Dominic Valente; Daily Herald – Jason Boren was 17 when he first came out of the closet to his family. But it wasn’t until 20 years later that he would be able to truly come out, a second time.
“When I was 17, I knew. I knew before that even, that I was gay,” Boren said. “But when I came out to my family… they didn’t accept it. It wasn’t until later that I was really out.”
The year was 1989, and his parents wouldn’t have any of it.
Now in his 40s, with 3 kids, Boren looks back on his life from the couch of his partner, Paul, and the memories in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a tear comes to his eye that he quickly wipes away.
Paul affectionately squeezes his hand.
“There was a lot of pain,” Boren said. “But it helped me grow. I’m a better person for it.”
Boren smiles when he brings up his kids in conversation.
“I’ve always been incredibly honest with them. They’re my world.”
When Boren came out for the second time as an adult, he moved up to Salt Lake City. After some time there, he decided to move back to Utah County, where he’s originally from. Fears of “I’ll never date,” and “I’ll never go out” had nearly paralyzed him from exploring the community on his own.
“When I moved back to Utah Valley… I was nervous. I didn’t think I would ever do anything again,” he said
Enter James Bunker, the current president of Provo Pride. Bunker, a coworker of Boren’s at the time, suggested that he come out to one of the Pride events. Provo Pride hadn’t had its first festival yet, and was a loosely put-together operation.
Boren was apprehensive at first, but after hearing more about it, he dove right in.
“A gay night in Utah County? I gotta go see it.”
The group puts on weekly events, as well as biweekly drag shows at City Limits, a bar on Center Street in Provo. At first, Provo Pride had their weekly get-togethers at The Madison, another bar on the street, but the Monday nights weren’t turning out the crowds that the group wanted.
“City Limits has been absolutely great to us,” said Tosh Metzger, a former president and co-founder of Provo Pride. “The staff and owners of the bar have been so nice to us and welcoming.”
The word “welcoming” is a recurring theme with Provo Pride, it’s one of the staples of their mission. With Provo’s family-friendly culture, Pride was born with a sense of openness, inclusion and equality.
What City Limits has become to the Pride family is more than just a place to gather; it’s a safe place of acceptance, love and equality, whether someone is gay, straight, bisexual or transgender. A place where drag queens can showcase their skills, and for those who are shy about their sexuality to come to a haven where they won’t be judged simply for being who they are.
“When I think of Provo Pride, I think ‘family’,” said Paul Pratt, a member of the board of directors for Provo Pride and the man in charge of the entertainment at the Provo Pride festivals. “It’s really a coming together of people from all walks of life, different ideas and different perspectives.”
Pratt, who has family from here but has lived in Seattle for some years, felt the culture shock that many transplants to Provo feel.
“Coming from Seattle, a very liberal place, I definitely felt that initial shock,” Pratt said. “After finding the Pride family, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Pratt says he “has a lot of similarities” with Boren’s story, being that he also has family that is in the church.
“It’s definitely a unique obstacle, being here and being gay,” Pratt said. “But I think that for people on the outside, they see it differently… It’s not as bad as it seems.”
Pratt met his partner, Boren, at one of these events. They’ve been dating ever since.
“I met Paul at a Provo Pride event,” said Boren. “We saw each other every once in a while at these things… The rest is kinda history.”
One of the big obstacles that Provo Pride faces is meeting the demand for more volunteers as the group’s following and popularity grows. With last year’s Pride Festival having over 10,000 people in attendance, the operation becomes bigger and harder to coordinate.
“We definitely need more volunteers, as Pride gets bigger and we try to do new things,” Pratt said. “Whether it’s new permits or bigger acts for the main stage (of the festival), we’re always growing.
With dozens of events each year, including the Pride Festival, Provo Pride’s work will only continue to grow, with the demand for more hands on the various projects becoming a priority.
Boren’s dream is simple: acceptance from his family.
“It’s always been my dream, since I came out, to have my mom and my dad walk Salt Lake City Pride with me. It’s something I think about all the time.”
After a pause and some contemplation, Boren sits back on the couch, Paul still sitting next to him.
“Every single year I used to sit and watch Salt Lake Pride go by me as I stood on the side.” Boren said. “I wonder what would have happened if I had stayed this closeted little Mormon boy.”