Just days before the big parade, an open letter pushes the Utah Pride Center to drop national banks as sponsors

(Alex Gallivan | Special to the Tribune) The Utah Pride Center celebrated the grand opening of its new location at 1380 S. Main St. on Saturday, May 19, 2018.

Members of the state’s LGBT community have sent an open letter requesting that the Utah Pride Center drop Chase Bank and Wells Fargo as sponsors of the center and the annual parade taking place this Sunday, saying these banks have a “history of discrimination against the most at-risk in [the LGBT] communities.”

The letter also asked for the center to re-examine its own board of directors seeking more diversity and new ways to select members.

The letter, sent Tuesday morning, had 41 names attached, plus seven local political organizations and a link to an online petition.

The letter acknowledged that Pride season is the biggest source of funding for the center but asked for an examination on the companies who financially support it. The letter accuses Chase Bank and Wells Fargo of having a “history of exploiting communities of color, propping up companies that monetize the destruction of our environment, defy and reject indigenous sovereignty and exploit the poor and undocumented.”

Dylan Ashley, one of the authors, said the group sent the letter a few days before the Utah Pride Festival because members felt it was important to address these issues now.

“To stay quiet for another year is to further validate and entrench these systems we’re attempting to dismantle,” Ashley said.

According to Ashley, who uses “they/them” pronouns, the Utah Pride Center created an “intersectionality task force” in the fall of 2017 to address racism, ableism and classism that existed within the center. They said the task force only resulted in “surface level changes,” such as putting corporations in the second half of the parade.

“We decided to write this letter because these surface level changes will do nothing to address the system-level norm at the Pride Center of prioritizing white middle-class gay individuals and corporate interests over the need of indigenous, disabled, black, undocumented and poor queer folks in our communities,” they said.

In response to the letter, Rob Moolman, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, released a statement saying he was saddened he received the letter five days before the parade and only eight weeks into his tenure as executive director.

“In these first few weeks, I have tried to meet with as many people, programs and groups as possible to learn more about their needs and ideas for their participation in our center,” Moolman said.

Moolman said the center is taking “careful and considered” steps toward change and he has asked that the sponsorship of Wells Fargo and Chase Bank remain intact this year out of respect for the participants from those companies and their families, the amount of work that has already been done and his concern for “unintended and unforeseen pitfalls” that could damage the center if the ban were put in place in a hasty manner. In July, Moolman said, the center is implementing a new project that will discuss the next iteration of the Pride Parade.

“The focus of this project will most certainly be to understand who participates in the parade and how,” he said.

Moolman said he has invited the group who sent the letter to discuss the issue of corporate sponsors. He also is going to try to set up a meeting with representatives of the two banks to seek an agreement on how to move forward.

Moolman urged the group to meet the members of the board to discuss how it could become more diverse.

“I have spoken with our board chairperson and know that we are certainly open to a robust discussion about expanding our diversity and look forward to participating in that discussion,” he said.

Among the local political organizations that signed on to the letter was the Utah League of Native American Voters. Moroni Benally, co-founder of the organization, said over the years, queer indigenous LGBTQ individuals have not necessarily felt welcome at the Pride Center and the center didn’t have the “culture competencies” to serve their community.

“That’s why we got involved and wanted to put our name to this,” Benally said. “We wanted to make sure that Pride is intersectional.”

The Utah League of Native American Voters also is concerned about the sponsorship of Wells Fargo and Chase Bank, both of which funded the Dakota Access Pipeline, which became famous when tribes protested it going through a reservation, potentially contaminating the drinking water. The Utah League of Native American Voters worked with the Salt Lake City Council to pass a resolution supporting the Standing Rock protestors.

The league is also looking for more diversity on the Pride Center’s board, with Benally saying there are no indigenous people serving there.

He added: “We’re hoping that we’ll get to that point where queer indigenous people and queer people of color can start seeing people who look like them in Pride.”