In June 1977, the Salt Lake Coalition of Human Rights hosted a Human Rights Convention in Salt Lake City, where Gay Mormons United (now called Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons, Families, & Friends) was founded by Stephan Zakharias (a.k.a. Matthew Price) and about nine other men and women, who wrote a constitution for the organization during the conference.
The pursuit of open and honest conversations around queer identities in Mormon religious communities continued, and one year later in 1978, the Human Rights Convention invited keynote speakers David Kopay, the first NFL player to come out of the closet, and U.S. Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, an ex-Mormon and the first openly gay person on the cover of Time magazine.
Even though there were several gay and lesbian groups in the state organizing privately and unofficially through much of the 1950s, 60s and ’70s, the 1977 Human Rights Convention is commonly accepted as the bright and auspicious beginning of Utah Pride!
For example, in 1974, the owner of the Sun Tavern sponsored a Beer Bust Kegger Party along the shores of the Great Salt Lake in an effort to collectively celebrate a rising openly gay community in Utah, bringing over 200 people together. A year later, in 1975, the Gay Community Service Center was founded and on June 1 this organization sponsored a community-wide celebration called Gay Freedom Day held in City Creek Canyon.
During the 1980’s Pride celebrations, or what was then called Gay Pride Day, took place in different parks such as Fairmont Park, Pioneer Park, and Sunnyside Park.
However, Utah Pride Inc wasn't created until 1989, and all through 2004 this project was continuously developed by the Gay and Lesbian Community Council of Utah. The first Pride march happened on the second year of Utah Pride, on June 27, 1990 - the 21st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and it totaled 270 people marching. The march began on the steps of the State Capitol, went down Main Street, and ended on South Temple and West Temple. That year, the Pride festival was held at the Northwest Community Center.
One year after the first march, in 1991, the Utah Stonewall Center was created as a project of the Gay and Lesbian Community Council of Utah. This center closed in 1997, but reopened in 1998, under the name Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Utah, a name that changed again in 2005 to become the Utah Pride Center.
When the Utah Stonewall Center first started organizing Utah Pride Inc, Pride festivities moved to the Salt Lake County Fairgrounds in Murray, and there the march attracted twice as many participants. The Pride Day Art Expo and Competition as well as the Lesbian and Gay Pride Art Award and the Mapplethorpe Award were added to the list of Pride events aiming to promote visibility of local queer artists.
The continuous efforts to integrate artistic partnerships created The Damn These Heels Film Festival in 2004, in partnership with the Salt Lake City Film Center. During Pride that year, the Film Center curated and screened a series of films to show the best in queer cinema. The Damn These Heels film festival was held annually thereafter.
The famous and symbolic giant pride flag carried by the crowd at the parade was first used in 1997, created by among others Rev. Bruce Barton of the Metropolitan Community Church of Salt Lake City. The flag was completed moments before the parade on June 8 that year, and it became a huge sensation! The flag bearers proudly marched with it from the Utah State Capitol to the City and County Building, down State Street. The flag was used over and over again, and by 2012, it was time for new one to be purchased, which is in use today.
Sadly in 2020 the festival had to be postponed due to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, so festivities took place in October that year, and took the form of the Utah Pride Road Rally. In 2021, still in the aftermath of the pandemic, for safety reasons the Center organized a Pride Week, which included events such as exhibits, the Pride Story Gardens, an online inter-faith, and a march that started at the Capitol and debuted the first balloon arch rainbow with over 1000 balloons, as the march reached Liberty Park.
In 2022 the 200-foot rainbow flag filled the streets of Salt Lake City once more, and Utah Pride included the Pride Parade (with their longest ever route), the Festival at Washington Square (with 4 stages and 5 lounges), a Glow March, a 5K run, and many venues across the state participating with their own programing and shows throughout the entire month.
This year, the festival keeps evolving to provide our beloved Utah community the best Pride experience possible! Let’s have fun and celebrate together!
This is just a brief history of the main events that led us to the huge celebration of freedom and queerness we experience today every June in Salt Lake City. Please use the links below to learn more about all the important local figures who collectively fought for the freedoms and rights we have today. The work that was done before us is inspiring and fills us with gratitude and strength.
Q Salt Lake: Affirmation Turns 45
Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons, Families, & Friends
Gay rights: The Stonewall Riots
Stonewall Riots: The Beginning of the LGBT Movement