There’s No Place Like Home

This is a transcript of a speech given by Ogden Pride Board President Tim Sharp at the 2017 OUTreach Utah Soiree on Sept. 16.


Thank you! I am so honored to be here speaking to you. I want to thank OUTreach for asking me. And thank you so much for that warm welcome!

That’s the kind of reception that really makes one feel at home.

And Ogden is my “Home” – now — but I didn’t grow up here. In fact, the last place on Earth I ever expected to live was Utah.

But several years ago when my husband, then partner, the Rev. Gage Church, was investigating job prospects, he found a little church on a hill in Ogden, Utah, and wanted to check it out.

“Utah!?” I exclaimed.

Now, what I knew about Utah wasn’t much — It was mostly desert, the Great Salt Lake was there, the transcontinental railroad joined up there, and Mormons lived there. And about all I knew about them was they used to practice polygamy, they don’t drink coffee, and they really like green Jell-O.

But I also remembered that the LDS church pushed hard for the passage of Proposition 8, striking down marriage equality in California.

So, it was going to be a tough sell. … What kind of reception would this liberal, gay couple from the Midwest receive? … But I’m fair-minded. We came out for a visit, and we got an extravagant welcome! A guided tour of the area, lunch at Snowbasin, dinner at a really nice house up on the Bench. …

We immediately found a circle of friends who welcomed us with open arms and open minds, and who shattered stereotypes.

And here we are, almost 7 years later, and Utah — for now — is home.

Do you know when Ogden really started to feel like home to me? Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. Do you remember what was happening then?  Let me refresh your memory …

On the previous Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Utah’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Suddenly, the Gays could get married in Utah.

“Utah!?” everyone exclaimed.

On that Friday, Gage and I went to the county clerk’s office in case his services as an officiant were needed. But instead of happy fiancés, we were walking against the current as a sea of people — many in tears — flowed past us away from the county building. The clerk had closed the doors and said no marriage licenses would be issued until further notice.

So a disappointed crowd stood around wondering what would happen next. Would the state seek a stay? Would county clerks refuse to issue licenses until ordered to? Had our hopes been raised — only to be dashed to pieces?

I remember that a camera crew showed up, interviewed some people, and then pointed the camera in our direction. You see, Gage was wearing a bright rainbow stole. Great visual for TV! The reporter asked him some questions, and he managed to give them some decent sound bites. Then the news team moved on.

It was all a blur, really. A very emotional scene, thick with disappointment and disillusion but still, an essence of hope lingered. As I took it all in, I was moved by the moment, and I asked Gage to marry me. Luckily, after 20 years of being together, he said yes.

The county clerk opened for business on Monday morning. So around 5 a.m., we joined a long line of people at the county building. We learned that some of the couples around us had been hoping for this day for years. Some had only been together for a few months. We told them our story, and how Gage was going to perform marriage ceremonies later that day — just as soon as we were married.

Other couples soon asked Gage to marry them, and then it dawned on them that Gage needed to get married before them, so he could go through with the plan.

The next thing you know, someone grabbed us by the arms, escorted us up the stairs and placed us at the head of the line! The guy explained the situation to the first few people. I turned to the first couple.

“I’m really sorry … This wasn’t our idea …”

“No problem,” they said.

“How long have you been here?“

 “Since 10:30 last night.”

“No no no we can’t take your place” I protested.

“It’s okay!” they said. “You really do have to get married first so you can marry us!”

And so, Gage and I were the first same-sex couple to be married in Weber County!

NOW, I APOLOGIZE for making this speech so far all about me. There’s guy in Washington now who does that, and I shouldn’t invite the comparison.

But I wanted to paint a picture of that joyous day. The Hampton Inn opened a room for the ceremonies, and after our nuptials, Gage did turn around and perform marriage after marriage after marriage — and I signed several marriage certificates as a witness.

It was joyous chaos as couples and their entourages — friends, families, even a dog or two — filled the hotel’s meeting room, hallways and stairways. Other clergy were there, so there were popup weddings going on all over the place.

Some people came just to witness the events. One beautiful stranger brought boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts for the impromptu receptions. Every couple was cheered and applauded and congratulated. Lots of hugs, lot of tears.

This was our community coming together — gay, straight, bi, trans, it didn’t matter — we came together to share the joy and celebrate the momentous occasion. It was the fulfillment of a yearning — to feel accepted and to finally have our relationships recognized as equal to any other.

That was a good day. That’s when I felt that Ogden was “home.”

IT WAS IN THAT SPIRIT that a group gathered in 2014 to form Ogden Pride, Inc.

Inspired by OUTreach’s mission to serve LGBTQ youth, the group saw a need for a homegrown voice for all members of the LGBTQ community. The founders envisioned support groups, educational programming, ally training and other services. They also planned, of course, a community celebration.

Like our wedding day, our hometown Ogden Pride Festival is a joyous day of celebration. Attendance has grown from a few hundred people to around 3,000 in just three years.

