“We need queer resources in our community for our youth. It’s embarrassingly apparent,” said Moab Pride organizer Cali Bulmash. “We’re going to make Pride that. That’s where I’m coming from, and that’s what’s keeping me ... and others going.”
Looking at the schedule for the 2017 pride festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 28 through Oct. 1, the late-night parties the event has become known for are no longer at center-stage. Bulmash says that, yes, Moab Pride will still partner with local bars to make the Orange Party happen as well as other adult activities, including a burlesque show.
However, with an all-ages sober dance party, workshops in intersectionality, working through trauma, as well as T-shirt and “zine” (magazine) making, the main thrust of Moab Pride 2017 is all about the youth.
“I really, really like how the energy is being diverted back to what’s important,” said Moab Pride organizer Paige Stuart. “... We’re bringing it back to its original mission which was the kids. The kids, the youth growing up in Grand County ... struggling with being different, being diverse in a town that is pretty homogenous.”
According to founder Amy Stocks, the original mission of Moab Pride – which was launched in 2011 — was to “educate, celebrate, and create awareness” of the local LGBTQ community in Moab, which she says definitely extended to youth in Grand County.
In addition to involving youth during Moab Pride’s events, Stocks said collaboration between Moab Pride and Club Red in 2012 launched an anti-bullying program that provided a space for youth to discuss both bullying and the importance of language. And in 2014, Moab Pride collaborated with the multicultural center to hold a “drop in” youth center once a week.
“Moab Pride also held monthly get-togethers that were all ages; ranging from potlucks at the park to bowling nights,” Stocks said. “We created a year round presence within the schools and the community by continuing these events and showing up to other events as a group throughout the year.”
According to volunteer Marcy Till, Moab Pride is now re-focused on that mission of “year-round youth outreach programming” using workshops, Gay-Straight Alliance initiatives, and all-ages celebrations to cultivate safe spaces.
Stuart said Moab Pride is putting significant creative energy and effort into connecting with youth in the community so that the organization can serve as a sustainable resource for Grand County’s kids throughout the year, not just a force for one weekend.
“It’s definitely about making it so there’s more resources. So it’s not just one day a year where you get visibility, you get acceptance,” Stuart said.
Bulmash calls that goal — making Grand County a safe community for LGBTQ youth in all spaces — “rippling out.”
“We’re trying to create so-called ‘safe spaces’ not just in the moment but via education,” Bulmash said. “Eliminating the pressure where when [LGBTQ youth] leave the so-called safe space, it doesn’t become instantly unsafe.”
Bullying can often play a role in the lives of LGBTQ-identified youth, Bulmash says. According to the Utah Department of Health, nationwide 34 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual students reported being bullied at school, compared to 19 percent of heterosexual students.
Regarding suicide, 42.5 percent of lesbian, gay or bisexual students seriously considered attempting suicide, compared to 14.8 percent of their heterosexual peers.
“One of the things we don’t often talk about in Utah, is suicide and LGBTQ youth,” said Jimmy Lee, the youth program manager at the Utah Pride Center. “I don’t think we talk enough about the social isolation which is the glue in that equation.”
Lee says it’s incredibly important for LGBTQ-identifying youth to have access to spaces where they feel a sense of connection. In rural communities, he notes, youth without such resources or meaningful visibility might suffer from isolation and hopelessness.
“If there’s a certain predominate culture it sets a certain tone,” Lee said. “Young people here don’t see [possible] models in themselves. They don’t see people who are like themselves who are thriving and surviving.”
Bulmash hopes that Moab Pride will help improve those resources and visibility while launching important conversations that must continue throughout the year in Grand County.
“I think Moab Pride should be a time where we focus on [LGBTQ] voices and stories and artists,” Bulmash said. “... Hopefully, those stories will create conversations that can continue in homes. We live in rural Utah. I know it doesn’t feel like that always, with the tourist economy. But definitely for the kids, it’s still rural Utah.”
In order to fund their mission, Moab Pride has hosted several grassroots fundraisers, including bake sales at the Moab Farmers’ Market. Through those events, Moab Pride has raised $6,000 towards its $8,000 fundraising goal.
Both Bulmash and Stuart say they are “starting from scratch” in terms of fiscal sponsorship.
Stuart — who has volunteered with Moab Pride since 2012 — said the event has gone through some tumultuous periods in recent years, losing sponsorship under the non-profit Utah Pride Center and later finding structure through for-profit Gay Adventure Week.
Expenses from last year’s large event left Moab Pride without funding for 2017, organizers said.
Stuart says the new team is “getting rid of all the hoopla” that has made the event stressful for organizers and cost-burdensome in the past, like flying in musicians and paying for well-known DJs. A more grassroots event will allow the team to put their financial resources and personal energy where it most matters, she says.
“It’s kind of like Pride is going back to basics, and it’s awesome what’s coming out of it,” Stuart said. “... A lot of people have stepped up, [saying], ‘this is important to me, I want to see this happen.’”
Now officially under the umbrella of the nonprofit Moab Arts Council, Stuart says Moab Pride has its own bank account capable of accepting donations and providing receipts for tax deductions.
Bulmash says there’s a certain amount of disappointment that a permanent LGBTQ center for youth — a goal at Moab Pride’s beginnings — has not yet been realized. But she adds that a center does not necessarily need to be brick and mortar, but instead could be realized by Moab Pride sustaining visibility and creating resources for youth throughout the year.
“The fact that we lost our fiscal sponsorship, that we were starting from scratch financially, that we were starting from scratch [organizationally] ... I felt that we needed to re-vision it. We’re using this Pride as a catalyst to start building relationships with the youth,” Bulmash said. “... It needs a fresh face, and it just so happened to coincide with everything this community, and this country, and this world is going through.”
To donate or volunteer for Moab Pride 2017, contact email@example.com. More information is also available on the group’s new website, moabpridefestival.wordpress.com.
Editor's note: This version of the story is updated to include comments from Amy Stocks, one of the original founders of Moab Pride.