Alan Cox (second from left) and Elfie Wagner (right front) helped carry the rainbow flag at last year's Moab Pride event. Anyone who is interested in helping out at this year’s Pride festival is invited to attend a free community potluck barbecue at Rotary Park on Thursday, Aug. 24, at 6 p.m. [Photo by Jenna Talbott / Courtesy of Moab Pride]

As momentum builds toward this year’s Moab Pride Festival, organizers are spreading the word that it will bring together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer leaders from the region to teach workshops, perform and mingle in a three-day, all-ages celebration of the power and beauty of authentic self-expression.

At a free community potluck barbecue at Rotary Park from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 24, the festival’s steering committee members will introduce themselves and the changes coming to Pride this year. Volunteers who made the 2016 festival a success will be recognized, and anyone interested in helping this year will learn how they can be involved when the festival returns on Sept. 28 and continues through Sept. 30.

“This is a community effort,” Moab Pride Festival Director Cali Bulmash said. “A lot of people have already brought so much to planning and fundraising this year.”

Bulmash carried the torch on her own at the beginning of the year, as the organizing committee from the 2016 Moab Pride Festival had disbanded. The organization itself stood in need of financial backing and leadership, so Bulmash reached out to fellow activists and leaders in the community. The response has been incredible, she said.

“The Pride planning committee came together beautifully,” Moab Arts and Recreation Center Director Meg Stewart agreed.

In the wake of the January suicide of seventh-grader Lily McClish, who faced gender-related bullying in school, a deep desire to understand and help rectify problems that precipitated her death has galvanized Moab area school, government and activist leaders to collaborate and search for answers. As a result, this year’s festival has reconnected with its original mission to strengthen community spirit, Bulmash said, with a special focus on embracing Moab’s youth.

Working together with the City of Moab’s arts program leaders, Grand County School District teachers and Youth Garden Project program leaders, the Pride committee has arranged to hold poetry, T-shirt screening and mural painting workshops – some in the classroom and some as after-school activities. The workshops are for all young people, and are meant to offer ways to share authentic self-expression, Bulmash said.

“We really wanted to create a space for people to explore their individuality,” Stewart said. “I think anyone who is willing to access their creativity and express it in a way that is visual and sharing with people – that’s a brave act. It’s a true act of artistic expression to share your art.”

The festival itself is specifically organized to be welcoming to young people this year, Bulmash said. Last year’s popular Rock the Mic open-mic night and Poetry Slam contest will return, with the addition of afternoon creative expression workshops led by LGBTQ artists. On the day of the festival itself, the celebration will include performances by Moab-area and regional music groups, poets and drag performers.

“The daytime events are for all ages – parents can decide what they’re comfortable bringing their kids to, but we’re not excluding any age group,” Bulmash said. “We don’t want Pride to feel exclusive – that’s exactly the opposite of what we want.”

Though the Orange Party, a traditional night of revelry before the final and biggest day of the festival, will be adults-only at Woody’s Tavern, this year for the first time there will also be a karaoke party with a live DJ held exclusively for young people.

“We really want to emphasize that all are welcome to plan and participate in this community event,” committee member Marcy Till said. “We’re really solid in terms of our mission, our focus and wanting Pride to be a time of year and an event that builds community and supports the people that live here.”

A former elementary school teacher and Moab City Recreation Program director, Till is glad to see the Pride committee put such an emphasis on the community’s young people, she said.

Molly McClish, Lily McClish’s mother, will speak at the festival and will have a booth for her nonprofit organization, Lily’s Hope, focused on building empathy in schools and communities. She has spent the year learning about the risk statistics and gaps in programming to address the sort of bullying in school that her daughter faced, and being part of creative solutions has helped inspire and motivate her as she works to honor her daughter’s life, McClish said.

“I’m really excited, because I’ve stayed in touch with Lily’s friends this summer and they need the community to rally for them right now,” McClish said. “They need to know that the world loves them and appreciates what they bring, just as themselves.”

McClish’s has been an important voice helping focus planning around the needs of young people, Bulmash said.

Not only are festival activities designed to elicit authentic creative expression from all of Moab’s diverse young people, but also most of the workshop presenters and performers who will be featured at this year’s event identify as LGBTQ, Bulmash said. An important part of helping young people feel hopeful about their future is to see people “like them” in leadership roles, she said.

“We see Pride as becoming an auxiliary support for the gay-straight alliances in the schools,” Bulmash said. “It’s all still in infant stages, but we’re going to keep working together. There are so many people with this mission in their hearts.”

Communities nationally and worldwide are rallying in support of free expression for LGBTQ people. In Salt Lake City, more than 25,000 people a day attended the Utah Pride Festival this year – the largest turnout since its inception in the 1970s, according to event organizers. Internationally, Singapore’s annual Pink Dot celebration supporting its LGBTQ community was kept alive this year solely by local small businesses in the wake of government regulation disallowing international donors from contributing funding to the event.

In a small, rural community like Moab, the message that everyone in a community is seen and appreciated is critical, Till said.

“Every single one of our citizens has value and has worth. We all have a strength and something to offer,” she said. “The best way we can serve our youth is by being great examples as adults – we reach out to each other, support each other and include each other, and we can follow suit with our kids.”

Community invited to potluck barbecue with festival organizers