Pride 2008 is on the horizon this weekend, and one of the
biggest festivals in Utah (second only to that whole 1800's thing) is
looking to make it another fantastic year in the heart of downtown.
Live concerts, tons of activities and one of the most talked about
parades all year long, this year's festival looks to continue the fun
tradition it's been doing for the past twelve years.
Before the festival kicks off, I got a chance to talk to Yana Walton of the Utah Pride Center. A lengthy chat about the Center, the festival, and a number of other topics about the gay community here in Utah that I wanted to ask. I also got a tour of the Center's offices, the library, Café Marmalade, and the neighboring buildings for Youth Drop-in Center and TINT (Tolerant Intelligent Network of Teens).All in picture form for you to browse.
Gavin: Hello Yana. First off, tell is a little bit about yourself and Valerie Larabee.
Yana: I'm Yana Walton, graduated from the U of U in 2006 with degrees in Gender Studies and History. I'm is the Center’s Dir. of Communication and Public Relations. Valerie Larabee has been the Center’s ED for 3 and a half years and is the most hard-working, inclusive leader with both previous nonprofit and military experience. We are incredibly lucky to have Valerie as one of our community’s leaders.
Gavin: For those who don't know, tell us what the Utah Pride Center is and what it does.
Yana: The Utah Pride Center helps to provide GLBT people, their families and friends living in Utah with a vast array of services. Many programs and services are generated through collaborations with other community organizations and allies operating in the broader Utah community. By establishing formal partnerships with various community-based organizations through our affiliate and sponsored programs, the Center is able to bring together the vast resources of the community to one central place. The majority of the Utah Pride Center’s work is currently focused in and around the Wasatch Front. The Utah Pride Center serves as a hub that links individuals and programs to each other and to the community. The Wasatch Front is rich with organizations and agencies serving specific needs of the GLBT community; and the Center’s goal is to connect them to provide a more unified, holistic approach. Rather than duplicating existing services, the Center works to enhance and promote them, fostering connections among service providers and insuring that people in need can find them. Through the scope of its mission and resources, the Center plays a distinct role to strengthen both individuals and organizations (formal and informal) in Utah’s GLBT community. The Utah Pride Center helps to develop programs that encourage peer leadership and focus on empowering individuals to be active participants in building a shared community. The Utah Pride Center focuses on providing meaningful and supportive programs to GLBT people and their allies in Utah. To augment the offerings, the Center also partners with several Affiliate Programs. The Utah Pride Center’s core programs focus on the following areas: Social Programs, Support Groups, Affinity Groups, Health & Wellness Programs, Education & Training, Youth Programs, and Affiliated Programs.
Gavin: It originally started in 1992 as the Stonewall Center. First, how did the planning come about to start a center in Utah, and what was the process like to make it a reality?
Yana: The Utah Stonewall Center opened in 1992 to provide a safe space for GLBT people to come together amid the conservative Utah cultural climate. Within two years, the Center attracted many volunteers and raised enough money to hire a part-time staff person to grow the organization. Severe financial difficulties hit in 1996, rallying a coalition of community members to raise the money necessary to provide a more secure foundation for this much-needed organization.
Gavin: Why the name change in 2006?
Yana: We changed it to reflect the fact that we are the agency that puts on the pride festival. The Utah Pride Center has been putting on the Utah Pride Festival since 2003, so this is our 5th year doing it… Also, the previous name (GLBTCCU) was a pretty lengthy acronym. In 2007, we won one of City Weekly’s “Best Of” awards for “Best Name Change.”
Gavin: Do you believe the Center fully represents the GLBT communities? Or do you feel there's much more work to be done locally before you can make that claim?
Yana: We do a wonderful job of incorporating all segments of our community, with a huge focus on groups who have felt previously marginalized within the GLBT community nationally and locally – specifically the bisexual and transgender communities. See attached press release regarding the 2nd annual and ONLY Bisexual Awareness Month in the country – held by the Center’s Bisexual Community Forum. For transgender resources and support, our affiliate TEA (Transgender Education Advocates) invited renowned surgeon Dr. Marci Bowers to Utah in November. We also have the following four groups at the Center: Transgender Adult Support Group, Transgender Youth Group, Parents of Transgender Group, and Parents of Transgender Adult Group.
Gavin: A little on the festival, some people have argued that charging admission to the festival has hurt attendance. What's your take on that opinion? And do you believe that charging attendance was a necessary step, or were there options not taken that could have kept it free?
Yana: The average cost for the Center, per attendant, this year at the festival is $15.90. Tickets on Sat are $10 (because of the national headlining entertainment – Meshell Ngedeocello) and $5 on Saturday. The Center has never made any money off the festival, but it takes about $280,000 to put on annually. Hopefully as we get more corporate support we’ll be able to keep costs low. A great way for folks to get in and enjoy the festival is to volunteer. Volunteers have 3 hr shifts, get in for free on their day of service, and get a free Pride T-shirt. The parade is also free.
