Utah Pride Center relaunches under new leadership after layoffs, temporary closure

Nov 15, 2023, 6:52 PM | Updated: 7:37 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Pride Center has a new executive director and board after a turbulent summer of staff layoffs and money troubles.

Executive Director Ryan Newcomb, who took over at the end of September, promised to restore trust and transparency to the organization in a press conference Wednesday.

“I think that a year, two years, three years of reestablishing ourselves will start to regain and rebuild trust,” Newcomb said.

The social justice advocate and veteran nonprofit leader said he’s particularly focused on sorting out what happened during the 2023 Pride Festival, which left the center in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. He said an internal review of finances is underway.

“We have still been getting contracts and bills that had not been revealed to previous leadership at the end of September,” he said. “As soon as we know that, we will give a number to it.”

Newcomb anticipated the review would be complete in 60-90 days. In the meantime, he said they’re focused on raising funds.

“We’ve already started raising money and we have multiple options to fully rectify the debt, at least half a dozen options that we’re looking at, including a conventional loan as we have bettered our cash flow situation,” he said.

He said he wanted to use his experience to reset how the center runs Pride.

“When I first heard about what was going on was around the rates being charged to nonprofits and QTBIPOC businesses to be vendors at Pride this year or be in the parade, and they were being charged at the same level as Delta and other corporate entities,” he said. “As someone from the outside, I was like, this is so egregious.”

Newcomb said they’re looking forward to the 2024 Pride Festival, and that he’s not aware of any major donors or sponsors withdrawing their support from the center.

Despite the center’s struggles, he said he’s motivated to turn things around.

“I read about what was going on in the media and I was tremendously frustrated,” Newcomb said. “‘What’s going on with some of our queer nonprofits in Utah?’ And I just decided that I wanted to try and after meeting in a series of meetings with the new board, I was shocked by how much they were super clear about what had to happen.”

In August and September, the center released statements saying staff members would be let go due to financial turmoil. Those in leadership positions at the time apologized for not adequately serving the community. Several of those leaders are no longer working at the center.

“I think that the board leadership would be able to provide more context and specific details about the timeline and exact nature of how that occurred,” Newcomb said.

No members of the board were present at the press conference.

Newcomb said the organization will be leaner. They have a small staff and will now focus on youth and trans programming. He said programs for seniors and mental health services will be cut for the next 9 to 12 months. Newcomb said one of the center’s goals is to collaborate more with other queer nonprofits, and not duplicate their programming.

“We don’t want to compete, we want to pick our own lane and stay in it and be known for doing what we choose to do in that path forward well,” he said.

Newcomb said he realizes the center has lost much of the community’s trust, and is hopeful they can rebuild.

“We have to have tenacity and be able to keep our head down and our eyes focused on what we are trying to achieve for the community, while moving ahead and showing the action that is required in order to build trust,” he said.

During the weekend before the press conference, Newcomb said vandals had tagged the center’s sign and wrote a gay slur on it. He said it’s example of what the community faces and what they’re up against.

“We have to be more unified as a movement and across organizations and entities so we can counter this. So we can stand up for, not only the civil rights of people, but the validation of their lives to exist and the affirmation of their humanity,” Newcomb said.

The center is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4-8 p.m.

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Utah Pride Center relaunches under new leadership after layoffs, temporary closure