Utah Pride Center’s debt is ‘indefensible,’ says new leader, as he vows to rebuild trust

Ryan Newcomb said the LGBTQ+ nonprofit is working to create a 2024 Pride Festival that is “responsive to our community”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ryan Newcomb speaks in a news conference announcing his appointment as the new executive director of the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023.

After running “hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt” staging this year’s Utah Pride Festival, causing layoffs that decimated its staff and services, the Utah Pride Center has a new leader — who said he plans to get the nonprofit’s debts paid and be more open about its finances.

The LGBTQ+ advocacy group announced Wednesday that Ryan Newcomb, formerly the chief development officer at Park City’s The People’s Health Clinic, is the center’s new executive director. The center also has announced it has a new board of directors.

“We aim to get Pride back on track to the financially sustainable entity that it was only 18 months ago,” Newcomb said, standing at a podium decorated with an all-inclusive pride flag with the words “fiercer together” on it.

Newcomb, who started in the job in late September, said his “top priority … is to be as transparent as possible, and that starts today — to restore trust and build an inclusive, welcoming center that our entire queer community deserves.”

The Utah Pride Center faced criticism during the 2023 Utah Pride Festival in June, after racking up about $300,000 in security costs and angering some local creators because of higher booth prices.

Newcomb said the center “spent approximately $1.5 million more than the prior year” on the festival, “while revenues remained flat, leaving this organization hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.” He said they are still investigating to come up with an exact debt figure.

The financial problems, he said, led the center to lay off most of its staff in two rounds of job furloughs. Before the layoffs in August and September, the Utah Pride Center had a staff of 19.

Running up that debt, Newcomb said, “was, to put it mildly, indefensible and egregious.”

During the two rounds of layoffs, Utah Pride Center officials singled out former co-CEO Jonathan Foulk, in title though not in name, as being the executive who oversaw the Pride Festival. Foulk, who was laid off in August, confirmed he was the executive mentioned.

Foulk — in an interview with The Tribune on Monday, before Newcomb’s news conference — defended the increased spending on security for the festival — which he said was a response to a rise in threats to the LGBTQ+ community. He cited as examples a protest by armed Proud Boys at a Salt Lake City drag show in January and a bomb threat that forced cancellation of a drag story hour at a Salt Lake City bookstore in September.

“The festival, at this current state, is the only thing that was bringing in revenue,” Foulk said.

Newcomb called the Utah Pride Festival and Parade “the crown jewel of our work,” and said it’s “of paramount importance to deliver a 2024 Pride that is responsive to our community, and continues to be the conduit for all UPC programming that is going forward.”

Newcomb said the sign at Utah Pride Center’s headquarters was tagged Tuesday with an anti-gay slur. The remaining members of the center’s staff quickly removed it, he said. “That heightens and continues to remind us of what we’re facing,” he said.

The center will launch “an internal review of all finances in the last year to ensure there were no irregularities,” Newcomb said — and the review would be made public when completed.

The center, he said, is “aggressively working to establish new financial and ethical guardrails into practice — rules, bylaws, proper oversight and heightened oversight, and policies and practices. And we pledge to be open and transparent about Pride and our finances going forward.”

The Utah Pride Center, to Newcomb’s knowledge, has not lost any major donors or sponsors during its current financial troubles, he said.

As part of its strategic plan, Newcomb said, the center would issue updates to the community every three months about the center’s progress. He also said he wants to conduct roundtables with community members, to gather opinions and feedback about what they want from the center.

In August, the center admitted to “massive financial turmoil,” though it backtracked on comments that hinted at a possible closure. The center announced on Instagram in September that it planned to reopen to “limited programming” in October.

Newcomb said Wednesday that the center is looking to end programming that duplicates work being done by other Utah nonprofits.

The center would discontinue some programs, such as help for seniors or for direct mental health services, for at least the next nine to 12 months, Newcomb said, but that it plans to “continue providing youth and trans programming that is exclusive to UPC.” And, he said, the center could become “a true center that in time even houses the most well-done programs of other queer nonprofits.”

According to the center’s release, the members of the newly formed board of directors all joined the board this year. That doesn’t mean they are unfamiliar with the center; for example, board chair Jessica Couser, an attorney, had been part of a monthly “Rainbow Law Clinic” at the center to give free help in LGBTQ+ legal issues.

Newcomb stated that all eight members of the board are part of the LGBTQ community, and three identify as women. Our vice chair is a trans woman of color,” he said. “We have lesbian, bi, gay and trans representation on the board. We need to do better and we’ll do better with diversity.”

Newcomb said he has raised more than $29 million for the nonprofit organizations he has worked for over the last 16 years. Besides his work in Park City, he has been managing director of the Gallatin River Task Force in Montana, and regional executive director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s offices for Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Newcomb’s arrival is just the latest shift in the center’s leadership. Foulk said the nonprofit has “gone through 13 leaders, including myself, in the last 10 years.”

Newcomb said that when he heard about the center’s problems, he was “tremendously frustrated.”

“Someone had to come in with the capacity to fix this,” Newcomb said. “We have to have tenacity, and be able to keep our head down and our eyes focused on what we are trying to achieve for the community, while moving ahead and showing the action that is required to build trust.”

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