SALT LAKE CITY — The 41st annual Utah Pride Festival culminated Sunday in a 5K race, parade and entertainment, attracting visitors from around the country in support of LGBT empowerment in Utah.
The parade followed its traditional route but in the opposite direction this year, traveling east along 200 South between 200 West and 400 East. Many of the 153 entries featured dancing, music, costumes, signs and colorful props celebrating Utah's LGBT community.
"Everybody just loves everybody unconditionally; no one judging anybody," said Brittnie Thayer, who attended the festival with her wife, Kylie Carter, less than one month after their marriage. "It's just great that they do this."
The festival has grown over the past four decades from an informal gathering in Salt Lake City to a three-day event attracting roughly 40,000 people. This year's gathering included some 275 vendors, about 50 of which are nonprofit organizations.
About 5,000 tickets were sold online in advance of the event, up from about 200 presale tickets that have been sold in previous years, according to this year's festival director, Valerie Walker. Credit cards were also accepted for the first time this year, giving another option for lines of crowds making their way into the festival grounds around the Salt Lake City-County Building, The Leonardo and the Salt Lake Main Library.
This month's event was the first Utah Pride Festival since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country in a June 26 decision last year.
Debate over LGBT issues continues in Utah, most recently with a directive from President Barack Obama pushing a sweeping reinterpretation of civil rights law that affects all sex-segregated aspects of publicly funded education, such as overnight accommodations, use of locker rooms and bathrooms, igniting debate about federal reach, states rights, and respect for transgender students.
Utah is one of 11 states in a joint lawsuit against members of the Obama administration in light of the directive.
Walker said the festival has been a venue for dialogue among Utah residents about LGBT issues in the state.
"We have had a little bit of controversy, but we love that because we were built on people questioning, people starting controversies, people pushing the limits," Walker told reporters last week. "So even though sometimes it's not as fun for us to get that controversy, we embrace it because it makes a conversation start."
Ana Perez, who watched the parade with her husband, Adrian Perez, said the gathering is also about celebrating a diverse array of cultures throughout the country.
"I think it's important that we expose ourselves to all cultures and different Americans here in the United States. We're a very diverse country, and that's something to be appreciated," Ana Perez said. "I think it's a great thing to really appreciate that we've come so far in the past five years."
For Joshua and Ashley Moreland, who live in downtown Salt Lake City, the festival is just as much about atmosphere as it is about showing support for the LGBT community.
"It's fun to be part of the city," Ashley Moreland said. "That's what we like the most."
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