In the last five years, the Utah Pride Center has undergone a name change and a remodeling — and not just a remodeling of its meeting spaces and offices. Its programming has also undergone an overhaul from being mostly youth-focused to including workshops, social groups and support networks for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adults with a number of interests and needs, from health and wellness programming to neighborhood potluck dinners.
Jennifer Nuttall has a lot to be proud of. As the Center’s adult programs director, she has made this change in programming possible.
“I think getting the baseline support groups in place was really important,” she said, referring to the groups the Center now holds for lesbian and bisexual women, lesbian and bisexual men, transgender adults and the partners of transgender adults. “People would call just coming out or having broken up with someone, in a really vulnerable state, and there was no [program] we could provide for them where they could met people who had been through the same things.”
Long before she made revolutionary changes to the Center’s programming, Nuttall lived in Orem, where she grew up in a typical Mormon household with her 10 siblings. A BYU student majoring in international relations, she served an LDS mission in northeastern Italy at age 21 and later received a minor in Italian from the school. She says that her Mormon background, and the difficulty she had in coming out to a largely Mormon family, has inspired much of her work as an activist.
“It was really difficult and there were so many people to come out to and everyone was having their own reaction,” she said of her coming out at age 27. “It’s been a struggle. I’d say for the first good four to five years I was very consumed by the fact they didn’t accept me for who I was ,and [I was] trying to find ways for them to accept me. But at some point I was able to let that go. I don’t need their acceptance. I’m good with who I am.”
“I feel like that whole experience was what motivated me to work to help alleviate [the suffering] that is caused by people being raised Mormon and having a sexual orientation that is different from the norm,” she continued.
But when Nuttall began volunteering at the Utah Pride Center (then called the GLBT Community Center) under former director Paula Walsh in 2004, adult programming was anything but the norm for the center. Five years ago, the center’s programming was focused mainly on youth; adult gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Utahns interested in starting up a program or a support group mainly just used the Center for meeting space. Indeed, Nuttall’s first assignment as a volunteer was managing a grant from the Utah Department of Health designed to help gay and transgender people stop smoking. The resulting “Queers Kick Ash” campaign, on which she estimates she spent 75 percent of her time, made headlines across the state when Hillcrest High School students were suspended for sporting shirts with the catchy slogan. The flap ended with UDOH withdrawing the grant — a move which nearly ruined the Center financially.
“It was scary because the center went under, but it was a good thing because then we were able to concentrate on getting adult programs the community needed.”
These programs included, of course, the aforementioned support groups. Of these, Nuttall said she is particularly pleased with the three groups the Center now extends to transgender people, their partners and the parents of transgender children and youth.
“Seeing how the transgender community has flourished and grown and become really united is one of the highlights that has happened at the Center,” she said. “Most of my resource calls at this point are for transgender resources, so it’s interesting how the need for transgender services has grown in the past few years.”
The Center also offers programs and support groups for gay and lesbian parents, bisexuals, Latino gay and transgender people, and even music nights in their in-house bistro, Café Marmalade. Nuttall has also expanded adult programming to include a brace of wellness programs, free and confidential HIV testing and “culture competency training” for health care providers, businesses, journalists and educators who want to learn more about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and how to better serve them.
“That’s something I feel is really instrumental,” she said. “As a community center there’s no way we can provide everything, but we can make our communities more caring and competent to serve the LGBT community.”
Sometimes, education, outreach and fun comes together in her programming, as in The Breast Dialogues, an annual performance modeled loosely after Eve Ensler’s hit The Vagina Monologues about breasts and breast cancer.
“People love being a part of it and it provides an educational component to the community,” Nuttall said of the long-running show. “When you put all those things together, I think you have a very successful program.”
When Nuttall isn’t administering these successful programs she enjoys swimming, camping and spending time in the great outdoors with her niece and nephew, who she has had permanent custody of since 2006. And being a mother is another thing that Nuttall is proud of.
“It’s amazing, it’s the best thing in the world but it definitely was a huge adjustment as you can imagine,” she said. “Being a mother has completely changed my life. You can’t even know until you experience it. I feel all my priorities have shifted, they [my children] have become top priority, and I prefer to spend time with them over anybody.” Although juggling work and family can be hard, Nuttall says she wouldn’t give her children up “for anything.”
“It completely changed my life and it’s been a wonderful experience,” she said.