LGBTQ business owner reacts to temporary closure of Utah Pride Center
Aug 24, 2023, 6:46 PM
SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Pride Center announced in an email it will temporarily close in September.
All programs will be suspended for the month while the nonprofit works on “restructuring and reimagining the future of this organization.”
An LGBTQ business owner said that one month without access to a safe space and resources could be devastating to many members of the community.
“The pride center is supposed to be this place of protection,” said Michael Repp, owner of Club Verse, a queer bar in Salt Lake City.
Repp said every day, people rely on the center for help meeting basic needs.
“They can get food, clothing, therapy, medications,” he said. “There are things that the pride center offered that no other place in town offered based on sexual orientation or transitioning individuals.”
That all will be put on hold for at least four weeks. An email from the Utah Pride Center’s recently reduced staff said money problems and its negative reputation forced them to close the doors.
The statement said:
“Our community has witnessed several crises in staffing, financial instability, and precarious leadership at the Center throughout the years. Our remaining leadership team are hopeful and trust that their hard work to get the Center back into shape will be effective and will generate great future services for Utah’s LGBTQ+ community. However, the task at hand is monumental given the state of the Center’s finances and the earned negative reputation of the organization, so we don’t know what is going to happen, the Center might close, revive, or reset.”
How Club Verse plans to help
While the center is closed, Repp is turning his bar into a safe space for those who need it.
“We’re also a bar so we can only offer a limited amount of support, but we do have connections throughout the city to get all of the groups a meeting space, both underage and over 21 for environments that are conducive to those groups,” Repp said.
He said he’s hoping he can open up the space to anyone, regardless of age.
“Can we open up our coffee shop in the morning to the individuals under 21 up until an hour before our bar operational time? We’re working with the DABS on that now,” he said.
With the center suspending its programs, he’s particularly concerned about young people.
“We’re literally at risk of losing children, youth, young adults who are maybe between 18-21, who have no safe space now, who have no outreach programs, who have no funding, who have no food,” he said.
He wants to give them an outlet outside of school.
“Trans youth and gay youth are still harassed and bullied on a very large scale in Utah,” Repp said.
He said this closure could be the difference between life and death for some members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“The very people we’re trailblazing for and fighting for, we’re now putting at risk,” he said. “How do we protect them?”
Safety measures at Club Verse
Protection is something he takes seriously. Club Verse has several safety measures in place, including trained security guards, metal detectors at entrances, safe rooms for emergencies, and garage doors that are liftable so the business can quickly evacuate the building when necessary.
Repp said he’s serious about letting others use his more than 5,000 square feet for meetings.
“If these groups need private time, I will restrict our hours and we will literally give them our space to do this because it is that important to my husband and I that this community have those spaces available,” Repp said.
He’s rooting for the center to make a comeback.
“They have a lot of dirt to shovel, they have a lot to clean up, and I’m hopeful that they will, I’m also fearful that they will not,” he said.
Repp said he’d like to hear more from leadership.
“Be transparent, even if you’re only making a statement, do something so the community knows that you’re hearing,” he said.
Multiple calls and emails to the Utah Pride Center went unanswered.
The center’s remaining staff said in the announcement they hope to have a plan by Oct. 1.