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100,000 turn out for 43rd annual Utah Pride Parade to celebrate acceptance, organizers say

SALT LAKE CITY — Sporting all things rainbow, event organizers said a record-breaking number gathered in downtown Salt Lake City Sunday to celebrate the yearly Utah Pride Parade.

Utah Pride Festival estimated that 100,000 people turned out for the parade, which kicked off the final day of the 43rd annual event, a four-day celebration of the state's LGBT community.

More than four decades after its small beginning in 1974, the 2018 festival boasted about 180 parade entries that marched for more than two hours along 200 South.

"It was the biggest Pride fest for sure," said Wyatt Seipp, the festival's communication director, adding that roughly 50,000 paid to enter the festival's grounds.

"It's a fantastic thing for us to all come together and be ourselves," Seipp said.

While the LGBT community has seen progress over recent years — including the legalization of gay marriage — Seipp said the community still has to "fight for rights in the workplace" and to overcome other social issues.

"This is a party — but it's a party with a purpose," Seipp said, noting that all proceeds benefit the Utah Pride Center, which provides resources to the LGBT community, including suicide prevention and other mental health services.

Nicole Muir and her fiancee, Nicole Arnold, said they traveled from Park City to join the festivities.

"Here in Utah, it can be kind of rough for us," Arnold said. "It's really nice to just be yourself and be around those who are alike. Everyone's so supportive; it's a great community to be a part of."

Parade participants included Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Salt Lake police officers and firefighters, and other local organizations such as Downtown Alliance, Equality Utah, University of Utah, and the Humane Society of Utah. Small and big local businesses also joined, along with major corporations such as Delta Airlines, American Airlines, U.S. Bank, Discover Card and eBay.

Political candidates also joined the festivities, including Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, who stood atop his orange bus and waved as it rolled down 200 South. Others included Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera, and Salt Lake City Councilman Derek Kitchen, who is running for a seat in the Utah Senate.

Elliott Cummings and Trinity Kangas, both 14, came from West Jordan to see the parade. They cheered and waved rainbow flags as they watched entries march by.

"I just want to be myself and express myself," said Cummings, who identifies as transgender/non-binary. "We just come here to be ourselves."

Kangas, wearing rainbow shoelaces, said she came to "celebrate everybody, even the people who hate us."

"People are starting to realize you should just be you, and not care about what other people think," Kangas said. "It's about self-love and acceptance."

Amid the crowd of thousands lining 200 South, a group of about a dozen protesters stood in a barricaded space at one street corner along the parade route, holding large signs condemning the LGBT community and proclaiming homosexuality a sin.

One protester shouted at passersby, calling them "disgusting." For the most part, onlookers ignored the protesters or laughed as they walked by, while others stopped to shout back or take selfies with the protesters as a backdrop.

At one point, a parade participant sprayed the protesters with silly string. Others yelled, "We love you" as they marched by, blew kisses, or waved signs with messages of unity and tolerance, including, "Be accepting, be accepted."

A handful of Salt Lake police officers stood watch nearby. They occasionally stepped in when arguments became heated, but the event was peaceful. No arrests or violent incidents were reported, according to the department.

Scott Hennesy, of South Jordan, stood directly behind the protesters and waved a giant, rainbow flag.

"We're all equal," Hennesy said. "We just want everybody to support each other, to love each other. You can have religious differences, but to preach hate just does not cut it."

Contributing: Jared Page