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Festival Feature Spotlight: The Neurodivergent Space

Picture this. You’re two hours into the festival, leaving the booth of a community group where you’ve just enjoyed a fantastic conversation. You’re feeling pretty good about your new connections (and life in general) when a youngster living their best life rushes past and bumps into you. Your drink tumbles out of your hand, hits the ground and splashes onto the hem of a drag queen’s dress as she passes by. She’s cool about it, but you’re completely mortified. While you apologize, your head starts playing all of its nasty tricks on you, lying and telling you this is a sign from the universe that you don’t belong at this festival. 


All of a sudden, everything feels like way too much, and the need for escape rockets to the top of your priority list. Your mental bandwidth narrows until it’s just wide enough to work out the next step to get yourself home. Yes, you’ll miss Doom Cupcake (the very performer you were dying to see), and you won’t get to support your friend who is on a panel about proper care of sex toys, but none of that matters at the moment. You went from euphoric to distressed in a matter of seconds, and as a result, you don’t have the ability to enjoy the things you planned to enjoy. You are disappointed, your friend is disappointed, but you’ll deal with the regret later. Priorities are priorities, and you need to get yourself to a mentally safe space ASAP.


In most scenarios, you might be looking up a trax schedule or heading over to the bike valet to get your electric scooter, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could walk across the festival to a place where the need for a mental break is appreciated and understood? Welcome to the Neurodivergent Space at the SLC Pride festival.


The brainchild of Kate Rusk, Creative Director of SLC Pride, the Neurodivergent Space was born from a deep understanding of the need for decompression during the beautiful chaos of a festival. Using a variety of tools to accommodate different types of respite, you will find an area where everyone is welcome (though they will be asked to use their inside voices). Here you can grab a pair of noise-canceling headphones, a chew toy, a rug and a space that’s all your own for as long as you need it. If you process sensory overload the way I do, you might need to turn your back to the world, curl up in a ball and squeeze out a few tears. Or maybe you come back to yourself most easily using deep pressure therapy, in which case you might want to snag time in one of our hammocks. Maybe you chew ice or meditate. Whatever helps you cope, Kate hopes you will find the tools in the Neuro Space to make your time at the festival everything you want it to be.


“With lots of noise and visual stimuli, a festival can be overwhelming. What feels like a grand party to some can be inaccessible to others,” Kate said, and she would know. Neurodivergent herself, Kate also mothers an amazing queer child who navigates the world through the lens of autism. It’s not unusual for Chase to hole up in a bathroom stall for 20 minutes while he reorients his brain, but this becomes less realistic when the bathrooms are porta potties. Plus, trying to recover in a public bathroom where there may be no relief from the noise becomes a crap shoot (no pun intended). So what then? Kate knows the world was not designed for people like her and Chase, and she aims to change that at SLC Pride.


To keep costs down, the steering committee will borrow from other community organizations to build out this space. Spencer Wright has volunteered to build separators, and our phenomenal community partner Fit To Recover will be lending rugs and couches, but not everything can be sourced in such a way. Some items must be purchased, so Kate has created a wish list of items on Amazon. If you are in a position to buy something off the list, please throw a few of those items into your cart and help us realize Kate’s vision. 


We want everyone to feel welcome and supported at the festival, and that includes you. So join us on the last weekend in June for an experience unlike any you’ve had before. We might try to “blow your minds” with our amazing performers, vendors and panels, but we’ll do our best to ease your minds, too. After all, this is what true accessibility looks like. By providing the necessary resources for everyone to feel safe, we hope you’ll stay and bathe yourself in the love of our community.


Chase and Kate Rusk

Spencer Wright and Chase Rusk putting up flags for Project Rainbow.

Left to right, Bonnie O'Brien (festival director and Kate's wife), Kate Rusk, Roberto Lopez and Chase Rusk.

 

Tami Mandarino (she/her) - Pansexual, drug felon with a 5+ year incarceration history. Lifelong struggle with ADHD and major depressive disorder. Survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault. Badass witch. As I like to say about myself, I’ve seen some things, and those things make me strong, powerful and beautiful. Now that I live in the ‘burbs and could be mistaken for a soccer mom, I speak publicly about my past so we can break the stigmas that hurt our communities. When I’m not writing software at my day job or volunQueering for SLC Pride at night, I write contemporary YA novels under the pen name Tami Morning about issues facing youth today like poverty, climate anxiety and the necessity of choosing your family. If you catch a mistake in any of my articles or know a better/more sensitive way to say something, please shoot me an email at tymandarino@gmail.com, and thank you for helping me grow.

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