Utah Pride Week co-director retiring after more than decade of planning Pride

Jun 1, 2022, 8:24 PM | Updated: Jun 7, 2022, 4:30 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – As tens of thousands of people get ready to enjoy Utah Pride Week festivities, one of the main people behind making the annual event happen for the community for years is saying goodbye.

Perhaps no one knows more than John Johnson how much work goes into planning Pride Week and setting up for the Utah Pride Festival.

Wednesday morning, he was hard to miss running around in his referee shirt. All at once, it seemed that all the equipment and supplies arrived and were ready to be set up.

Johnson directed a recycling dumpster to a spot he mapped out, making sure it was dropped in the right location down to the inch.

Trucks came and went, and Johnson told each person where to park. He pointed crews to various parts of Washington Square where they could get to work.

Volunteers came up to ask where to place bins filled with fence covers.

“I don’t know how he keeps it all in his head sometimes,” Megan Risbon said, with a chuckle. As the sustainability manager and logistics assistant, she helped coordinate all the waste and recycling for the Utah Pride Festival.

Risbon has known Johnson for 15 years and has watched him develop his organized system for running the festival.

But still, it’s a lot to coordinate.

At one point, a volunteer asked Johnson if he needed water. He realized Johnson probably needed water and food, so he didn’t get too exhausted.

“Pressure’s on to just make it perfect,” he said.

Especially because this is Johnson’s last Pride Week as co-director. After the festival is over, he will retire.

“I just want to finish on a good note,” Johnson said.

He indicated that this is his 14th Pride celebration working behind the scenes to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.

But Johnson’s been involved with the Utah Pride Center for 25 years, he said, whether as a board member, volunteer, employee, or in roles like co-director of Utah Pride Week.

“I am trying to wrap this one up and go out on a high, and hopefully, this is our biggest best, and I’m really quite proud of it,” he expressed. “We’ve made some changes, and I think we’re ready for a big crowd. We will be ready.”

John Johnson, Utah Pride Week co-director

When Johnson first became involved in the Utah Pride Festival, he said it was “quite small,” taking up about half of Washington Square.

Today, the festival is just one of 14 events Johnson helps coordinate for Pride Week. The festival now takes up an entire city block, all of 200 East between 400 and 500 South, and part of Library Square.

He explained that the festival was costing the Utah Pride Center tens of thousands of dollars. Now, the festival and parade pull in hundreds of thousands in funding for the center.

Johnson said he wanted to show that it was a “party with a purpose.”

“We can give back, and know that what we do this one weekend a year, can actually support programs and services that last all year long,” he said.

Risbon described how she’s seen Johnson transform the event. She said more and more people have attended every year since Johnson began organizing it, and sponsorship increased along with community engagement.

“He’s done such a great job in making sure that it’s financially successful, and that it operationally and logistically is successful as well,” she said.

Risbon knows Johnson leaves behind a legacy and expressed she’s grateful she got to learn from him.

“Thank you, John, for everything. You have taught me a lot, and I really wouldn’t be where I am in my life without him,” she said, getting teary-eyed as she spoke. “And I appreciate that so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure and joy to be your friend, learn from you, and work together with you this year. And I wish you all the best.

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Utah Pride Week co-director retiring after more than decade of planning Pride