From towns across Utah and Idaho, about 400 self-described “faithful” and “active” members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered in Salt Lake City on Sunday morning to walk in the Salt Lake City, Utah LGBT Pride Parade with the grassroots-organized “Mormons Building Bridges” group.
From the beginning, Mormons Building Bridges founder and organizer Erika Munson, a straight, churchgoing LDS mother of five from Sandy, Utah, focused on one very simple message: that as followers of Jesus Christ, Mormons should show love to LGBT people.
Munson sent word out across the Mormon grapevine, through email, phone, and Facebook, inviting fellow churchgoing and believing Mormons to join her at the Pride Parade in Sunday dress.
And Mormons responded by the hundreds, arriving at the parade route yesterday morning in their church clothes—dress shirts and ties for men, dresses for women. Some carried scriptures in hand. Others pushed their children in strollers, or carried them on their shoulders.
Susan Dortsch from Park City, Utah, was among the first to arrive. “As a parent, when I read about gay kids committing suicide and parents kicking out kids, it hammers at my heart,” she explained. “I came because I wanted to be part of what I hope will be a new direction for LDS people.”
Initially, Munson and other organizers had hoped to attract one hundred LDS marchers. About ten minutes before parade start time, marcher Clair Barrus of Draper, Utah, counted about 475 members of the Mormons Building Bridges delegation, ranging in age from toddlers to senior citizens. (Newspapers estimated the Mormons Building Bridges crowd at more than 300.)
“One woman in her eighties walked with a cane. Another man in his seventies came in his wheelchair; his wife pushed him—they have a gay son,” says Barrus, who came to march in support of his gay nephew and gay sister-in-law. “People really felt compelled to come out no matter how miserable. And it was hot.”
Meredith Hudson LeSueur, a straight LDS mother of two from Herriman, Utah, started to cry when she arrived at the Mormons Building Bridges meeting spot to find what she described as a “sea of Sunday best and strollers,” including her own—festooned in rainbow streamers.
It was important, explained Luana Uluave, a straight LDS mother from Cottonwood Heights, Utah, for believing and churchgoing Mormons to organize and gather with other Mormons who understood their deep commitment to their faith.
Mormons Building Bridges participants prepared signs with verses from LDS hymns, scriptures, and quotations from LDS Church leaders–“All are alike unto God;” “Jesus said love everyone;” “God loves all of His Children”—and hundreds of lollipops bearing “love one another” stickers to distribute to parade crowds.
Just before the parade began, a member of the Mormons Building Bridges delegation offered an opening prayer through a megaphone.
Then, the LDS contingent took its assigned place at the head of the parade and began to march.
Some Bridges marchers worried how the crowds would react, especially given the history of LDS Church-backed opposition to same-sex marriage.
“But when we turned the first corner onto 200 South Street, the crowd just roared,” says Austin Hollinbaugh, a recent BYU graduate from Provo, Utah, who joined the Mormons Building Bridges group. “I thought to myself, ‘Why are you cheering for me? I am supposed to be here for you. People deserve to be loved, and all I am doing is standing up for that.’”
SLC Pride organizers were surprised by the size of the Mormons Building Bridges delegation. “You are three times as large as we thought you would be,” the parade master of ceremonies announced as the group approached her booth, her voice breaking up with emotion.
Emotion reverberated all along the parade route, as Pride attendees—many of them gay and from Mormon backgrounds—cheered and cried. Some crowd members sang the lyrics to hymns quoted on Mormons Building Bridges placards.
Marcher Susan Dortsch walked over to hug a woman at the edge of the parade route. “She had tears rolling down her face,” says Dortsch. “She was sobbing and saying, ‘Thank you so much.’”
Adam Ford of Alpine, Utah marched in his Sunday best with his sons Parley and Willard, who are named for historic LDS Church leaders Parley P. Pratt and Willard Richards.
“I saw about a dozen people openly weeping as they watched us walk by. One body builder guy in a tight tank top heaved with sobs,” said Ford. “I walked over and hugged him.”
Clair Barrus witnessed the tears of parade-goers as evidence of deep wounds carried by gay Mormons and gay people with Mormon backgrounds. “Their soul has been torn in two pieces,” said Barrus, “their integral gay selves, and their Mormon selves.”
The Mormons Building Bridges effort was also an important opportunity for LDS families to show public support for their gay children, said Troy Tenney, who marched near the family of one of his gay LDS friends.
Other LDS Pride parade participants hoped that the tears shed at the parade represented a step towards reconciliation. “I went thinking I want to show love and support for other people,” says Mormons Building Bridges member Susan Dortsch, “and I was the one who was blessed.”
Several LDS marchers expressed humility about their role in the parade, recalling the LDS Church’s history of opposition to LGBT rights as well as long-standing efforts by members of more LGBT welcoming denominations in Utah who had not been given an equal share of the limelight.
“It was a great sign of forgiveness,” said Jason Monson, a straight LDS father of two from Provo, “that everyone was so welcoming when they might have just as easily, and justifiably felt like we did not belong at the front of their parade.”
The true impact of the Mormons Building Bridges effort will be felt in LDS congregations, said Luana Uluave, who hurried her family from the parade’s end point to attend their regular LDS Sunday services.
“I received so many messages of support from people in my ward,” said Uluave. “I hope that everyone who participated can bring this spirit of love and acceptance back to their home congregations.”
This summer, Mormons are organizing to walk in eight additional Pride parades in Seattle, Portland, Boise, Cleveland, San Diego, Washington, D.C., and New York City. .