Utah Pride organizers stress quality over quantity for this year's festival and parade | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

Utah Pride organizers stress quality over quantity for this year's festival and parade 

Louder and Prouder

Pin It
A rainbow flag is carried along 200 South during the Utah Pride Parade. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • wikimedia commons
  • A rainbow flag is carried along 200 South during the Utah Pride Parade.

Editor's Note: The following article was published as part of City Weekly's 2023 Pride Issue.

The Utah Pride Festival and Parade are growing and shrinking for 2023.

For the first time, the two-day festival's Washington Square location will expand to include the adjacent Library Square, opening new spaces for activation and enhanced food and beverage options. But the live entertainment program—with a high-profile roster of local and national performers—is being consolidated onto a single stage in what organizers say is an intentional focus on quality over quantity.

"It was really important that we professionalized the entire festival—we needed bigger, we needed better," said Ted Nicholls, Utah Pride Center's director of operations and special events. "We kind of outgrew some of the old ways. In the past, we've been very volunteer-reliant and that has caused some aspects of the festival to suffer."

The Pride Parade on Sunday, June 4 (the second-largest in the state behind the Latter-day Saint-themed Days of '47 Parade), will follow much of last year's expanded route circling the festival grounds. But it's technically one block shorter than 2022's event and will begin this year on 100 South—due to the city's ongoing construction of a transit-priority corridor on 200 South—before running south on 400 East and west on 700 South.

"Our loading zone will be right in front of the beautiful Salt Lake City [Latter-day Saint] Temple," Nicholls said.

Those are just some of the ways that "everything is new," Nicholls said. Following a period of high turnover—made all the more complicated by pandemic upheaval—the Utah Pride Center has a new leadership team, with new Pride organizers and a new spin on old events, like the rally and march from the State Capitol to the festival grounds (usually the other way around) on June 2, followed by an opening-night concert to kick off Pride weekend (a new event this year). The night before, on June 1, the Pride center will host a first-ever Pride Gala at the downtown Hilton.

"Glitz, glam, cocktail attire—we really want to have an upscale, ritzy, splashy, glamorous gala," Nicholls said.

He said that Pride, at its core, is about people celebrating life as their truest selves. And that sentiment is captured in this year's theme: Queer Pride is Unapologetic.

"As a kid who grew up in South Jordan, Utah, it wasn't easy for me to meet and feel connected to other weird little boys like me who liked to draw and watch Sailor Moon and listen to Madonna and all sorts of gay shit," Nicholls said. "Pride is a great platform for folks like me to meet folks like me."

Pride Week is the largest source of funding for the Utah Pride Center, and co-CEO Jonathan Foulk emphasized that the sustainability of the center's broader, year-round programming—from counseling and suicide prevention to hosting trivia nights and Dungeons & Dragons campaigns—is reliant on the success of the festival, parade and other Pride events.

Those real-world financial pressures inform the Pride center's decisions around event size and corporate sponsorship, an at-times divisive topic (locally and nationally) as Pride celebrations have shifted from smaller, LGBTQ+-specific events rooted in protest to more mainstream, big-tent community gatherings welcoming allies and coordination with private and public entities.

"We have to create a safe space for all and that doesn't come free," Foulk said. "We do need our corporate sponsors to help pay to make this happen, as well as small businesses and things like that."

click to enlarge Utah Pride Center Co-CEO Jonathan Foulk - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Utah Pride Center Co-CEO Jonathan Foulk

And Foulk was quick to point out that, while attendance and support for the Pride festival has grown, new waves of anti-LGBTQ+ hostility continue to wash up.

Large and visible celebrations of queer life and love, with the backing of government and commercial partners, he said, demonstrate the humanity of LGBTQ+ individuals and the coalition pushing for acceptance and equality.

"We're having drag queens and trans folks being targeted, and we need to do everything we can to promote visibility and to be unapologetic—to be our true selves," Foulk said. "The more that we can elevate, the more that we're louder, the more that we're prouder, the more that we're unapologetic—the more that people, 365 days out of the year, will see us and see us as human."

When Foulk came out to his adopted family, they told him he was better off dead. That led him to walk into a Pride center, he said, where he was connected with The Trevor Project and told, simply, "You're loved. You're not alone." That was the start of his coming-out journey, Foulk said, and is a large part of why he joined the Utah Pride Center as co-CEO.

"There are many Jonathans out there who did not get that chance," he said.

Roughly 90% of the performers at this year's Pride will be making their Utah debut, Foulk said, and a new main stage bar will provide space for those interested in dancing and imbibing without exiting and re-entering the alcohol service space.

"If you look at the genre of artists, we have something for everyone," he said. "We have something for dance, we have something country, we have vocalists, we have burlesque—you name it, we have it."

And while the festival will host fewer stages overall, Nicholls—a local drag performer at The Exchange and other venues—said organizers have made a point to feature Utah and Salt Lake artists alongside their national peers.

"They get to share the exact same, huge, main stage as all of our headliners, instead of being kind of cast off to one of the smaller stages in a corner under a Diamond Rentals tent," Nicholls said. "It was really important to me that I featured and honored our local artists as much as I could."

On the topic of corporate sponsorship, Nicholls said there's value to including space for "your Deltas and your American Expresses and your Wells Fargoes," companies that have formally embraced pro-LGBTQ+ stances.

"We want to keep Pride as authentic and as queer as possible, but that doesn't mean we should exclude our allies," Nicholls said. "They should have a presence at Pride because they have publicly come out and said, 'We are proud to nurture, protect, support and empower our queer employees.'

"I think that speaks volumes," Nicholls continued. "These are brands that we see in our day-to-day lives."

Asked about the future—of both Utah Pride events and the archaic politics that continue to injure the LGBTQ+ community—Nicholls was optimistic. He offered a full-throated endorsement of the new Pride center leadership and direction, and confidence that the community will continue to grow in strength and visibility.

"I'm very confident the leadership we've got on board now is committed to mission," he said. "There's a lot of synergy. There's a lot of collaboration, exchanges of ideas and healthy dialogue. I think we're going to be just fine if we continue to stick together and hold each other's hands through this."

Pin It


About The Author

Benjamin Wood

Benjamin Wood

Lifelong Utahn Benjamin Wood has worn the mantle of City Weekly's news editor since 2021. He studied journalism at Utah State University and previously wrote for The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News and Entertainment Weekly

More by Benjamin Wood

© 2023 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation