|Photos stolen from Wade Phillpotts and the Daily Herald. :P|
"Christmas stockings!?" I said, in an overexaggerated tone of surprise, smiling all the while. "What's this all about?"
The older woman with short white hair, seated behind the display of stockings and bibles, said, "Well, my church does a service project every year where we give Christmas stockings to AIDS patients."
"What do you put in them?"
"Basic hygiene and toiletries," she said. "We've found that with medications being so expensive, little things like deodorant and stuff sometimes fall through the cracks."
It seemed sort of an odd connection to me, and as if she could read my thoughts, she added, "Some of our congregation think we should get a new project, but as long as I'm able, I'm going to keep doing this."
She got emotional here and paused to regain her composure. She continued on in a choked voice: "I got a call from a woman once. I don't know how she got our number, but she asked, 'Are you the church who does the stockings?' I said, 'Well, yes.' She told me that when she was diagnosed with AIDS her family rejected her. That Christmas the only thing she got from anyone was our stocking. She said to me, 'I put on the lotion that was in there... and the new socks... and I crawled into bed and I cried.'"
The woman telling me the story completely broke down. I found myself tearing up as well, and I said to her, "Can I hug you?" She nodded and came quickly around her little table and I gave her a hug.
"That's why I've gotta keep on doing this," she said.
I don't even remember the name of her church, but her name was Deb. That I remember.
Deb and her church group were just one of the organizations participating at Provo's first-ever Gay Pride Festival. Groups like Affirmation, Understanding Same Gender Attraction, Mormons Building Bridges, Equality Utah, The Human Rights Campaign and many more had informational booths at the event. The Centro Hispano even provided free HIV testing.
There was face-painting and bouncy houses for the children, as well as bocci ball and croquet and performances by Cheer Salt Lake. A variety of local musicians like Bat Manors, Joel Pack and the Pops, Batty Blue, Birdie and the Black Sheep, The Troubles and more took to the stage and really made the Pride Festival a lot of fun.
And do you know what? In what is arguably one of the nation's most conservative cities in one of the most conservative states, thousands of people came out in support of the local LGBT community. And I was a part of that.
Months ago, a friend of mine mentioned that there was a group of people trying to put on the first gay pride festival in Utah County. I was very intrigued and I couldn't shake the feeling that I should get involved. I found the Facebook page and simply wrote a post saying I was willing to help. I was told of a meeting taking place and before long I was part of the core committee. We're just a ragtag group of people, meeting in apartments and flower shops, who just want to make a difference in our community. And on a shoestring budget, we managed to pull off a spectacular event. Sure there's room for improvement, but for its first year, I'd say the Provo Pride Festival was a huge success and a huge step forward for equality and awareness and acceptance in our community.
If you want to make a difference... go out and make it. That's what I'm learning. Deb's doing it with stockings. We're doing it with festivals. And you can do it too.