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Utah Pride Center announces new leadership, new path forward

Utah Pride Center leaders announced a new executive director, a new board, and a new path forward at a press conference November 15. They also announced the continuation of the Utah Pride Festival and Parade.

The Utah Pride Center announced in August that it laid off seven of its 19 staff members, and later furloughed the rest of the staff, citing the “instability of our organization.” Leaders temporarily closed the doors of the Center, partially reopening them in October.

New Board

Eight people now make up the board of directors for the organization — all of whom joined in 2023.

Family law attorney and Just Law LLC cofounder Jessica Couser took over as board chair earlier this year. Event producer Erica Gabriel is now vice chair. HR professional Dylan Walker is the board secretary, and CPA Kirk Bragdon is the board treasurer.

Commercial banker Nathan Cryer remains on the board. Justin Anfinsen, a director at Valley Behavioral Health, and social workers Stacey Francone and Kenny Levine are new to the board.

Three out of the eight board members are women and there is lesbian, bi, gay, and transgender representation on the board.

New Executive Director

Ryan M. Newcomb, who has a 16-year resume as a nonprofit executive and fundraising professional, will take the helm as executive director of the troubled Center. Newcomb told QSaltLake in an interview that his past experience of working in nonprofit development and change management, raising over $29 million in those years, are a perfect fit for the Center’s current needs.

“People have asked me why I would take this on,” Newcomb said. “I felt like someone who knew what they were doing — someone who had the experience from a nonprofit management point — needed to correct things. Someone to build the right systems, to listen and collaborate and work with anyone and everyone who was calling for change, and to get the organization back on track.”

Newcomb spoke in June at the Utah chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals biennial conference about important elements of nonprofit leadership.

“I made a presentation about pivot-point leadership and taking organizations to the next level. It was not only about fundraising but about board leadership, branding, and organizational narrative with the public and the media,” he said. “I enjoy that. I enjoy the challenges of that. That’s why I decided to do this.”

In a press conference Wednesday, Newcomb said his top priority in this role is “to be transparent, restore trust, and build an inclusive center that our queer community deserves.”

“The new board leadership and I join public calls for full accountability and take full responsibility for correcting the mistakes of the past. We are charting a new, clearer path with a relaunched organization that will ensure this never happens again,” said Newcomb. “We are pursuing and putting into action aggressive plans that are both timely, quick and fully rectify these debts over the coming months.”

Newcomb was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas

“Before I came out, I got my start on the ‘wrong side of politics,'” he said. “I was a product of where I grew up, and I was closeted. I was projecting the wrong things and trying to conform to the ‘toxic masculinity,’ as that was what I was supposed to do to come across as straight. I think it was a different time.”

“But I learned from that; I grew from that. Since then, I have been involved in different progressive nonprofit organizations ever since, and I’m very proud of what I’ve done and where I’ve been able to do it,” he continued.

After his beginnings as an intern at the Executive Office of the President for George W. Bush, then moving on to Department of Homeland Services, Newcomb became the regional executive director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Washington, D.C. There, he began his experience in change management, board development, and strategic growth planning.

He was also managing director and director of development of the Gallatin River Task Force, an environmental organization focused on clean water and sustainable water management in Montana. He then came to Utah as the chief development officer of The People’s Health Clinic in Park City. PHC is a volunteer-driven clinic providing no-cost healthcare to those with no health insurance.

Newcomb says he fully recognizes his privilege, as a gay white cisgender man, while taking on this role.

“Since I was young, I was taught to understand that by my parents. I was raised in a heavily Latino and African-American community. I tried to be aware of those things, and I was taught to be aware of those things,” he said. “Intersectionality and the civil rights of everyone, especially those of diverse racial experiences that are not mine, are tremendously important and deserve to be heard. Those in positions of power should elevate their voices. I think we need to be aware of that and continue to do that. It is particularly important to me to meet with the QTBIPOC organizations and their leaders to listen and understand their past experiences, and the needs that they have, and the demands that they would like to see happen to chart a better path forward for everyone.”

Community

Newcomb recognizes that the greatest challenges facing the Center are rebuilding and regaining trust from the community it serves and addressing its financial challenges.

“Our biggest challenge is rebuilding trust and relationships with people where they’ve been broken,” he said. “I also think that we have a heavy lift financially but that it’s completely doable at the same time.”

