The embattled director of the Utah Pride stepped down Wednesday afternoon following revelations of a funding shortfall and increasing calls for her resignation.
Valerie Larabee's departure is effective immediately. John Netto, newly named chair of the Pride Board of Directors, will serve as an interim director until a permanent replacement is found. He said he planned to stabilize the organization's finances within 90 days.
"Our community has experienced some deep concerns about some issues, and we are hearing them, we have heard them, and we are adjusting," Netto said. "This is a very dynamic community ... there are many voices and we have been working and making sure we hear them all."
The board will hold the final of four open "talking and listening circle" meetings Nov. 23 at 10 a.m. at the Pride Center, 255 E. 400 South. Netto said Larabee's resignation was voluntary. She released a statement on the decision.
"Change is a vital part of life for both organizations and individuals," Larabee wrote. "I will hold Utah Pride in my heart forever."
Larabee had been director for nine years, and built the organization up from three employees to the state's most prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organization, the Pride Board said in a statement. She also helped build the Utah Pride Festival, an annual event that attracts about 30,000 people and includes the state's second-largest parade.
"Her passion is evident," according to the board's statement. "She has put Salt Lake City on the map as a national leader in the LGBTQ movement."
In recent weeks, though, problems surfaced at Pride. The organization laid off two employees and slashed pay for those remaining after it became clear that two grants totalling $125,000 would end. The shortfall came after a busy year that saw the filing of an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court a somewhat controversial move in the Salt Lake City LGBT community, Netto said and the kickoff a large, $2.5 million fundraising campaign to renovate a new 6,000-square-foot building.
Former adult programming director Jennifer Nuttall said the problems went beyond funding, and that many LBGT people felt disconnected from the organization.
"Valerie as an executive director had a very hard time building bridges and working with other community organizations and leaders, and that hampers the work in the community," Nuttall said. In a letter to the board, she and other former employees alleged Larabee created a "hostile work environment," oversaw a center that only valued groups in the LGBT spectrum that could bring in money and lacked a way for dissenting voices to be heard. Addressed to Netto, the letter called for a no-confidence voice in Larabee's leadership.
Larabee did not return a call seeking further comment Wednesday, and Netto denied that the Pride Center environment was hostile.
It was one of three letters sent to the board calling for Larabee's resignation, said former employee Charles Lynn Frost, who was laid off in late October. Frost signed one of those letter, which was from the advisory board for the SAGE program (Services and Advocacy for G[LBT] Elders), which provides services for aging members of the community who often have no ties with family. Frost oversaw SAGE before his dismissal.
"I think the future leader needs to be a visionary; the current one was just trying to stop the hemorrhaging and save the organization," Frost said Wednesday. "I think its time for the community to come together with a strong voice. We're over one big hurdle; now its time to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of making the community a strong community."
Nuttall said she's hoping that the board gives community organizations an "actual voice at the table" during the search for Larabee's replacement, and in the future.
Board member Kent Frogley said the current problems won't affect the festival held in June.
"The word crisis had been thrown around a lot but ... it's these kinds of things you have to deal with in a successful organization," he said. "We're very confident based on the changes we've made we'll be able to continue operating the center into the spring, when more of our fundraising comes in."
Netto stressed the importance of the organization's purpose.
"This movement is more important than any one individual personality, and that includes both the management as well as the individuals who are concerned about how the center is being run," Netto said. "At the end of the day, this is a community fighting to be who they are and love who they love, and get all the benefits afforded to any citizen."