Their shirts said “I’ll walk with you.” And walk they did.

Encircle: LGBTQ+ Family and Youth Resource Center marched down University Avenue on Wednesday morning in the Freedom Festival Grand Parade pre-parade, one year after the group was not allowed to participate in the event.

The group passed by a cheering crowd spotted with small rainbow flags and umbrellas as they carried a large banner with the group’s name and carried red, white and blue balloons as “This is Me” from “The Greatest Showman” played.

“We teared up a little,” said Natalie Landrey, who lives in Provo and came to the parade Wednesday to support the LGBTQ community.

She had brought 2,000 rainbow flags to hand out the day before and of the parade. She said of the 1,000 people she interacted with, only five were rude.

In June, parade organizers initially denied parade applications submitted by five LGBTQ organizations, including Encircle. The groups were then told they could resubmit their entries, which four of the five did. Four groups marched in the parade Wednesday.

Jerilyn Hassell Pool, the founder of QueerMeals, was camped out in an area in front of a home in the 300 North block of University Avenue on Wednesday. The area was donated to QueerMeals by the homeowner and was decorated in rainbow flags. Volunteers handed out free rainbow stickers and flags to passersby and the group hosted a barbecue.

QueerMeals was initially denied from the parade and Hassell Pool decided not to reapply.

“I decided it was a better idea to create a safe space for people to wear what they want,” Hassell Pool said.

She said LGBTQ people have always marched in the parade, they just haven’t been out.

Except for a few “hiccups” with members of the crowd, things went smoothly.

“We know Provo is ready for greater visibility,” Hassell Pool said.

A handful of LGBTQ groups lined the parade route to show support for the LGBTQ groups participating in the prade. The Bell Room hosted a viewing party for Provo Pride and PFLAG Provo/Utah County members viewed the parade from in front of an antiques store. Both spaces were donated.

“I feel a lot of support from the community,” said Randy Glasscock, the president of PFLAG Provo/Utah County.

Glasscock watched the parade from the sidelines Wednesday morning. He hopes the parade provided more exposure for the LGBTQ community and will make the area safe for LGBTQ children.

Luann Hawker decided to watch from the sidelines instead of marching with PFLAG in the parade because she felt LGBTQ people needed to be the ones participating in the parade. She said her son, who is a member of the LGBTQ community, could have used seeing LGBTQ groups in the parade while he was still closeted.

“LGBTQ families are part of the community,” Hawker said. “Rainbow flags aren’t ‘other,’ they are just another part.”

Encircle participated in the pre-parade, where groups are allowed to have more participants and interact with the crowd, while Mormons Building Bridges, PFLAG and Provo Pride participated in the grand parade.

The pre-parade started at 8 a.m. Wednesday and was followed by the Grand Parade at 9 a.m. Thousands of people lined the parade route to watch dozens of entries, including marching bands, military vehicles, elected leaders and large character balloons walk down University Avenue in Provo before turning onto 200 South and then 200 East.

Josh Jacobs, who is on the board of Provo Pride and Spectrum, Utah Valley University’s LGBTQ organization, is confident the groups will be allowed in the parade next year.

He chose to watch the parade instead of marching in it.

“Here on the sidelines, we can do whatever we want, to have our voice to say whatever we want,” Jacobs said.

Camping overnight to save a spot the day of the parade has become a tradition for Chance Clift, who now brings his daughter to the parade. He’s been camping out the night before for the past 15 years.

He had his space decorated with rainbow flags Wednesday morning to show his support.

Encircle was originally told their entry was denied because it wasn’t patriotic enough. After Encircle’s entry passed, he said he thought it showed American pride well.

“It was as patriotic as any other float in the parade,” he said.

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