Newcomb said he will be embarking on a series of roundtables and meetings with diverse groups and members of the community to address and listen to their feedback on how UPC can be a stronger organization well into the future.

“As much as people are willing to sit down, I am willing to do so… We recognize and value the complex and multifaceted needs and experiences of the many diverse groups in our LGBTQIA+ movement. We aim to listen more than we have in the past, while being a unifying force for progress in a time when hate crimes and scapegoating of marginalized communities are at all-time highs,” Newcomb continued. “We look forward to working with all members of our LGBTQIA+ community as we seek a new, more sustainable, and focused path forward that celebrates and empowers all queer people with transparency and trust.”

As part of that, Newcomb said the Center will stop duplicative programming that competes with other LGBTQ+ organizations, including political advocacy, mental health services, and senior programming that are successfully being provided by other groups.

“We aim to be an alliance organization that uplifts and promotes allied partners in similar work for the greater good of our community,” he said. “We will not be doing direct programs for seniors or direct mental health services going forward, but plan to continue providing youth and trans programming that are exclusive to our organization.”

What will continue, he said, are those things that the Center has been the exclusive provider in the past, including peer support groups. With a grant from Select Health, a not-for-profit subsidiary of Intermountain Health, UPC will restart limited youth and transgender programming. Annual events like the Youth Summit, TRANScendence, and Queer Prom are planned to be continued.

Newcomb hopes that, in the future, the Center can be a building that could offer a place where successful programming being done by other organizations can be housed.

Financially, Newcomb says that he has been able to quickly correct the course of the Center’s finances by reducing the operational budget, at least temporarily, by 95 percent.

Looking forward, Newcomb hopes to establish an endowment “so that we never find ourselves again in this position.”

“I also want to continue to develop and expand upon a limited and focused programming model that is responsive to community needs, while increasing the direct impact to every diverse portion of the queer community,” he said. “I don’t see us rebuilding it into a 25-person team again. I think that having a $1 million-plus overhead for staff is not a sustainable model.”

“While I would hope to rebuild the staff in time, I think we have to be smart in how we do it,” he said.

2024 Utah Pride Parade and Festival

“The biggest program we currently have is the Utah Pride Parade and Festival, and it has been for a long time,” Newcomb said. “That is the shared queer experience. No matter where you come from, Pride is a place of visibility, celebration, and empowerment. I know it was for me at my first Pride in 2011 — the experience of support and love and affirmation.”

“Pride is more important than ever with the rise in hate crimes and extremist threats and hateful rhetoric,” he said. “That remains our top program.”

At the press conference, Newcomb said Center leaders are working to “ensure a successful 2024 Utah Pride Festival in June with a new organizational strategic plan being readied for rollout.”

“We plan to charge ahead with the 2024 Utah Pride Parade and Festival — the program that is the crown jewel of our work and that brings together hundreds of thousands of Utahns each June to celebrate and take pride in our diverse queer community.” Newcomb said, “We aim for 2024 Pride to be much more inclusive, welcoming, and affordable than in 2023 — and we will do all we can to address the concerns some members of our community have had around policing, inclusion, diversity, and more.”

This year’s festival drew complaints from LGBTQ+ organizational leaders and small business owners that they were priced out of participating. Others felt that the Festival lost sight of Utah’s LGBTQ+ community, focusing more on national talent.

The Past

Looking at how the Center got to where it is today, Newcomb said that they have an independent team of auditors, lawyers, and others digging into the finances of the 2024 Pride Festival and other financial decisions made through the year.

“The new board leadership and I join public calls for full accountability and take full responsibility for correcting the mistakes of the past,” Newcomb said. “We are charting a new, clearer path with a relaunched organization that will ensure this never happens again. We are pursuing and putting into action aggressive plans that are both timely, quick, and fully rectify these debts over the coming months.”

Newcomb promised that the results of the review will be made public once it is complete.

Moving forward, leaders are “aggressively working to establish and put new financial and ethical guardrails into practice.” They pledge to be “open and transparent about Pride and our finances going forward.”

“We promise not only to deliver the basics of what is required of a nonprofit but to go even further than required in providing transparency of our finances in the future,” Newcomb said, adding that the community can expect “regular, quarterly updates to the public on UPC’s efforts.”

Michael Aaron

Michael Aaron is the editor and publisher of QSaltLake. He has been active in Utah's gay and lesbian community since the early 80s and published two publications then and in the 90s.

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