Utah is about to celebrate Pride month in various ways in various cities. I remember our very first celebration of back in 1974 in City Creek Canyon and at the Great Salt Lake. Basically, it was a kegger up the canyon followed by more frivolity at the lake’s unofficial nude hangout, Bare Ass Beach. Joe Redburn, the recently deceased owner of the Sun Tavern provided the kegs, and a great summer party was created. I dropped in on my motorcycle and then headed out with a GF to the beach. Sadly, my bike couldn’t do the ‘road’ to the beach and so we headed back to Joe’s bar for our first Pride.
Around the same time, I was publishing a women’s newspaper called ‘The Rocky Mountain Woman’ (pre ‘Network Magazine’) and had writing and layout skills. A group of us were meeting at what we called the Gay Community Center and I volunteered to print a gay community magazine of news, dirt, and ads. Most of the ads were for drag queens running for Emperor or Empress of the Royal Court and different bar events. It was called ‘The Salt Lick’ and had a short run mainly because the community center didn’t last that long, but other publications followed (The Open Door and Triangle and now Qsaltlake). Fast forward a few years and the AIDS pandemic hit the world and our community.
Before we knew what the disease was, we heard that some of our gay male friends were getting horrible pneumonia-like colds and strange cancers. I had been going to a general practitioner whose patients were mostly gay. I went in for a check up one day and the doctor himself looked like crap-tired, bags under his eyes. I asked him what was wrong, and he replied, ‘I’ve had so many men some in with the weirdest symptoms, sick as dogs, and they aren’t getting better!’. Soon we knew the dis-ease dubbed ‘gay cancer’ was HIV/AIDS.
By 1985 the Utah Dept. of Health reported 17 persons living with AIDS in Utah. There were still folks in the bars thinking the disease was spread by using poppers, and not by rando sex with strangers in the tea rooms (bathrooms of gay bars) or gay bath houses. The gay bathhouses were given cessation notices from the Salt Lake City attorney who charged that the businesses constituted “a brothel as a place of lewdness assignation or prostitution.” Yet the gay bars lived on and they became not just a place to meet up and dance but a sanctuary for post funeral celebrations of the never ending gays who fell to the HIV/AIDS plague. Frankly, during the mid to late 80’s all I can remember doing is going to funerals of friends and the wakes thereafter at our bars.
Gay Pride has been publicly celebrated for almost 50 years in Utah. We’ve morphed from a gay community to an LGBTQ+ group as varied as there are colors of our rainbow. AIDS/HIV is still an issue and I thank God for the continued work of the Utah AIDS Foundation and the fact that our gay bars have survived this current pandemic.