When I was in high school, I once went to Lagoon (Utah’s only amusement park) on Gay Day. It wasn’t intentional; we just decided to go to the theme park on a whim one summer day and, as we arrived, the marquee announced a warm welcome to Utah’s gay friends and families.
I was there with a few childhood friends and I remember pulling into the parking lot and seeing protesters with signs warning families of the evils of homosexuality and encouraging a boycott of the park. You see, the gay community in Utah isn’t nearly as large as it is in other major metropolitan areas so the park wasn’t closed for gay day, it was still open to the public and just had private events going on throughout the venue.
I vividly recall watching minivans loaded with cookie-cutter Mormon families turning around and leaving the park out of protest and an effort to shield their children’s eyes from the sinful homosexuals. Undeterred, though, my friends and I continued into the park and, as usual, had a great time.
While at Lagoon that day I saw, for the first time in my life, a lesbian couple holding hands and kissing, an older gay couple in a warm embrace, chuckling and visiting candidly with friends, and real drag queens.
It was terrifying.
I wasn’t scared because of the gay and lesbian couples, or the trans folks, or the queens in full drag. I was mortified because everyone I saw looked happy and, for lack of a better word, normal. For the first time ever, I was forced to question all of the preconceived notions I had about who I was and about the LGBTQ community at large.
Up to that point in my life, everything I’d heard from church members and my family about the homosexual lifestyle was that it was evil, base, unnatural, and as a result, completely miserable. As a 16-year-old questioning young man, I was forced to acknowledge that gay people could be happy, healthy, successful, friendly, unique, loving, contributing-to-society people. It was also the first time that I considered (very briefly) a path that was different than the one prescribed for me by the LDS church and that scared me.
Well, fast-forward 11 or 12 years and I again found myself at an amusement park’s gay day – this time, however, it was intentional.
I went to Pride Night at King’s Island, here in Cincinnati, on Friday. A group of LGBT employees and advocates from work gathered at the front of the park and about 20 of us tooled around visiting with each other, riding roller coasters, and sipping beers. Like Dorothy of old, I definitely wasn't in [Utah] anymore.
The experience took me across an entire spectrum of emotions. At one point I was exhilarated and thrilled. At another I was on the cusp of tears. Not because of anyone or anything in particular, but because I was so overwhelmed by the experience.
This time the park was closed to the public and only open to members and friends of the city’s LGBTQ community. There were gorgeous lesbians everywhere, dolled up drag queens, polar bears, twinks and everyone and everything in between. Everywhere I looked, I saw nothing but out-and-proud gay people as they walked the park without fear of retribution or retaliation.
It was a beautiful experience.
Now, as I sit writing this blog post, I can’t help but dwell on the differences between the two experiences and I am again bouncing between both sides of the emotional spectrum. I am thrilled to be in a place that is so open and receptive to the LGBTQ community but I am also saddened by the amount of pain and shame that is so prevalent back home in Utah among its gay community. It truly breaks my heart.
All I know now, though, is that I am going to continue to do my best to make sure I am as loving and tolerant and respectful of others as possible; I'm going to be the change that I know I can be.
Who knows? Maybe someday there will be enough tolerance that every day could be gay day.