Warning this might be a diatribe post but I want to say it.
This weekend I judged the Battle of the Bands at Provo's most renowned music venue Velour. In between sets a man came up to me and told me this story:
"Eight years ago I left Provo angry and insulted. I felt like I didn't fit in and I would never fit in. After a few years in California, I started to notice things changing in Provo. I decided I'd come back and visit and I went to my first Rooftop Concert Series and saw Joshua James. Joshua James wasn't what I expected at all from a concert in Provo. I was amazed that someone like him--a seemingly "outsider" in Provo's culture would be given space on stage. If anyone had done that when I lived in Provo they wouldn't have lasted very long in the concert business. This opened my eyes and I realized that maybe Provo was finally a safe place for someone like me to move back."
This was an important moment for me. Our goal with the concert series was to bring people to downtown Provo to experience art and culture. Our intention has always been to first and foremost put on a great show, regardless of the performer. I mean, we never discuss the performers belief structure or sexuality before we let them on our stage. We do spend a lot of time contemplating concert dynamics and line ups. But it has been a pretty amazing thing to see that something we never intended to happen is happening: Provo is becoming safer for everyone.
A few weeks ago I was speaking to a group in Highland with the spiritual spitfire Fiona Givens about faith when someone asked brought up the high teenage suicide rate in North Utah County. I asked the people in the room--mostly all white, Mormon, conservative parents--what they were doing to show range in their community. In our massive monoculture in Utah County we unintentionally make people feel there is only one way to live a life. We don't cater to those outside the cultural confines of what we deem acceptable and in doing so we suffocate any little diversity we have. I think our teenagers feel like their lives will be useless if there are hints of fringe inside their souls.
I felt that way growing up here. I know what it's like to be an angry teenager in Utah County.
I've been a church youth leader many times. I've gone to Young Women's camps and youth conferences and hundreds of youth activities. I've spent hours listening to young women talk about their lives and their complications. But I feel like I am doing more for the youth of my community when I get up on that Rooftop stage and introduce people and music to them that conveys that everyone is ok in Utah County. The gay pop star, the atheist rapper, the mom indie folk chanteuse, the bishop drummer, the non-binary bass player, the returned missionary at the keyboards, the former Mormon songwriter, the gospel singer who questions her faith, they all fit on our stage and they should all fit in our community as well.
(And every single time I get up to host these concerts I have to call my friend/therapist Janna and have her remind me that's it's also ok for these youth to see a woman (me) who doesn't fit into accepted body standards get up on stage and be confident. And she always reminds me that we need to stand up and let the youth see women of all sizes on our stage. Thankfully the more I see women in my life confident with their bodies the easier it is for me to host this concert series.)
So this weekend when we were celebrating the Supreme Court decision with rainbows and tears I was also keenly aware that while we have A LOT of work to do to help everyone--from sexuality to race--feel accepted in our community, culture, county and country (alliteration not intended) things are getting better and it was nice to celebrate the progress.
Last night before I went to bed I saw a Facebook update of a friend who grew up understanding the complications of not being mainstream. She posted a picture of her two kids who will inevitably feel the same way. But her words were hopeful: I'm grateful that these two are growing up in a world that is getting more accepting of differences.
Amen and amen.