Woods Cross, Utah (ABC4) – For many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Utah can often feel like a lonely place. However, June is Pride Month which celebrates that community.
During Pride Month, many Utahns are working to make the Beehive State more inclusive for all. From 5,600 flags staked at households across northern Utah to a lifetime Utah resident sharing her transition story, there are many ways to celebrate and increase visibility during June.
“My life would completely collapse,” Bree Borrowman told ABC4 during an interview. She has lived her entire life in Utah. Borrowman was raised in Bountiful and now lives in Woods Cross. She told ABC4 that for most of her life, the guilt and shame she felt about her true identity made her believe that if she shared it, she’d lose all those she loved.
“I just felt off,” she stated. “When I looked in the mirror, I could see the face in the mirror and it wasn’t repulsive, it wasn’t disgusting, I didn’t think it was bad, I just didn’t know who it was.”
Borrowman said she remembers feeling different at the age of six. By the time she was a teenager, she knew what was different.
About two years ago, at the onset of the pandemic, Borrowman began her transition after spending six decades as a male.
“Luckily, my spouse is my biggest ally,” she said. Borrowman paused as she swelled with emotion. She continued, “And when I knew my spouse loved me unconditionally, I knew that I could be my whole self.”
Borrowman soon learned that others supported her as well. She teaches science at a school in Syracuse. She told ABC4 she worried she would lose her job. However, she said staff and students have been open and caring throughout her transition.
Sadly, having an ally isn’t a reality for all. “I think for queer people, especially growing up in suburban Utah, the default is to think you don’t have support around you,” Lucas Horns stated. Horns is the director of Project Rainbow.
Project Rainbow was founded in 2018. Every year during Pride Week, households across Utah can request a pride flag for a fee. Volunteers with the program then stake the flag outside the home. Horns said they do this to “show that queer people and allies to queer people really do exist in every corner of the state, you know, it is life-changing for a lot of these youth and people who live in these communities.”
The money collected through the flag program is then used to help other LGBTQIA+ organizations, community members, and programs in the form of grants.
Horns said in 2018, the program placed 500 flags. This past weekend, 200 volunteers staked 5,600 flags across northern Utah. Horns explained that every year, participating households find notes left on their doorsteps from anonymous neighbors who are glad to know they have a safe space nearby.
As the program grows, so does the adverse reaction to it. Horns told ABC4 that Project Rainbow loses about 10 percent of its flags every year to theft and vandalism. While this may not seem sinister, it symbolizes a greater problem in Utah.
According to data from the Utah Department of Public Safety, more than 35 percent of all reported hate crimes in Utah this year have targeted the LGBTQIA+ community.
Although those crimes occur more frequently than many people would like, members of the community are seeing a change in Utah’s culture.
“If I go back five years, but especially 10 years, I could not have done this,” Borrowman said. She told ABC4 that she can only recount a handful of personal experiences that have been negative since she started her transition. The worst may be the closest to home. While Borrowman’s spouse has remained by her side, she said her children have remained aloof the last two years. However, she said she’s hopeful that the distance won’t last forever.
When a guest walks into the Borrowman home, they will quickly find their gaze skimming across many different pieces of art. Whether it be paintings, prints, or sculptures, many of the pieces in the house have religious significance. That’s because Borrowman is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Borrowman told ABC4 that her faith often made her feel guilt, shame, and even sinful for just being. However, she said she eventually came to the realization that nothing is wrong with being transgender.
She remains active in the church even today. She said she’s ready to begin sharing her story for many reasons. One reason is that she wants to increase visibility for others like her. “All they’re trying to do is be themselves, and be whole, and find a safe space,” she added.
Another reason to share her story is to change the culture in her community, including the church.
Borrowman highlighted that she doesn’t want doctrine to change. She just hopes that the church can become a safe space for those who may feel as though they are different. “We really should be accepting and caring, and loving, and kind, compassionate, especially if it’s from a religious standpoint.”