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A Walking Tour Through Queer Capitol Hill

For Pride Month History Colorado Center has a new exhibit called Queer Capitol Hill that displays locations that remind us of Denver’s queer history from the 1950s through the 1970s.  Capitol Hill has been Denver’s epicenter for queer history. It contains bars, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers that have made Denver feel like home to the LBGTQ+ community.

The exhibit is located on the second-floor mezzanine and is visible as soon as you climb the stairs. The display includes poster-style boards with colorful illustrations and detailed explanations. The vision and design for the exhibit were executed by Capitol Hill’s own B. Erin Cole.

“I’m a historian and a cartoonist,” said Cole. “I have actually done a lot of research about how did Capitol Hill become a queer neighborhood.”

Cole lived in Denver’s Baker neighborhood in the nineties and Capitol Hill in the 2010s. After moving away from Denver, they moved back to Capitol Hill from Minnesota last October.

Cole, who was once the Assistant State Historian at the History Colorado Center, reached out to their friends at the center and asked if they needed any new art. To complement the new rainbows and revolutions exhibit, which opened on June 4 at the HCC, Cole created Queer Capitol Hill.

Cole’s exhibit showcases their talent for illustration. It features cartoon-style graphics of the buildings you can visit.

“I’ve been writing comics since I was in my 20s and I really only got serious about it 10 years ago,” they said. “I’ve been kind of active in the independent comics community for about 10 years.”

Their research into Denver’s queer history started when they worked on their dissertation. Since then, they said they hoped to create a self-published comic of buildings from Denver’s queer past that you can still visit today.

Cole feels that their illustrations allow people to understand that queer history can happen anywhere, and on Capitol Hill, many buildings remain from these decades in queer history.  

“Buildings that you pass every day, they probably have a history that you don’t know about,” Cole said. “A lot of times that’s going to be queer history, whether it’s a place that queer people lived, whether they had meetings here, had parties, organized there.”

You can pick up a brochure at the exhibit that includes a walking map of all the sites displayed in Queer Capitol Hill.  The walking tour is about three miles, and the average walking time is about 65 minutes. The tour starts at the History Colorado Center and takes people to six additional buildings in Denver.  The tour is not a loop so you have a half hour hike back to History Colorado Center. 

The first stop on the walking tour is 1200 Broadway, right outside the History Colorado Center. Cole explains that “Denver police hassled patrons of gay bars on this and nearby blocks of Broadway in the 1970s.”

The second stop is at 1450 Pennsylvania. Cole says, “Now a private residence, the Gay Coalition of Denver opened their first office here in 1974.”

The third stop is at 1122 E. 17th Avenue. Cole explains, “The Approaching Lavender coffeehouse hosted concerts and community events here in the early 1970s.”

The fourth stop is at 1400 Lafayette. This is where “The Metropolitan Community Church of Denver held services and ceremonies here in the 1970s.”

The fifth stop is at 2023 E. Colfax. Cole says that “The Woman-to-Woman Feminist Book center was a key community space for Denver lesbians and allies in the 1970s.”

The sixth stop is at 1353 Vine. Cole mentions, “Elver Barker lived in an apartment here. In 1957, he founded the Denver chapter of the Mattachine Society and held meetings here.”

The seventh and final stop on the tour is located at Cheesman Park. “Denver’s first pride event happened here in 1974, and the park has played a role in Pride ever since.”

Cole said that they created this exhibit now so that these landmarks are not forgotten.

“Denver is changing a lot,” Cole said. “We’re getting far enough away from that time period that I think it could be forgotten. We’re kind of in a weird place with LGBTQ rights in the United States. I mean, there’s been all these amazing victories, both in the courts and with social acceptance, but you know, there’s also the sense of that could go away.”

With the exhibit Cole hopes to give Capitol Hill residents a sense that change has happened in their own neighborhood.

“The atmosphere changed a little bit from when I started conceiving this to when it opened, and it’s just like, anything that you can do to kind of remind people that change happened because people found each other and organized to do things,” they said. “No matter what’s going on, there’s always going to be something to fight for.”

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