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A tale of 2 Pride festivals: Why LGBTQ Utahns and allies will celebrate twice this summer

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When Roberto Lopez first came to Utah, he said he felt “isolated and excluded” from spaces because he was a queer person of color.

Then, he said, he found the Utah Pride Festival, where he met so many friends that it changed his life.

“They were the people that when I became a father, I turned to. People that when I got sick, I turned to. People when I needed food, [I turned to],” he said. “Every single time I sent out a signal for help, the same people showed up, and those were the people that I met at this event.”

Lopez is development director of SLC Pride, a new event that he said is aimed at creating that same opportunity for people in Utah’s LGBTQ+ community — especially for people who feel isolated and alone, like he once did.

“I want it to continue forever, because I would not be alive if it wasn’t for the people that I found,” Lopez said.

SLC Pride is scheduled for the last weekend in June at The Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City — four weeks after, and a few blocks away from the traditional Utah Pride Festival, set for the first weekend in June at Washington Square Park.

Bonnie O’Brien, the director SLC Pride, said many of the event’s organizers said they had friends who had stopped attending Utah Pride, “either because it was too corporate, too ‘whitewash the rainbow,’ too crowded or busy. A lot of the people that we hang out with just didn’t see themselves on the stage, in booths or in leadership. Or they were just straight up financially unable to attend.”

Utah Pride will be a cut-down version of last year’s festival, which ran the nonprofit Utah Pride Center into thousands of dollars of debt and prompted criticism within the state’s LGBTQ+ community.

Chad Call, Utah Pride Center’s new executive director, said the group still anticipates the same number of people attending as before — 50,000 at the Utah Pride Festival and more than 100,000 at the Utah Pride Parade.

The two festivals “are not in competition,” O’Brien said, adding that she sees opportunities for collaboration. SLC Pride has worked with Call, O’Brien said, and has arranged to borrow some equipment from the Utah Pride Center for the later event.

“We each have a niche, we each fill that role, and it also allows the community to prosper in all levels,” O’Brien said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The UTA booth at the Utah Pride Festival in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 3, 2023.

Utah Pride, building back

For many in Utah, O’Brien said, the Utah Pride Center has been an entry point into the wider LGBTQ+ community.

The Utah Pride Festival’s legacy goes back nearly 50 years, back when bar owner Joe Redburn threw a kegger in 1975. It is considered Utah’s first pride festival. The event, and the Utah Pride Center, grew from there.

In recent years, though, frustration at the Utah Pride Center among the LGBTQ+ community has also grown, after years of turnover and, as center officials themselves acknowledged in 2023, “massive financial turmoil.”

C Meyer, a Utah therapist who specializes in helping nonbinary and transgender kids, said she has “attended Pride festivals in the past, [and] it hasn’t felt like it’s been about community. It’s been inaccessible, it’s been expensive.”

Meyer is the youth coordinator for the new SLC Pride event, which she said she got interested in because of the leadership’s influence and the knowledge that they “care about the community” — something, she said, “Salt Lake City is specifically lacking.”

Call said the Utah Pride Center’s board of directors are focused on getting “the center back on track with the financial struggles that they have.” The board was installed last fall after two rounds of staff layoffs, and after Call’s predecessor, Ryan Newcome, took the executive director job with the goal of cleaning up the financial mess and restoring the LGBTQ+ community’s trust in the center. (Newcomb — who resigned due to health issues less than seven months into the job — and Call both have referenced an ongoing financial audit of the organization.)

“One of the main things that we do is we maintain a focus that Pride is a program before it’s a fundraiser,” Call said. “It is obviously a fundraiser for the organization, and we can bring a lot of revenue in that way. However, some years — and last year is a perfect example of that — if it’s not managed correctly, that doesn’t happen.”

Call said the center had “anticipated” local vendors might be hesitant to take part in Utah Pride this year, after many expressed frustrations with booth pricing last year.

“It wasn’t something that we were blind to,” Call said, adding that Utah Pride is offering “more accessible vendor pricing this year” and have “returned to our vendor pricing back to 2022 [levels].”

Call said there are more than 150 pricing options — based on such variables as tent size, type of organization or when the vendor registered — but that a general scale is that local vendors will pay $400 for a standard booth, and large businesses will pay $1,600.

Though he wasn’t able to provide final numbers in early May, Call said, “I’ve been really pleasantly surprised we are tracking really good participation, … right in line with where we were in 2022.”

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) A sticker for SLC Pride at a planning meeting in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 7, 2024.

