Utah Pride Grand Marshal hopes to ‘build bridges’ between LGBT, LDS

SALT LAKE CITY — Dustin Lance Black plans to lead 5,000 people on a march through downtown in support of gay rights.

Black hopes his presence as the Grand Marshal of the Utah Pride Festival will help “build bridges” between Utah’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and their Mormon neighbors.

“I do think that what’s happening this week is sincere,” Black said in an interview Friday with FOX 13. “Obviously there are differences between our communities, but this is a step in the right direction.”

Among those marching alongside him in Sunday’s Pride Parade: a group of self-described “straight Mormons” who are trying to show their love and support of LGBT people.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ support of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, created deep divides between Mormons and the gay community. But LGBT advocates say it also started a conversation.

“A conversation about how we can avoid inflicting that kind of harm on human beings again,” said Valerie Larabee, the executive director of the Utah Pride Center. “I think it has been the genesis of a conversation that we take two steps forward, and one step back. Because we’re not aligned, but we’re learning.”

Black won an Oscar for his screenplay, “Milk,” about slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk. He also wrote for the Utah-themed polygamy drama “Big Love,” and penned a play about California’s Proposition 8. He is currently writing the screenplay for “Under the Banner of Heaven,” about fundamentalist Mormonism. He said he was raised a “devout Mormon.”

The theme of this year’s Utah Pride Festival reflects Black’s beliefs in bridge building. It is “Changing Hearts & Lives.”

“I think the Mormon Church will look back on this period, much like a lot of the people in this country will, not just the Mormon Church, and look at the lives that have been lost, look at the young people that have taken their lives, the young people who have been forced out onto the streets because of who they are,” he said. “I think there will be a lot of regret and there will be time for apologies and a time for forgiveness, and I think we’re starting that process now.”

While the LDS Church has made its views on homosexuality, gay rights and same sex marriage clear, LGBT advocates said they are finding common ground on some issues, like gay youth and families.

“We’re starting to get to know each other now,” Black said. “I think even some of the leadership in the Mormon Church is starting to realize the pain that’s been caused by things like Prop. 8. But more importantly, by things like allowing Mormon families to think it’s OK to tell their children that they’re ‘less than’ or that they’re ‘broken’ or that they don’t deserve to be a part of their family.”

Meanwhile, the Utah Pride Center announced on Friday plans to expand its outreach efforts with a new building in downtown Salt Lake City. Larabee said they had purchased a 16,000 square foot building on 400 South near 200 East. It will replace the center on 300 West that is only 6,000 square feet.

“It’s very visible for all to see,” she said. “21,000 cars a day go by this building. It represents the pride of our community.”

About 30,000 people are expected to attend the Utah Pride Festival, which kicked off Friday night at Washington Square.

The parade begins at 10 a.m. Sunday.

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