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Utah Pride Festival director and coordinator resign

With less than three weeks remaining until the annual Utah Pride Festival, two key event staff members have left the Utah Pride Center.  Megan Risbon, under contract as Festival Director since January 2014, terminated her contract effective Tuesday, May 20, and Events Coordinator Shannon Hagen left that same week.

Issues apparently came to a head during the Board of Directors meeting of May 19, when board chair John Netto and ex-officio board member Nikki Boyer repeatedly interrupted Hagen during her presentation of a festival status report. Hagen was shadowing Risbon in order to learn and lead next year’s Festival and this was her first presentation to the Board. Controversy arose when she announced that ticket prices would be $8 for pre-sales and $10 at the gate. Boyer and Netto were under the impression tickets would be $15 and were also concerned that the entertainment budget was surpassed. Tickets, however, had gone on sale April 15.


Long-time community activist Dominique Storni was present at the meeting and said that Netto and Boyer were, “Too harsh. Too much micro-managing. Too much control.”

Hagen told QSaltLake that she informed three staff members that evening that she was leaving her position, citing the public humiliation she endured during the meeting. She also posted a Facebook status, but took it down shortly after.

Risbon, who left her full-time position at the Utah Pride Center in January, but stayed on under contract to direct the Pride Festival, terminated her contract the next day. She cited Netto’s lack of oversight and her belief that she would end up being the scapegoat for any problems that may arise with the festival.

Hagen said she met with UPC Executive Director Steven Ha on Tuesday, prior to learning of Risbon’s departure, and asked for 48 hours to consider her decision. Upon learning of Risbon’s resignation she decided to return, notified Ha, and resumed work on Wednesday morning from home. She reported to the office in the early afternoon and worked there for approximately three hours before being called into Ha’s office to be informed that her position had been eliminated.

Ha said that he polled members of the Festival steering committee and it was determined that the event was far enough along and that the Festival could be easily be handled by the committee, with members over separate parts of the festival. Many of those people have been in their positions for several years.

Netto and Ha both stressed that the Pride Festival is moving forward and believe it will be larger than ever.  Netto touted the current outlook of the festival, noting a significant increase in both sponsors and vendors, beating the numbers for last year despite a decrease in pre-event ticket sales to date.

Risbon echoed their sentiment, “I still have no doubt that 2014 will be the biggest and the best to date because of the talents and dedication of the Festival Steering Committee, who have been planning it since September 2013.”

About the author

Bob Henline

Bob Henline is the Assistant Editor of QSalt Lake Magazine, as well as a columnist and social/political activist and amateur chef.

25 Comments

  • Again I will probably not be attending the Pride Festival or the parade again this year. First off the price is to high and second I still have major issues with the Utah Pride Center Board. I am sorry that I can't support them at this time. If they were more willing to help the leather community things might be different but until the Board is removed and an complete new board is in they will not receive any money from me.

  • Really? 8 bucks for a major festival is too much? Really? It's $20 per day in LA, min $35 in San Francisco, minimum $25 in NYC and the VIP tickets for the weekend in Phoenix was $75. $8 is a bargain for a major Pride festival.

  • But there are even better and bigger pride festivals like Denver and St Louis for instance that are free

  • Darin Nielson-Osborne Cool. I'm not fighting with you, that just confused me. And I agree that there are some things going on at the Pride Center that are frustrating. I'm not denying that either.

  • Kevin Clark Edwards – when you have 325,000 guests annually, more sponsors pony up more money.

  • Darin Nielson-Osborne .. I am confident that we, as a community, are in good hands with the new ED.

    I did state on record, that I believe there needs to be an entire cosmological change with the board. The time for the mentality that the UPC is a Country Club has got to go.

    I'm rather sick of hearing over and over, ad nauseam, that the board is tired of going to the same few deep pockets to finance everything. And then they turn around in the next breath and disenfranchise the very grass-roots-folks they lament are not putting enough skin-in-the-game.

    Steven Ha has the knowledge and experience to steer the ship on a good course. Will he be allowed to? And… Once he does, and financial control changes, will the cosmology and attitudes change?

    The next 6-12 months are going to be interesting.

  • There is so much Politics & Drama with this festival, you mark my word attendance is eventually going to suffer….it seems as though there are to many chiefs and not enough indians or as my grandmother would of said Too many hand spoil the soup….I was going march in the parade and also man the Salt Lake City Goodtime League Bowling Booth….I'm okay with the cost although 17 years ago there was no cost and no top name entertainers but it was bar far a good festival…….I've volunteered several years for the festival and I will say one thing never once was I ever doing what I signed up for, they either did not need me and I was always there early, or they would stick me doing something I can't…….never once after many complaints was I issued an apology or placed where I wanted to be……I blame not just Utah Pride Festival Committee but mostly the individuals in charge of volunteers.

  • This sounds like a case of bad management… Not the sort of PR you want right before your Pride Festival, especially when you are calling for volunteers to help.

