Pride Memories | Urban Living

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Pride Memories

Posted By on May 26, 2021, 4:00 AM

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Utah is about to celebrate Pride in various ways in cities statewide. I remember our very first Pride celebration in 1974, held at City Creek Canyon and 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.

The late Joe Redburn, who owned 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, 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, 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 checkup one day, and the doctor himself looked like crap—tired with bags under his eyes. I asked him what was wrong, and he replied, "I've had so many men come in with the weirdest symptoms—sick as dogs—and they aren't getting better!" Soon, we knew the disease dubbed "gay cancer" was HIV/AIDS.

By 1985, the Utah Department 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" (aka amyl nitrate, a popular recreational drug), and not by having rando sex with strangers in tea rooms (bathrooms of gay bars) or gay bathhouses. The gay bathhouses were closed by 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 many gays who fell to the HIV/AIDS plague. Frankly, during the mid- to late-'80s, many of my memories involved going to funerals of friends and the wakes thereafter at the bars.

Gay Pride has been publicly celebrated for almost 50 years in Utah. We've morphed from a tightknit 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.

About The Author

Babs Delay

Babs Delay

De Lay is realtor/broker/owner of Urban Utah Homes and Estates. She is a former member of the Utah Transit Authority's Board of Trustees.

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