City Weekly: Pride Rides on

Utah’s LGBTQ festival is reborn as a COVID-friendly ‘outing’ and road rally.

The pandemic has been hard on us all but certainly for those in Utah’s LGBTQ community, who need space in which to gather where they can simply be themselves, sans judgment or pressure to tamp it down for the benefit of straight family and friends. And while many argue that home is the safest place to be during the pandemic, that’s not necessarily so for queer and trans folks, where connecting and being social with peers is the basis for sanity and coping. COVID has, in effect, forced many in the community back into the closet.

Since the pandemic struck, finding LGBTQ-affirming safe zones has been an ongoing challenge. Utah Pride, an annual event held each June that attracts 60,000 to its parade and sells out tickets to a two-day festival, was one of the early cancellations of the pandemic. The loss of revenue from that event has further impacted offerings provided by the Utah Pride Center (although the organization quickly pivoted. More on that later).

The joys of simply gathering have been limited since COVID came to town. Let’s face it: dating apps and Zoom meetings don’t take the place of physical interaction. Thankfully, Salt Lake’s few gay bars remain open—even if patrons are required to gaze upon each other from across a not-so-crowded room after wearing masks to enter and dealing with the loss of the dance floor (where you’ll find socially distanced tables). Just how fun is it to rave 6 feet apart and then, only at your table?

Are crowded bars a thing of the past? Probably not. After braving the AIDS epidemic and finding safer ways to connect, LGBTQ folks are likely going to lead the way back to the new normal.

One of the ways the Utah Pride Center hopes to bring people together is via a Road Rally on Oct. 9, detailed in the following pages. Rob Moolman from the Utah Pride Center describes how the center dealt with the cancellation of the Pride festival and how it continues to keep the lights on. Troy Williams with Equality Utah discusses how his organization is stepping up to offer diversity training in Utah’s more conservative corporate sector. And Utah House candidate Olivia Jaramillo writes about her political activism and how LGBTQ members should fight for their place at the table.

Pride rides on!

—Jerre Wroble

Queer as Quarantined Folk
Utah Pride Center keeps the flame alive at a time when connection is vital
By Rob Moolman

The Utah Pride Center has been serving Salt Lake City for more than 27 years, and while it has been a space that has gone through some ups and downs, these past few months have been a challenge unlike any of those before.

The center is not unique in how the pandemic has affected community spaces, for so many of our organizations, funding and revenue has plummeted dramatically, while the demand for services and resources has skyrocketed. This speaks to why places like Utah Pride Center as well as community spaces like the Urban Indian Center, Comunidades Unidas and many others are so important—these gathering hubs are able to connect our communities directly and offer help and support to those often left out of the mainstream discourse about solutions to the pandemic issues.

We also know that our communities are disproportionately affected by the pandemic due to the social determinants of access and availability of health care.

Before we were forced to close our doors temporarily as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, 1,800 people per month were visiting Utah Pride Center for support groups, programs, meetings and mental health therapy—finding a safe, welcoming space to connect with community and resources. For many clients, the connection and support received through the center’s programs are a lifeline and an important part in their search for healthy relationships and community.

A lot of this work has continued through these past months. While the Pride center may have had to close its doors to public access, we have not stopped a single support group, youth group, senior program or any of our mental health counseling services. The incredible team of dedicated and essential employees have been here for our communities and have transferred our programs to online and virtual spaces, while still reaching out to connect with people individually who might need extra support. They have done so through incredibly trying times, through huge changes at the center and often working through their own anxiety and stress in dealing with this changing world. The LGBTQ+ community is lucky to have professionals with this dedication, drive and passion at the Utah Pride Center, and they are to be commended for their work for our communities.

The team has been able to pivot to these virtual spaces quickly and effectively. Individual and group mental health counseling sessions are now being offered via teletherapy calls and online platforms, and clients can access a full spectrum of virtual support group meetings, drop-ins and chats, along with education workshops, suicide-prevention “gatekeeper” training and crisis support.

Creating these virtual spaces has enabled us to extend our reach far beyond that of our previous programming, which was bound largely to Salt Lake and our physical space. The participation in our virtual programming by people from many other areas of Utah tells us that we are reaching demographics that need this sort of support, and we plan to use virtual spaces to better serve these communities in the future.

Notwithstanding these positive changes, the challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis to our communities and our organization are considerable. Many of our clients, especially the most vulnerable, are struggling with the loss of connection and community that their visits to our center provided. The use of technology-focused programming also poses barriers for many of our LGBTQ+ senior clients, many of whom lack access to and familiarity with technology. The technology-divide is a real and significant problem that marginalized communities, individuals and parents are facing as this pandemic stretches on.

We have also had to redeploy and reduce staff, and the reductions in our funding streams have affected us greatly—most significantly, the shortfall that has resulted from the need to postpone (and then cancel) our organization’s biggest fundraising event and revenue source, our annual Utah Pride Festival.

There is no doubt that the work and structure of the Pride center has changed. We’ve had to envision a different future and a different way of doing things. Some of these changes have been difficult, some necessary and some have been welcome additions to our center.

There is a long road ahead, but we know that the work we do here is important and necessary. We hope that when able, our communities will be able to come together again to dance and celebrate our joyous connection and varied identities. For now, the Pride center will remain doing the work needed, and being there for individuals who need us and who want to help us create the change that our center brings to Utah.

We’re happy to announce our Pride 2.0 Road Rally, which is inviting you to Come Out and Drag Main—a fun, COVID-19 safe and community-focused event that will help our fundraising efforts, as well as bring our communities together. It is on Oct. 11, which is National Coming Out Day, and we hope to see you there! Please support community spaces, please support community fundraising events or online requests and please volunteer where you can.

Rob Moolman has served as executive director of the Utah Pride Center since 2018. He has worked in the fields of education, training, and advocacy in South Africa and Australia and holds a Ph.D. in Education and a Master’s degree in Educational Management (M.Ed) from the University of Melbourne, Australia.

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