Grand Marshal Dustin Lance Black applauds as he leads the annual Gay Pride… (Scott Sommerdorf / Salt…)
They came in suits and skirts, and they drew tears and cheers.
More than 300 current and former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participated in the Utah Gay Pride Parade on Sunday as part of a group called Mormons Building Bridges.
"I haven't recognized them as equals," one marcher, Emily Vandyke, 50, told the Salt Lake Tribune. "They have been invisible to me."
She carried a sign with words from a Mormon children’s song: "I’ll walk with you, I’ll talk with you. That’s how I’ll show my love for you."
The Tribune said she hugged a crying woman watching the parade who said, "Thank you."
Parade Grand Marshal Dustin Lance Black tweeted afterward, the Tribune said: "In tears. Over 300 straight, active Mormons showed up to march with me at the Utah Pride parade in support of LGBT people."
The number of Mormons participating to show support surprised organizers of Mormons Building Bridges. Based on the Facebook event set up for the march, they had anticipated 100 marchers.
"I think it’s amazing," Holly Nelson, 38, told the Salt Lake Tribune as she watched, tears in her eyes. "It’s been so hard to be in Utah knowing the Mormon Church is against the gay community."
The Mormon Church has had a tense, sometimes condemnatory, relationship with the LGBT community. The church openly backed California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, and it urged members to volunteer for the cause.
Sunday's event tried to steer clear of politics, focusing on a love-thy-neighbor message.
"This march is not a political gesture; rather it is a simple statement that average Mormons do love their LGBT brothers and sisters and want to make that message clear," the event's organizer, Erika Munson, wrote on Facebook. "All who wish to march whether currently active LDS and/or former LDS are welcome."
Before the march, Fox 13 in Salt Lake City reported that Munson said that Mormons Building Bridges does not take a stance on same-sex marriage but that the group plans to march in LGBT events around the country this summer. A church spokesman declined to comment to Fox 13 when asked about the group.
Judging from the responses on Facebook afterward, the event was a success.
"So proud to have been a part of this," one person wrote. "I was touched by the number of people who cried and thanked us as we walked in the parade. Thank you organizers! We will see you all next year!!"
Another marcher hinted at the deep emotional wounds in the community, telling the Tribune about the suicides he'd seen among teens and gays when he was growing up.
"There have been too many LDS deaths," said Adam Ford, 40. "No doctrine is more important than God’s children."