SLC Pride, starting at the grassroots

At a planning meeting in early May for SLC Pride, 14 members of the festival’s 29-person committee gathered in an office space on South Temple. Some wore customized festival shirts that read “volunqueer.”

Among the group, Lopez told them, there’s more than 100 years of experience in planning pride events and involvement in the LGBTQ community.

It’s not their first meeting, nor the last. With just under two months before the event, the joke is that they are “5/7ths of the way there.”

The meeting, like much of SLC Pride’s planning, is thoughtful and intentional. They have a list of 160 line items that they have either completed or will complete to get the permits needed to hold the celebration. They talk about framing the event as a sober space, with some places for alcohol — instead of the other way around.

The committee, O’Brien said, is “pretty radical, incredibly involved with grassroots organizations.” Several members, she said, have been involved with Utah Pride Festival in past years, either as employees or volunteers, or through their own organizations.

“We’re a ragtag group of queers that really is open to a different level of education, uncomfortableness, conversation, and moves with marginalized communities and [that] supports all of the groups that are often left feeling like they’re unsupported,” she said.

O’Brien led the meeting, and encouraged those attending to bring their own tables, chairs and pens, if they can. There were white poster-paper signs hanging on one wall, for people to sign up for organizing events that require volunteers. O’Brien said she would be hosting a spray-painting session in her backyard to make signs.

Donations and sponsorships also are at a grassroots level. Committee members have encouraged each other to bring their friends to fundraising events at LGBTQ-owned bars and businesses. Even $10 a person can help, O’Brien told them.

SLC Pride is keeping track of where that money goes. A handout, also posted on the group’s Instagram account, outlines exactly what a donation will pay for, such as a book from a queer author, two hours of face-painting or sponsoring a drag story hour. Event sponsors also are posted online.

“The goal,” Lopez said, “is not to make money, but to build community.”

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

What SLC Pride is offering

O’Brien said the members of the SLC Pride committee have been having conversations for years about the direction of Utah Pride — both inside and outside the Utah Pride Center — and only now have their ideas been turned into action with the new event.

“With the opportunity to really start a new local Pride, it allows everything that we wanted to ever happen, happen — because we’re the ones to make it happen [and] we can do it freely,” she said.

The LGBTQ businesses and organizations that SLC Pride is working with are almost entirely local — and include the NuaNua Collective, Seniors Out and Proud, Club Verse SLC, Sugar House Coffee and The Legendarium bookstore. (The notable exception is the Utah chapter of the Human Rights Campaign, the national LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.)

“The people that we’re collaborating with, there are things that they’re specifically hoping for or asking for,” O’Brien said, “and we’re just trying our absolute best to hear community members and then make that come into fruition.”

One thing SLC Pride doesn’t have to worry about, O’Brien said, is the overhead of having to sustain a nonprofit organization, the way Utah Pride does with the Utah Pride Center.

“We’re not stuck to having to support a center with hundreds of thousands of dollars of sponsorship,” she said, “We’re literally just there to celebrate community, to educate, and to highlight all of the groups that have a budget of zero to a thousand bucks.”

O’Brien said SLC Pride is designed to be financially accessible, too. Admission for adults over the age of 18 is $5, while youth 17 and under get in free. Vendors are being asked to pay between $150 and $250 for a booth.

“We want to allow full accessibility because we understand our community,” O’Brien said. “Those that have not been attending Pride — finances were a big part.”

As part of that accessibility, Lopez said, SLC Pride’s VIP area will be open not only to those who pay for it, but also to community organizers — so they can facilitate dialogue among groups.

“We’re going to bring the people that are doing the groundwork … and then connect them with people [who] can fund their initiatives,” Lopex said. “If we can build a community that can transcend those barriers, then the community heals itself.”

SLC Pride will be featuring “just for YOUth,” a free space for young people. O’Brien said the youth space will feature a pop-up boutique by Project Rainbow — called Fashion Fluid — to provide clothing options, as well as makeup artists and QR codes that connect people to educational resources.

The committee, O’Brien said, has sought input from LGBTQ student groups at West High School and Salt Lake Community College about what they want in a youth space. “We’re going to go out and make that happen,” O’Brien said.

Meyer, SLC Pride’s youth coordinator, said the youth space will also feature crafts, and that Utah Valley Behavioral Health has donated money and will bring therapists to be available at the event.

Meyer is also in charge of the festival’s neurodivergent space, which will provide chargers, headphones, fidget toys and other items, and be “just a place where they can decompress.”

