Acceptance, protest mark annual Utah Pride Festival

Pride Parade 2017. Photo: Gephardt Daily/Richard Trelles

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, June 4, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — A crowd of about 50,000 people was expected to attend the Utah Pride Festival in downtown Salt Lake City by the time it wraps up Sunday.

And a much smaller group also turns up outside the Library Square festival grounds each year, yelling messages to protest the fest. Salt Lake City Police sent a presence to keep the peace.

One protester and several Pride Festival attendees stopped to chat with Gephardt Daily, and to share their thoughts on why they were there.

• “I think it’s important to have the festival because I think there are a lot of oppressed people in Utah,” said attendee Lisa Snellings. “The religion is so predominant here.”

“I think that festivals allow each group — whether it’s Cinco de Mayo or it’s Pride — they allow each person to express their beliefs, their culture, their system, which isn’t always easy to do in this particular state.”

• “I’m here because I’m gay, and I like to be out about it when I can, which is usually at Pride, because other places aren’t safe,” said attendee Annmarie Chin.

“I can’t just out myself to everyone because some people are homophobic, I might lose out on an apartment, I could lose a job.”

Chin said it’s important to have a Pride parade and celebration in Utah, a state historically defined by religion.

“Its kind of separating,” she said. “I’m not Mormon myself. I do know a lot of people who are Mormon, obviously, because I live in Utah, and so it’s nice to see that they can kind of get involved without being overly religious about it.”

• “I’m here because it’s Pride and I’m gay,” said Alexia Blake, 21. “This is my first pride. I think Pride is important for gay people, to show what we stand for.

“You know, at the beginning of this, they said a prayer in Arabic, to get rid of all the hate (protesters), because they are saying ‘Sex is sin, homo is sin.’ All we are trying to spread here is love, you know?

• Ruben Israel said he and group, Bible Believers, travel to Utah each year protest the Pride Festival. Protesters hold signs and yell messages that are anti gay.

“We are out here today, first as a Christian, to warn the wicked, and tell him of his sin,” Israel said on Saturday. “Also too, we live in America and we have free speech, and this is precisely what we’re going. We are exercising our free speech.

“We’re not going to stop these guys. If they want to go inside, have at it. It’s our free speech that we tell them about Jesus Christ.”

Israel said he would protest any festival he believed to be sinful.

“We don’t just pick on homosexuals. If Salt Lake City was hosting an adultry pride event, we’d be out there, too. If Salt Lake was hosting a fornication pride, we’d be out there, too. So we’re not just picking on gays.”

Israel said he is surprised a city with a largely religious population would allow the festival to grow.

“They’ve allowed it to happen, and look at how it mushroomed. Sin is very popular.”

• Caleb “Stickz” Damera, who earned his nickname because he is a drummer, said he is religious but not “ignorant.”

“I’m here to support the LGBT community,” Damera said. “I am a Christian, but at the same time, I am not this ignorant to say, ‘Hey, what you’re doing is wrong.’ God loves everybody, and I don’t think that nobody has the right and audacity to judge…. We all want to live our lives to be equal and have a great opportunity.”

Damera said the protesters were not doing Christianity a service.

“This is really like hypocritical,” he said. “It makes a lot of the Christian communities look the same. It’s people like them that gives a lot of us Christians a bad name. This is not what all Christians are like. God said to love everyone…. I try to treat everybody as they would treat me, and God would love it.”

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