Not only have we filled the Ogden Amphitheater, we have burst the seams and spread into the park beyond, with nearly 100 businesses and organizations offering their goods and services, eager to make a connection with our community. And we had about 25 sponsors whose generosity made it all possible.

Our festival tries to distinguish itself from other festivals by recognizing that Ogden’s strength is in our families. We are committed to creating a family-friendly atmosphere. We always have a Kids’ Zone, with arts & crafts, balloon animals and carnival games, and we have a popular pet parade & fashion show. We also encourage our entertainers to keep their performances PG-rated.

The point is to increase our visibility, because raising visibility breaks down walls. Just as meeting Utahns up close and personal changed Gage’s and my perceptions, we hope the festival changes perceptions about our community. We hope that the greater Ogden community sees that their LGBT neighbors are not some strange “Other” — we live and work and worship and study right beside them.

Most importantly, our festival shows our kids — and our adults — that they belong. They are part of a loving, accepting community.

You know, a Pride festival is often the ONLY day when we can openly and freely express who we truly are and whom we love. It is a day, for example, when a gay couple can hold each other’s hands in public without looking over their shoulders.

It warms my heart to see people at the festival running hand-in-hand with their capes — rainbow flags and trans flags — flapping behind them as they laugh, joke, dance, and have a great time. Being themselves, without being judged, without being bullied, without being afraid.

I’d like to share two messages we got on Facebook. Both from mothers, by the way …

Watching my 17-year-old trans son — who rarely shows any emotion — dancing with the drag queens and with other kids his age was one of the best parts of the day. Every day can be a fight for him. A day where he could be himself and let his guard down was amazing.

And this one:

My daughter & her girlfriend officially came out today!! Pride gave them both the courage & presented them with the realization that they are literally SURROUNDED by a community that loves and accepts them for who they are and who they love. Thank you for putting on this life-changing event!

That.

That is why we do what we do. It’s that freedom and courage that we want all of our kids, all of our friends to feel every day — not just during the Festival.

So, Utah is my home now, but I grew up in Kansas. I am truly a “friend of Dorothy.” (If you are too young to get that reference, ask someone my age to explain it to you.)

Not being from Utah, there are things I can never understand about growing up here. I don’t understand a society that puts home and family on a sacred pedestal but pulls them down and smashes them to bits if a child doesn’t fit the mold.

More than one-third of unaccompanied homeless youths in Utah are LGBT. Kids become homeless for many reasons, but a lot of them have been kicked out of their homes or have run away from an unacceptable situation. … Suicide ranks as the leading cause of death among people under 18.

There are no easy solutions, and state officials are at a loss, one even suggested that the high altitude is somehow affecting kids’ developing brains. So, it’s up to organizations like OUTreach, Youth Futures, Equality Utah and others to try to help our kids. So please continue to support them!

Here’s a thought – maybe it’s a little naïve, but if our Pride festival can show parents that it’s not the end of the world if their child is gay or lesbian or bi or trans, maybe we can help keep homes intact.

We all need support at home because we are under attack.

The current administration is trying to reverse many of our hard-won victories. So-called “religious freedom laws” that enshrine discrimination — You know, a law that would allow a baker to refuse to serve a gay couple based on religious beliefs would also allow an EMT to refuse to treat a gay accident victim. (It’s not about the cake.) … Banning trans people from serving in the military. … Arguing in court that we are not protected from job discrimination. These are just a few examples, and sadly, the list keeps growing.

How do we respond? Remember, the “Gay Pride” movement began as a protest. It was a call for justice against discrimination and harassment. Only after we began to make some progress did it turn into a celebration.

And what do we mean by “Pride”? It doesn’t mean we are boasting about our sexual orientations or gender identities, as if they are some sort of personal achievement. If they are, I want my trophy and tiara, please.

No, I think the word “Pride” was chosen by the gay rights movement because — what is the opposite of Pride? … Shame. We are announcing to the world that we are not ashamed of our orientations and identities. There is no shame in living our lives authentically, showing our true colors, being our true selves. No shame, no guilt, no apologies.

So, yes, we are facing some challenges. What we can do? Well, the theme of our festival this year was actually a call to action: “Rise Together With Pride.” Rise together and support one another, lean on one another. Rise together and with one voice tell our elected representatives that we will not sit quietly, we will not stand idly by as they try to take away our rights.

It is my hope that the Ogden Pride Festival continues to grow and continues to help people realize that they can feel that freedom beyond the amphitheater and they can live with that courage every day.

In the coming months, Ogden Pride and OUTreach are going to work more closely, collaborating on projects and events, combining our resources and hopefully making an even greater impact.

With our help — Ogden Pride and OUTreach and YOU — everyone should feel like they live in a community that welcomes them with open arms, accepts them just as they are, supports their decisions and aspirations, and loves them unconditionally. Like you are supposed to feel when you are Home.

As my friend Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”

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