SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – This year, the Utah Pride Center is saying the Pride Festival had the biggest turn out they’ve ever seen.

“Just seeing people, like who they really are, just having the experience again after COVID and everything. I think we were missing this,” said Carlos Antonio.

After three years, the festival was back and bigger than ever.

“It’s been our biggest turnout,” said Jessica Dummar, Co-CEO of the Utah Pride Center. “People are just having a great time being out with each other, celebrating themselves, celebrating love and it’s amazing.”

Not holding the festival for the past several years has been a challenge for the Utah Pride Center.

“We’re a non-profit that runs most our programs and services on this festival and making the decision to not do the festival for a couple of years was a big deal and it made it so we were in a place that was a bit difficult,” said Dummar.

But this year, the festivities were back, with thousands of people wearing rainbow and celebrating while enjoying an extended parade. Dummar says there were some challenges returning after the pandemic, such as having to plan for inflation. Due to the recent mass shootings in other states, organizers made the decision to increase safety measures as well.

“We just really wanted to make sure people felt safe coming out and doing the best we can to keep them safe, so investing in private security to take better care of our grounds,” said Dummar. “We worked with the city of Salt Lake to close festival grounds earlier so no attacks could occur beforehand. We did a lot to just try and make sure everyone was safe.”

Officials also made the decision to have police lead the parade for safety, which was met with mixed reactions from the community

“I had thoughts about ‘What if there is violence and hate crimes?’ and stuff like that, so it’s nice to have them here and have that extra security,” said Caroline Jennings.

Others believe the officers’ presence went against the idea of Pride.

“To allow for them to be a part of the celebration, be a part of the protest, is incredibly disheartening to see,” said Ermiya Fanaeian.

“We work with the city to shut down roads,” said Dummar. “We work with the city to use the city and county square, so it’s really necessary we work with the city.”

Overall, many festival goers say they are just glad to see such an enthusiastic turnout, saying it’s a good sign for the future.

“Just coming to a place where you can be who you really are, and not be judged, I think we are doing great with that and I just feel a lot of hope that new generations are not going to suffer what older generations had to go through,” said Antonio.

Dummar says event organizers are already thinking of ways to make next year’s Pride Festival even better.