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SANDY — When you turn into one Sandy neighborhood, you see the colors immediately. Strangers have spotted a flash of rainbow and flipped their cars around to take a closer look.
Sixty 3-by-5-foot rainbow flags line the lengthy street, waving in front of every brilliant green lawn. There are even a few scattered around the surrounding streets.
The rainbow colors represent a community coming together in an effort to offer hope and respite to their LGBTQ neighbors after too many young deaths.
When the Donahoo family moved to this neighborhood, they wanted to be active citizens. But they found that while the community often discussed acceptance, the true litmus test of society was how the people outside the status quo actually felt. And the evidence wasn’t good.
Research also shows that youth in the LGBTQ community report higher levels of suicidal ideation and attempts than their peers.
“We’ve got life or death here,” Willy Donahoo said. “Utah is better than this.”
As parents and members of the community, they decided they had to act and find a way to show their support for those around them.
Now Kristy and Willy are part of the advisory board for Encircle, an LGBTQ family and youth resource center. They spend most Friday nights with their Encircle family as allies, discussing stories, action plans and support with concerned parents — most of them with LGBTQ children.
“Those are some of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in Utah,” Kristy Donahoo said.
The idea for the flags came from Project Rainbow, a nonprofit service run by the Utah Pride Center. Those who wanted to put out a rainbow flag on their property during Pride Week could pay for one, and the money would go to a local LGBTQ organization in the area of each project.
Kristy Donahoo, a financial advisor and mother, thought about the people in her neighborhood and wondered how many of them would be willing to put up flags. She was a little nervous to reach out, but posted on social media anyway. A couple neighbors responded, and a couple more agreed after one-on-one conversations.
“Even if there’s one kid that’s struggling that this helps, it’s worth it,” Kristy Donahoo said.
Her husband, a local attorney and former tech executive, had an idea. They could send explanatory letters to everyone in the neighborhood and see if anyone wanted to join. Their goal was to place 50 flags.
But when they went to buy the flags, they found them sold out. They decided to call the Pride Center, and asked for everything the organization could give them, which amounted to 60 flags for $600.
On April 15, the Donahoos sent out 70 letters in what they call a “neighbor-to-neighbor” effort. The letter explained their purpose: “to send a message loud and clear to our LGBTQ+ family members, neighbors and friends that this neighborhood is safe … and that each person is accepted unconditionally.”
The response was overwhelmingly positive. A few chose to donate instead of putting up flags, some declined, and some just didn’t respond. But most did, and it started conversations.
Raquel Call, a neighbor they didn’t know, reached out in a text message.
“We have a gay son and this means a lot to us to see this kind of support and love,” she wrote.
On June 25, the Calls, the Donahoos and a few other families came together to distribute the flags, and the reception was so warm that some families who had not responded saw the flags and agreed to put one up as well.
David Brown, a retired businessman and longtime member of the community, said that he was surprised and pleased by the number of flags that went up.
“I hope it will help people to recognize with all of the diversity within our community, that there is still reason to focus on supporting one another,” Brown said.
After the flags went up, Call was out working in her garden when a woman pulled up in her car, got out and asked about the flags. When Call explained, the woman began to cry and asked if she could give her a hug. She explained that her daughter was lesbian and she and her partner were in the car.
“It touched my heart,” Call said. “She didn’t live in our neighborhood, but she wanted to be a part of it.”
I hope it will help people to recognize with all of the diversity within our community, that there is still reason to focus on supporting one another.
Though the Donahoos and their community are happy with the progress Utah has made, they aren’t stopping any time soon. They hope that in the future, acceptance will be a given in every neighborhood.
“I hope someday we don’t need the flags out there to show our support,” Kristy said. “But until then, we will keep putting up flags.”
Jenny Rollins is a freelance journalist with a degree in English from Brigham Young University and a master's in journalism from Boston University. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.