stem from a conversation in a Wendy's a few months back.
Brigham Young University student Curtis Penfold says he and fellow members of the Provo-based Understanding Same-Gender Attraction student group were grabbing a bite after a May meeting when somebody Penfold doesn't remember who suggested creating a pride festival for the more than 500,000 residents in the Provo-Orem metro area. Unlike most big ideas vocalized between mouthfuls of french fries, this one actually amounted to something.
Penfold and others took to Facebook, mobilized locals for a meeting and elected Utah Valley University student David Pate as president of a newly formed nonprofit, the Provo Pride Council. They've met little resistance since.
"In Salt Lake, people are flabbergasted that Provo is having a pride festival," Pate said. "In Utah County, most of the response has been very positive, from people who've said 'It's about time.' "
Pate said the only objections have come from online commenters on a recent Provo Daily Herald story, but that even then, it is just a vocal minority. Penfold thinks there is likely to be some private grumbling, but for the most part he expects support from the community.
"It's like a higher power is making things turn as they turn. People here are ready," he said. "The more you get to know Provo, the more you realize people are pretty chill here. They are very kind."
Provo Pride has sought help from the Utah Pride Center, which organizes the state's two other LGBT pride festivals the 28,000-strong Utah Pride Festival in Salt Lake City and the growing Moab Pride Festival. UPC, happy for the chance to expand the message to Utah County without expending significant resources, not only provided advice but agreed to sponsor the fledgling event.
Executive Director Valerie Larabee says the Utah Pride Festival had modest beginnings as little more than a picnic in 1983, and she's encouraged by the early success in Moab, which drew 500 to its inaugural festival in 2011 and bills itself as "the nation's second-largest small-town festival." She has high hopes for Provo.
"They've dug in and found the energy to do it, and we're really happy about it," Larabee said. "It's courageous."
Pate sat down with Provo Mayor John Curtis and Deputy Mayor Corey Norman at the end of June. He found them receptive and helpful, and most impressively during a year in which Curtis is up for re-election in "the most conservative city in America," straightforward.
"He said, 'I'm going to be honest. I have some anxieties, and I hope they're not because of prejudice,' " Pate said. "'I think it's because I don't know what a pride festival is.' … He earned a lot of points with me when he said that."
Curtis is on a business trip to China and could not immediately be reached for comment, but Norman said he applauded Provo Pride for its organization and expects most residents to be "curious. I don't think there are going to be pickets or anything like that."
Pate said that barring unforeseen costs, the festival should be paid for, but they are still hoping for some "cushion." Many donations are in-kind, with between 60 and 70 volunteers set to appear on the day and 10-12 involved in preparations. Utah bands have also agreed to perform for free.
"This first year, we're operating on a really small budget, but I don't think it's gonna show," Pate said.
Provo Pride Festival
When • Sept. 21, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Where • Memorial Park, 800 E. Center St., Provo
After party • 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. at The Madison, 295 W. Center St. $2 off cover charge with Provo Pride T-shirt.