When the group started surveying youth about what they wanted, Meyer said, their requests were simple — like fancy water. “I don’t think anyone’s ever asked them that before,” she said.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) New executive director of the Utah Pride Center Chad Call speaks to media at the center’s offices in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, May 1, 2024.

Utah Pride focuses on ‘unity’

One area that people attending the Utah Pride Festival will notice a change, Call said, is in the entertainment, which he called “our biggest scale-back this year.”

“Entertainment last year featured a lot of headliners [from] out of state,” Call said. One example was the drag performer Trixie Mattel.

Call announced in early May that Utah Pride will concentrate on local performers — and Call said he’s not going “to pretend” that the move isn’t “a financial decision.” He added that the center is ready to “celebrate the talent that makes up Utah Pride and showcase it.”

Utah Pride will feature between 25 and 30 acts, and is bringing back — by popular demand, Call said — the karaoke stage.

Utah Pride, Call announced in early May, will also feature a “Rainbow Alley.” Call described it as “a space where all of our local Pride festival organizations in Utah are invited to come together and share their stories and promote their events” — at no cost.

Call said he hopes Utah Pride Center can be a resource to those Pride events, whether helping with permits or anything else.

SLC Pride also is making an effort to connect with other Pride events across Utah. They are tabling at other Pride events, and inviting those groups to do the same at SLC Pride — in what the group is calling a “Pride coalition.”

O’Brien said all types of Pride events are needed now, more than ever. She cited the April bomb threat at Mosaics, a Provo business owned by drag queen Tara Lipsyncki.

“That’s why Pride still happens,” O’Brien said. “A bomb threat is not acceptable. Our theme is ‘transform Pride,” and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Call said he believes “the emergence of local Prides is a beautiful thing.” They speak, he said, to the evolution of the LGBTQ+ community, and the parts of it that “need something more or different from Pride that they’re not getting from Utah’s large Pride celebration.”

“One of the things that keeps us moving through hardship and social change is the fact that we are unified together,” Call said. “We may be able to celebrate in very different ways, we may be able to have different core values around certain things, but our identity to the LGBTQ community is something that we do share in common.”

O’Brien noted that a pride celebration is meant to be a welcoming place. “[Some] people are there because it is the only safe space for those few hours every year,” she said, “I don’t think we’ll meet everybody’s needs fully, but holy s—, we are going to do our absolute best.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The large rainbow flag that takes up the rear of the Utah Pride Parade is carried in Salt Lake City on Sunday, June 4, 2023.

When Utah Pride and SLC Pride are happening

• Here is the schedule for the Utah Pride Festival and Parade:

Friday, May 30 • Pride will kick off with an interfaith worship service at Congregation Kol Ami, 2425 Heritage Way, Salt Lake City, at 7 p.m. Admission is free.

Saturday, June 1 • Pride March and Rally at the State Capitol starting at 10 a.m. The Utah Pride Festival will start at Washington Square Park, 400 South and State Street, Salt Lake City, at 11 a.m. and end at 10 p.m.

Sunday, June 2 • The Utah Pride Parade starts at 10 a.m. in downtown Salt Lake City, with continued programming for the festival at Washington Square Park from noon to 7 p.m.

Tickets • Passes for both Saturday and Sunday are $30 for people 12 and older, $10 for children ages 3-11, and $26 for seniors and military. Single-day tickets are $15 for people 12 and older, $5 for children 3-11, and $13 for seniors and military. Tickets are available online at


• Here is the schedule for SLC Pride:

Thursday, June 27 • Gender–Q, a queer rock and performance group, will host an all-ages, sober event from 6 to 10 p.m.

Friday, June 28 • To mark the 55th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York, SLC Pride will partner with two bars, The Locker Room and Club Verse, to reflect on how far the community has come and where it still needs to go. The remembrance will also highlight transgender people of color.

Saturday, June 29 • The main event runs from 3 to 10 p.m. at The Gateway, 50 S. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City. Events include a silent disco (in the space formerly occupied by Sur La Table); panel discussions on such topics as how to pick a binder that fits, what it means to be Asian and queer, and sobriety in queer spaces; performances by community groups; and HIV testing and vaccinations by the Salt Lake County Health Department.

Sunday, June 30 • The event continues from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at The Gateway. Includes a trans-pancake breakfast on the green, from 10 a.m. to noon.

Tickets • $5 for adults 18 and older, free for people 17 years old and younger, each day. For ticket information, go to


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