Pride Rides on | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly
Support the Free Press | Facts matter. Truth matters. Journalism matters
Salt Lake City Weekly has been Utah's source of independent news and in-depth journalism since 1984. Donate today to ensure the legacy continues.

News » Cover Story

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

Utah Pride Center’s - Rob Moolman - STEVE CONLIN
  • Steve Conlin
  • Utah Pride Center’s Rob Moolman

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.


Come Out and Drag Main on Oct. 11

The Utah Pride 2.0 Road Rally is open to any individual, family, group or business.

1. Create a team
Even it's only you and your trusty steed, or a rainbow-bedecked RV filled with a boisterous crew you just met at the bar, give your "team" a name

• Assign a team captain
• Create a fundraising goal
• Determine which Rendezvous location you wish to start from
• Choose a "class" your team represents, i.e., friends and family, a school, political candidate, a business

2. Invite friends to join your team

3. Enter your team on the Road Ralley website and pay registration fees (or join someone else's team)

4. Come on, raise a ruckus—and funds—for the Utah Pride Center
Put out a request to your friends to donate to the Utah Pride Center through your entry.

5. Gussy up your ride (if you wish) with Pride bedazzlement

6. Join the rally on Sunday, Oct. 11
9 a.m. Rendezvous
10 a.m. Road rally begins at 14 locations. Follow the pace car downtown.

7. Don't feel like driving?
Volunteers are needed to help with the event. Contact

More information available at :

Troy Williams - with Equality Utah - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Troy Williams with Equality Utah

Not Just Preaching to the Choir
Equality Utah takes its diversity message to corporate settings
By Troy Williams

A wiser president once said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." We are all weary of the chaos that is dividing our country. Good people are being pitted against one another in an exhausting culture war of "us vs them". It's likely that events will get even more chaotic and wild as we approach Nov. 3.

Even in the face of a pandemic, climate change and global protests around racial injustice, I see opportunities for us to rise and be better.

The nation needs competent bridgebuilders like never before. We need leaders who see beyond the fences of our own backyard and reach out to those who don't look or think like us. And that means we all need to go where we haven't gone before.

Over the past few years, the LGBTQ community has made phenomenal strides toward legal equality—that is to say, we've won legal equality on paper, and our rights are now enshrined in our state and federal laws. But that doesn't mean that we all experience lived equality. Many gay and transgender Utahns have new statewide legal protections, but they still may fear bringing their full authentic self to work out of fear of missing out on a raise or a promotion. Or just simply being excluded in the workplace. There are still pockets of the state where old attitudes die hard.

But it's also true that Utah businesses are reaching out to our community like never before. They are asking us how they can help make their workspaces more inclusive and welcoming. And they are asking new but important questions: How do we help an employee who is transitioning their gender identity? What does the "Q" stand for in "LGBTQ"? How can we be a company that can attract new talent to Utah, despite the stereotypes about our state?

In addition to our political work, Equality Utah has been helping Utah companies answer those questions. We are working to positively transform the culture of Utah. Over the past year we've been working with Silicon Slopes companies on a series of trainings to explore a fuller spectrum of LGBTQ diversity and inclusion. We established our Business Equality Leader program to specifically provide companies the tools they need to elevate their corporate culture. Companies like Instructure, Vivant and Clearlink are inviting us into their offices. It's a unique opportunity to get in front of people who may never have heard our message and to invite them into allyship.

That's the heart of the work we are interested in doing. We don't want to just preach to the choir. We want to go into the spaces where people may not welcome our message and win them over. And yes, often that means getting out of queer-friendly Salt Lake City. We want to sit down with conservatives, with people of faith and with C-suite execs and people working in shipping docks and in their cubicles. We want to see if it's possible to reach beyond our own tribe and discover common ground.

We see the desire in Utah companies to be a force for good in the state and around the country. We are all grappling with the same questions. How do we create a community that loves and includes all—even our most vulnerable? That is the challenge before us. That is the opportunity we all have to make an impact and truly begin to heal our country.

Partnering with local companies is just one step in the work to build a more fair and just Utah.

Troy Williams is the executive director of Equality Utah. Since 2014, he's worked on initiatives that include helping pass Utah's LGBTQ non-discrimination protections in housing and employment, renaming 20 blocks of downtown Salt Lake City Harvey Milk Boulevard and overturning Utah's "No Promo Homo" law that prohibited discussion of LGBTQ issues in the classroom. Most recently, he led the campaign to protect minors from the practice of conversion therapy.

Olivia Jaramillo - District 14 Utah House  candidate - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Olivia JaramilloDistrict 14 Utah House candidate

We Belong ...Everywhere
Diversity is here, the change is now.
By Olivia Jaramillo

I am not originally from Utah. I was born and raised in Mexico and, as an immigrant, change and diversity were not something I embraced but rather something I had to contend with. Many times, what I experienced as "new" didn't want me there. All they saw was another Mexican immigrant or what they perceived as a queer kid. I was something wrong and unwanted, something that was robbing tax dollars to educate and to teach English to. Even my initial military experiences were somewhat unfavorable.

Now more than ever, we're experiencing a clash of diversity, cultures and ideologies. Out of the "forming-storming-norming" model, we are firmly in "storming." We are pushing against boundaries imposed for centuries against racial, cultural and economic norms. It isn't that we immigrants, people of color and "the othered" seek superiority—we simply seek equality and a true shot at the American dream.

LGBTQ immigrants need to feel that Utah's legislative victories in the quest for equality are also theirs to celebrate. It can be difficult to acculturate in a new country, even when it provides services that can make it easier to do so. In 2019, Utah added an LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes law that included race, religion and disability. With this passing, the state of Utah acknowledges that crime victims—persecuted simply for being who they are—are entitled to justice.

This is yet another victory on top of the momentous 2015 anti-discrimination law that bans discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in housing and employment, while also protecting religious institutions that object to homosexuality. And it is in these compromises we make in Utah that we can slowly start building bridges of racial, ethnic and LGBTQ equity. These victories belong to everyone.

To further this progress, we need to tell our stories—not only the stories of how immigrants struggle with everything there is to struggle with, but to add to that something like being gay, lesbian or even more: being transgender. We must start understanding what happens inside organizations such as our military.

As a retired veteran, I have seen the fundamental changes from 1999 when we were a force fully embracing homophobia with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, to 2016, when the doors opened for transgender members to officially serve as their authentic selves.

This change is something we are seeing introduced in the Utah Legislature, albeit rather slowly. It's important for everyone to understand that Utah is not being invaded; rather, the state is being transformed into the Utah of the 21st century.

When it comes to diversity in Utah politics, we will truly see it when we elect officials who are willing to represent not only their own special-interest group but everyone, regardless of ideologies, race or religion.

We can't stop. In order to see the world become a better place—a world accepting of diversity and willing to coexist peacefully and with equality—we have to stand up for ourselves, for our worth and value and for what we believe in. No one will advocate for us better than we can. We do indeed belong everywhere and anywhere, no matter our race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. We belong in any space, in any city hall, even the state Capitol. We can apply for any position and run for any office. We have the right to life, to liberty and freedom and should never be afraid to fight for a better tomorrow.

Olivia Jaramillo is a Democratic candidate for the Utah House of Representatives District 14. She's retired from military service, having served tours to Iraq and humanitarian missions into Africa. She chairs the North Davis Communities that Care Coalition, founded the Davis County Multicultural Committee and is currently working on reforming first responder training to include implicit bias/race relations education. She was recently nominated to be Utah PTA's Diversity & Inclusion board specialist.