Utah Pride Center’s leader is leaving, after just 6 months in the job

Ryan Newcomb vowed ‘to restore trust’ to the LGBTQ+ nonprofit, and he said he has delivered on that promise.

(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. Newcomb is stepping down from the post on April 1, 2024, just over six months after he started at the LGBTQ+ nonprofit the previous September.

Editor’s note • This article has been updated with comments from Utah Pride Center officials.

The head of the Utah Pride Center is leaving the post for health reasons, just over six months after taking command of the embattled LGBTQ+ nonprofit and promising “to restore trust” after the organization built up large amounts of debt.

Ryan Newcomb’s departure was announced Wednesday in an email message sent from Jess Couser, chair of the Utah Pride Center’s board of directors, to “our esteemed benefactors, stakeholders, community leaders and supporters.”

Couser’s letter also announced that the center is selling its headquarters building near Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City, and moving to a new location near City Creek Center downtown.

With the building sale, Newcomb said Wednesday in an email to The Tribune, “our debts will be fully rectified. … Our financial position has been restored.”

Since joining the center in September 2023, Couser wrote in her letter, “Ryan’s commitment to the success of [the Utah Pride Center] has been extraordinary ... so extraordinary that it has taken a toll on his health.” His resignation from the post, the letter said, will take effect Monday.

Newcomb said, “we are, have been and will continue to deliver on the public promises made to rectify the mistakes of past leadership.”

Taking over as interim executive director, Couser wrote, is Chad Call, who was director of the Utah Pride Parade in 2022 and 2023 and is the Utah Pride Festival and parade’s 2024 volunteer director. Newcomb will partner with the board to bring Call on, the letter said, and will serve as a volunteer on the Pride steering committee “for as long as Chad would like.”

Call applied for the executive director job last September, the letter said, and was one of the four finalists for the post. Call will act as interim executive director through the middle of June.

Couser wrote that the board hopes to name a new permanent executive director just before this year’s Pride Festival, so that person can shadow Call during the event.

In a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune, Couser said, “Our board of directors of eight have worked really hard together and we’re really proud of the work that Ryan did, and mostly we’re proud of the fact that this community came together and allowed this transition to be seamless.

“The focus is to put on a festival and parade that benefits the whole community and we’re really excited to be able to do that,” Couser continued.

In a note from Newcomb included with Couser’s letter, he wrote, “While I deeply regret that my health is requiring such a drastic change in my life, I am tremendously proud of our entire staff, board and volunteer team that led [the Utah Pride Center] through the last six months of change and crisis. …

“Together, we have (as some have observed) ‘turned the Titanic around’ through more transparency, instilling best practices and proper governance — and righting our financial ship, while starting to repair relationships community-wide,” Newcomb continued.

Recovering from ‘financial crisis’

Newcomb, 38, arrived at the Pride Center in September, and worked behind the scenes before his hiring was announced on Nov. 15. He had previously worked as chief development officer at Park City’s The People’s Health Clinic.

“We aim to get Pride back on track to the financially sustainable entity that it was only 18 months ago,” Newcomb said at a news conference to introduce him and to announce the center’s new board.

After Newcomb’s departure was announced Wednesday, Jonathan Foulk, a former executive director for the Utah Pride Center, said the “constant changes” the center has gone through are “heartbreaking.”

“There was so much press and effort put around the new [executive director] about promises … and then this happens, right? And so, now we go back to square one again, and we’ve been doing this for 10 years,” he said.

In Wednesday’s letter, Couser also announced that the Utah Pride Center has sold its building at 1380 S. Main in Salt Lake City, its home since 2018, “to recover from our 2023 financial crisis.” A private buyer made an offer, Couser said, and the sale is expected to close around April 18.

The center, Couser wrote, will move to a space on the top floor of the McIntyre Building, at 68 S. Main St. in downtown Salt Lake City. The new office, the letter said, is “steps away” from the City Creek TRAX station and one block from the start of the Utah Pride Parade.

The center also announced a new partnership with Flourish Therapy, a mental health group that focuses on providing therapy to LGBTQ+ people and their families. The center’s new office will have room for mental health providers, two large gathering spaces, and room for programming and events, the letter said.

“We need the Pride Center, and we need the programs and services that it offers,” Foulk said. “... I’ve always wanted what’s best for the center, and I hope that they can get their leggings back on and be able to provide the life-saving programs and services that they have offered, and hopefully can continue to offer.”

Foulk said he hopes Newcomb “takes care of himself because his health comes first.”

Pride Festival ‘full steam ahead’

Foulk added that he hoped the news of Newcomb leaving didn’t “hurt” the 2024 Pride Festival and Parade. But the letter said both events are “full steam ahead.”

This year’s festival, set for June 1-2 at Salt Lake City’s Washington Square Park, “will be a tribute to years past, when it was accessible to small businesses and large sponsors alike,” the letter stated. The center is taking applications online for entertainment, food vendors, exhibition vendors, volunteers and parade participants.

The center faced criticism during the 2023 Pride festival from some local creators who were angry because of higher booth prices.

This year, Newcomb said in his email, “we will have much more progressive pricing tiers for all participants, vendors and individual attendees.”

The center was also criticized last June for spending $300,000 on security — an expense Foulk said at the time was a response to rising threats against Utah’s LGBTQ+ community.

Newcomb said in November that the center spent about $1.5 million more on the 2023 festival than it did the previous year, “while revenues remained flat, leaving this organization hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.” He called running up that debt “to put it mildly, indefensible and egregious.”

Two rounds of job furloughs in August and September reduced the center’s staff of 19 down to just two employees. A statement posted on the center’s Instagram account in August, and then quickly deleted, said the center was in “massive financial turmoil” and that “the Center might close, revive, or reset.”

In November, Newcomb 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.”

Newcomb promised an internal review of the center’s finances, which would be made public when completed. And he vowed to “establish new financial and ethical guardrails” for the center’s employees.

He called the 2024 Utah Pride Festival and Parade “the crown jewel of our work,” and vowed “to deliver a 2024 Pride that is responsive to our community, and continues to be a conduit for all UPC programming that is going forward.”