The Utah Pride Festival weekend opened Saturday with three marches—two old and one brand new.
As it has for several festivals past, the Dyke March convened on the Utah State Capitol’s southern lawn. Here, well over 100 marchers — most of them women — were addressed by a number of openly lesbian speakers, including: Claudia Wright, who is challenging Democrat Rep. Jim Matheson for his Congressional District 2 seat; Danni Hawkes, co-founder of Rainbow Law Clinic, which offers free legal advice to low-income gay and transgender clients; and Missy Bird, executive director of Utah’s Planned Parenthood Action Council.
Hawkes, who identified herself as “a queer dyke,” told the crowd that she saw her sexual orientation as “a gift.”
“It meant people were open regardless of what labels they gave to each other. I’ve never been proud of something that just was,” she said. “I’m proud that I’m a strong woman. Are you all proud to be strong women?”
When the applause and cheers had died down, Hawkes encouraged the audience to see gender as “a circle of possibilities” wherein all identities were equal, rather than a binary of male and female.
“We cannot demand respect for our differences if we’re not willing to practice that same respect,” she said. “But does that mean we can’t be loudmouthed dykes? Hell, no!”
Taking the microphone after Hawkes, Bird referenced Eve Ensler’s hit play The Vagina Monologues by asking audience members to envision what their vaginas would wear.
“If it could speak, would it look to the future or look back at the past,” she asked before encouraging everyone present to get a yearly pelvic exam and to “vote, damn it.”
Bird also expressed hope that the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have made all forms of sex discrimination illegal. Turning to Wright, she added, “I’m expecting you to do it when you get into congress.”
Meanwhile, attendees at the festival’s newest march convened on the east side of the Capitol Building. The first annual Trans March drew roughly 100 people of several gender identities.
Attendee Jamie Wood said she liked the idea of the Trans March because it drew together two sections of Utah’s transgender community who she said don’t interact enough.
“It seems like there are some transgender people who go to activist things like TransAction [a Utah Pride Center group for transgender and allied youth] and who just go to support groups,” said attendee Jamie Wood. “It’s nice coming here and seeing people I haven’t seen in a year.”
As in the nearby Dyke March, a number of speakers addressed those gathered including transgender women Joni Weiss and Candice Metzler.
“We are the transgender and transgender ally community,” said Weiss, a board member of the Utah Pride Center. “We are all brothers and sisters of the great LGBT community and the greater community of human beings.”
“Everyone who came here is a hero for being here today,” she added.
Metzler, an advocate for homeless queer youth, praised transgender people who had held similar marches in previous decades when transphobia was far more prevalent. Their efforts, she said, were responsible for “the ability we have to gather here today.”
She also had harsh words for Utah politicians “of a much more privileged class [who have been] speaking on our behalf,” including members of the legislature who voted against statewide gay and transgender-inclusive housing and employment laws.
“I find it interesting that these people are saying discrimination [against us] isn’t that bad,” she said. “I want to know when they faced discrimination or wondered when they’d have their next job.”
In order to make a better present and future for the transgender community, Metzler encouraged those present to talk about their experiences as transgender people, and to work together in community-building.
“When we go out and meet people and share our stories, people understand,” she said.
The Trans March as sponsored by the Utah Pride Center and a number of other transgender and transgender-friendly groups including Engendered Species, the Intersex Society of Utah, Latino Divas, The Transgender Education Network, the Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire and TransAction.
When speeches ended, the two marches joined and processed down State Street to City Creek Park where they were joined by the Interfaith Pride March, which had walked west from services held at the First United Methodist Church. Here, Fran Pruyn, former chair of the Center’s board of directors, presided over the festival’s opening ceremonies, which included a performance by a Brazilian music group and speeches from a number of community activists.
In keeping with the festival’s theme Our History, Our Future, volunteers passed out replicas of signs held aloft during gay rights demonstrations that preceded the 1969 Stonewall Riots. These bore such slogans as “Homosexuals ask for redress of grievances,” and “Justice & employment based upon ability.”
“We have come so very far since 1963, but those signs still apply,” she said.
Festival Grand Marshal Sister Dottie S. Dixon stepped onto the makeshift stage next. Dixon, a drag character created by actor Charles Lynn Frost, is an active member of the LDS Church and the mother of a gay son, who she said was “wandering around somewhere in the back [of the park]. He’s ever so shy.”
Speaking in her characteristic Spanish Fork drawl, Dixon thanked the crowd for their “ongoin’ and beloved sapport.”
“I say our future has to be more of a move over and make way for us at the table strategy,” Dixon said before turning her gaze to the LDS Church Headquarters building across the street and shouting, “Can ya hear me up there?”
To open the festival, Dixon offered a humorous “inclusive, omni-denominational prayer,” in which she asked “all the gods and goddesses up there” for blessings — and offered some choice curses for groups and individuals who have practiced bigotry including ex-gay groups, Arizona (for passing a controversial anti-immigrant bill) and three anti-gay Utah politicians: Rep. Carl Wimmer, Sen. Chris Buttars and Senate President Michael Waddoups.
“Wimmer, Waddoups and Buttars, oh my. You choose the curse, Lord, but make it hurt,” said Dixon, provoking laughter from the crowd.
Other speakers included attorney and former Equality Utah employee Will Carlson who wished the crowd a “Happy Fuckin’ Pride,” Missy Bird and Mark Alvarez, who stressed the ways in which the push for gay and transgender rights mirrored the push for immigrants’ rights, and the rights of Latino immigrants in particular.
“Issues of the immigrant and LGBT communities are about human freedom and we need to join together,” he said, noting that many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Latinos feel isolated in both the Latino and gay communities.
At the end of the speeches, gay and transgender-friendly color guard the Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps of Salt Lake City lead the marchers to the festival grounds. In keeping with the festival’s emphasis on community, members of the guard bore a number of flags, including those representing the Canada, Mexico, the United States, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and the leather and bear communities as well as the rainbow flag.