Gavin: What have you got planned for this year's Pride Festival?
Yana: Refer to our website or UtahPride for the complete three day schedule, entertainment listings, etc… Our attached Press Kit should answer any and all questions about this year’s festivities, and has some good images.
Gavin: I know they're not coming up yet, but tell us a little about Southern Pride and WinterPride.
Yana: The UPC is a sponsor of Southern Utah Pride at Zion happening in September. Winterpride’s dates for 2009 have not been released yet.
Gavin: Delving a little into the community beyond the Center. First off, what do you think about the gay bar scene in Utah, both good and bad?
Yana: We’re happy there are so many bars catering to and friendly towards GLBT people, and the Center offers social outlets for those people who don’t only like going to bars.
Gavin: What's your take on the gay clubs in our local schools, and is there anything you think could be done to make the clubs function better?
Yana: We work closely with students to establish Gay Straight Alliances (or GSA’s), and also with school administrators and teachers to clear up any confusion about Utah laws regarding GSAs in schools. We may be adding a GSA coordinator to our Youth Programs Staff in the future. We also facilitate GLSEN’s National Day of Silence.
Gavin: What's your thoughts on people trying to have them shut down because they don't feel those clubs belongs in school?
Yana: Some folks don’t understand that GSA’s are extracurricular clubs that function to lower bullying, hazing, harassment and thus depression, drug abuse, drop-out rates, and suicides in schools. See 2005 GLSEN data here.
Gavin: What's your opinion on local publications like QSaltLake, and is there anything you feel could be done differently with them?
Yana: We LOVE Michael Aaron and all the staff at QSaltLake – they are a truly high-quality publication!
Gavin: Going into media a little, do you feel shows like “Will & Grace” or “The L Word” represent GLBT lives fairly, or does it feel like they reinforce stereotypes and make light of it?
Yana: I think that the inclusion of GLBT characters in entertainment media is a wonderful thing, but folks need to understand that TV characters are often one-dimensional and not representative of our diverse community.
Gavin: What's your take on the way local media has reported on stories involving gay issues, both good and bad?
Yana: Most media are open to reporting fairly and accurately about GLBT Utahns. Most problems with terminology are unintentional, but potentially harmful. One big problem we see often in Utah are the incorrect use of the terms “homosexual” and “transgendered.” GLAAD’s style guide is the best resource for reporters interested in national standards for terminology, tone, and content – and it includes both AP and NY Times style guides. The Utah Pride Center also offers free media newsroom trainings, and has trained staff at the Trib and DesNews. We extend this offer to KUTV.
Gavin: GLADD has probably been the more well known group out there for the past couple decades. Do you view the Center as aligned with GLADD on a more local level, or do you view them as their own separate entity that doesn't quite share the Center's views and goals?
Yana: We work very closely with GLAAD, specifically their Media Field Strategist assigned to the Southwest region.
Gavin: There's been a lot of press over the years about Mormons who come out and then were kick out of the church for being gay. What are your thoughts on that type of practice? And since you're in Utah, does the Center do anything for those who have gone through that?
Yana: Family Fellowship is a group for Families of GLBT Mormons. Affirmation and Reconciliation are GLBT Mormon groups – all connected to the Center. They all have websites you can check out for more information.
Gavin: A little on the recent decision in California. Do you feel like that will have an impact on future marriage laws in Utah, or do you think the state will constantly be against gay marriage?
Yana: I feel that eventually we will have marriage for same-sex couples in Utah. We are celebrating California’s decision, and inevitably some Utahns will choose to get married there, but because of Amendment 3, those licenses will not be recognized in our state. We are so pleased, and the decision highlights our own inequity here – but gives us hope that someday we’ll be able to honor, protect, and support our families here.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious marriage bills, what issues do you believe our local government should be looking at in terms of the gay community?
Yana: Inclusive housing and employment non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Equality Utah is a wonderful political advocacy organization that works on behalf of GLBT Utahns.
Gavin: I know you probably get asked this a lot, but what are your feelings on the idea that Salt Lake City has become a "Gay Mecca"? Do you think we deserve the title?
Yana: We TOTALLY are!
Gavin: A bit of a hard question. Is there anything you wish would change within the gay community? Or do you feel like things are in a good place right now?
Yana: We are already a very politically active and diverse bunch of folks. I hope that we continue to work together and make the most of community partnerships and collaborations – and keep standing up for each other’s rights!
Gavin: Is there anything you guys would like to plug?
Yana: We’d like to do a plug for more volunteers – folks can just show up to the festival and ask to volunteer – we still need about 75 more folks!!! They can also fill out an application found on our festival website!