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Heber LGBTQ+ youth ask for Pride flags on Main Street; council chooses kindness flags

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Ben Lasseter
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KPCW
Janessa Judd addresses the Heber City Council at City Hall Tuesday.

Heber City youth representing the LGBTQ+ community gave emotional accounts at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting of ongoing harassment,  and asked to hang pride flags on Main Street again. The council offered a compromise.

Nine speakers as young as 11 years old spoke to the Heber City Council Tuesday. They identified themselves as a coalition of LGBTQ+ youth in the Heber Valley and were accompanied by a group of about 20 others.

They asked the council to declare a “No Sides, Only Love Day” on July 9. They described it as a day of service that would specifically celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. They also asked to hang pride flags in Heber for a month.

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Ben Lasseter
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KPCW
Members of the Heber Valley LGBTQ+ youth coalition and supporters sit in the audience at City Hall Tuesday.

Janessa Judd said after instances of bullying including violence and being told she’d be “better off dead,” seeing pride flags fly in downtown Heber in 2019 and 2020 made a powerful impression.

“As everyone in my friend group, myself included, struggle with self harm, severe depression and suicidal thoughts,” she said. “I remember so vividly in the midst of my sorrow, seeing the pride flags hung on Main Street for the first time. I sent a photo of the banners to my friends and said, maybe they don't hate us. It was a beacon of hope in our lives.”

Others said they often feel unwelcome and scared in the Heber community, including among their parents, teachers, church figures and peers.

Several said the flags would save lives because they make people feel accepted. They cited high rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts among Utah LGBTQ+ youth as reason to make their request a priority.

The council, weighing concerns about an ordinance the city passed in 2020 after pride flags sparked public outcry, voted 3 to 1 to approve an initiative similar to the coalition’s proposal. In doing so, it pledged to sponsor an annual Heber City week of inclusion and kindness, focused on the LGBTQ, but not necessarily limited to it. Councilmember Rachel Kahler voted no, and Councilmember Ryan Stack was absent.

Councilmembers Scott Phillips and Yvonne Barney said they empathized with the painful experiences the students described through their own family members.

Phillips, however, said he believed flying the flags for a month would violate the city’s rules. The 2020 ordinance restricted Main Street banners to the promotion of federal and state holidays, as well as events and messages sponsored by local government or the chamber of commerce, and they must be deemed not for profit and non-political.

Barney, after an emotional pause, said she’d like the city to sponsor a day of inclusion “not just for the LGBTQ, but it embraces the community as a whole.”

“People don't care about something until they know about it,” Councilmember Mike Johnston said. “Once we know about something, then we start to see more. And once we see things, then we start to care. I really appreciate hearing your stories. I care, and I want to do something about it. So, I hope that this council can understand how we could lead forward with supporting this event, coming up with an event working together with this coalition and come up with something that would be good and uplifting for all in this community.”

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Ben Lasseter
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KPCW
Luke Belnap reads a prepared statement to the city council while a documentary cameraman films.

Luke Belnap spoke first and last on behalf of the coalition. After the vote, he told KPCW he was happy with the decision.

“I’m just really happy it passed,” Belnap said. “I would be more happy, definitely, if they keep it LGBTQ and not try to divert away from that. I didn’t expect it to pass, so I think it went really well.”

The council said the city and group could work together to plan the week of kindness and service, and that it would aim to hold it in June. June is recognized worldwide for celebrating LGBTQ+ pride.

For a link to video footage of the meeting, visit this link.

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