  • Can you find anyone you know at the festival anymore? No.

    The UPC decided long ago that the money generating factor was more important than the community celebrating together. Gentrification of the community.

  • I see people I know all the time. This is still my "family" reunion. Yeah, we're getting lost in a bigger crowd.

    Allow me to put a little different light to this, Andy. The employees of the UPC really do work hard to keep programs alive and outreach for newly coming out folks who really need the help we did 10, 20, 30 years ago, but couldn't find. All the cishets (cisgender heterosexual folks) who come to Pride and lay their money down, help finance the good work that is done at the Utah Pride Center but that goes unnoticed.

  • Really? People are leaving over this? Talk about thin skins. I attended this meeting, and I witnessed nothing that should rise to the point people would resign.

    There were questions about the price of tickets from the board, perhaps a bit of confusion or misunderstanding, and Shannon Hagen didn't really seem to have answers, but the presentation moved on. As for the entertainment budget, if expenditures exceed the budget by several thousands of dollars it is right and appropriate for the board to have questions, though not much time was actually spent on this issue either.

    It's absolutely ludicrous to say that Hagen suffered "public humiliation". Boards ask project managers questions during presentations. This is normal. Questions weren't hostile or inappropriate. A previous presenter had many more questions asked of her by board members. Actually, Hagen should feel more embarrassed by all the silly little comments and cheers she kept throwing into her presentation, than by the fact that she was asked questions about the price of tickets or the entertainment budget.

    I certainly don't know what dynamics exist between Risbon, Hagen, and members of the board, but it sure seems that a great deal of autonomy exists for festival organizers, and questioning the decision to change ticket prices is hardly micro-managing, especially when one considers the difference between a $10. ticket and a $15. ticket is about $125,000. in revenue.

  • Timm, until the Pride Center took over the festival in 2003 all of the people running Pride were 100% volunteers themselves. The Pride Center is the one that employeed paid staff, started charging, and turning into a money maker for the Utah Pride Center and not festival for and of the community. It has always had it's issues, but so do other organizations. It's how it handles those issues that make the difference.

  • Yes that's Utah for you, a bunch of directors that couldn't care less about anyone but themselves.

  • Yep. This is a mess. I am one of the folks who's at fault for this. One who was there for every meeting at the UPC till I wasn't….. It looks as if we are choking in the top of the 9th. Oh the DRAMA….Will we self destruct the very moment the world turns it's gaze towards us? Or will we say, Yes we are a big messy family, every family has problems, but we will turn out/come out, not to hide the elephant in the living room but to show that we are adults who can rise above? We will see. I am disappointed, but damn it. I WILL be there. As an adult. There are too few events that our children (and all of us) can come and just have fun at. Thank you to Megan who has earned a crown for making this event what it is. To all the people who have and will be there. And to Dominique, Bob and ALL the folks who have kept showing up for their community. Please, lets show up have fun and remember to attend any and all meetings (that will FOREVER make you have a glass of wine afterwards) at the UPC.

  • Geoff… there was an "Emergency Board Meeting" upstairs after we left, that we were not allowed to attend. What you saw in the public meeting was mellow compared to what transpired later, from what I'm told.

    And while I agree with your math, we also have to look at how many people feel alienated and disenfranchised, and will not pay the higher price.

    I've even come around to the higher pricetag to get in. The money CAN help fund needed programming. I think confidence and trust need to be re-earned first.

  • And Mr. Billy Lewis-Croft is uniquely qualified to comment on this issue. You were, and are, the best, Sir Billy.

  • I didn't know about a second board meeting, and, of course, this article only reported on the meeting open to the public, and a couple references to non-board interactions. Neither Risbon nor Hagen mentioned a second board meeting as the reason for their their resignation. Because there were unanswered questions when the meeting closed, I don't think we should jump to a conclusion that any second meeting was hostile. It was probably appropriate for the board to meet with festival directors to discuss those questions.

    I understand that the Center has had trouble with the public's confidence, and the board may be completely irrational and monstrous behind closed doors, but I haven't seen or heard of evidence that this board has been inappropriate on this issue. That being said, I would like to see a few changes to the board, (including the controversial idea that the board president and Centre director actually be L, G, B, or T).

    Personally I'd like to return to a lower priced (or even free) entry fee, but I still think the board is very right to question any changes of ticket prices when so much money is involved.

  • Wow, this is a BIG surprise! (that's sarcastic). Maybe it's time to stop making money off of our fight for equality. Pride and the function of it is over. Move to a celebration of our marriage rights, not our "right" to parade as if we are all in a soft core porn movie!

    OH, but wait, all of those "directors and coordinator" would need to get a real job and not just be pay for gay.

  • Unfortunately my interaction with the committee this year makes me wonder… Do they understand what GAY PRIDE is about? Peeps are not wanting to step out and continue the necessary edge work. Our work is not yet done.

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