Rainbow flags waved high over the Colorado State Capitol last weekend during Denver’s annual PrideFest. More than 535,000 people gathered over the two-day celebration to support the LGBTQ+ community loud and proud.
Pride holds a different meaning to everyone, as each person has a different experience and story with how they’ve come to define it and themselves. As Pride Month comes to an end, the question is how we will continue to celebrate, empower and support the LGBTQ+ community beyond just one weekend in June.
“I grew up back in the ‘70s in rural Colorado, where there really wasn’t any LGBT representation, besides me,” said Rex Fuller, CEO of The Center on Colfax, which coordinates PrideFest every year. “And I would kind of hear about these Pride events and hope that someday I could be part of one. So it means a lot to me to have a big festival where everybody can come and be themselves.”
The Pride events we see today began as a commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. Five years after, Denver celebrated the anniversary of the riots and the gains made by the community with its first iteration of PrideFest. Today, the event has flourished as the third-largest Pride festival and seventh-largest Pride parade in the U.S. A study conducted by The Center found that 8% of attendees of Denver PrideFest come from a 50-mile radius.
Fuller stated that Denver continuously strives to provide a safe place for those who come from less welcoming areas of Colorado and surrounding states.
“Denver itself is pretty accepting and welcoming in most cases. But I think when you get outside that core, it can be a much different story,” Fuller said. “So to have a place where people can come and celebrate their identities and who they are and just celebrate themselves in a safe place is really important.”
Strolling through Civic Center Park, one finds a community full of stories. Although they may differ from one another, they piece together to create a moment that everyone can share.
Natalie of Broomfield gathers her “chosen family” around the fountain alongside her partner of 20 years.
“Pride for me is all about love and having a chosen family that just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Natalie said. “And when we’re all together in this, we’re unstoppable. And that means a lot to me.”
Chosen families are often adopted by LGBTQ+ people who didn’t receive familial support through their queer journeys. Stacey Ziegelbauer has dedicated her Pride to providing support for those who may feel alone through the nonprofit Free Mom Hugs Colorado.
“I show [Pride] with my actions and with my words with my friends,” Ziegelbauer said. “They know that I am a safe place if anything ever happens, they ever need anywhere to go. Let your friends know you’re there and that they’re seen and heard.”
For those like Hilary Bouldin, finding their definition of Pride meant breaking away from restrictive religion and reforming what they were taught about LGBTQ+ folks when they were children. Bouldin celebrated her first Pride Month this year after deconstructing her evangelical faith.
“I feel like I have the space to love people now that I’m outside of that faith,” Bouldin said. “So it’s really important to me to set an example for my nieces and the rest of my family to show how to love people and accept people because there’s so much freedom in that and that’s why Pride is important to me. I just think there’s so much freedom in celebrating yourself and others. It’s beautiful.”
As June comes to an end, queer folks say allyship for the LGBTQ+ community should continue beyond Pride Month. While many may argue that there has been an abundance of progress in the LGBTQ+ community since the Stonewall Riots, this is often viewed as an outsider’s perspective by those in the community who continue to face injustices.
2023 marks a year with a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced across the U.S., which range from restricting gender-affirming care for transgender youth to penalizing drag performers.
Zimmorah, a local transgender drag artist urges everyone to prepare to participate more in the conversation and recognize there is more fighting left to do for LGBTQ+ folks to feel safe and comfortable in expressing themselves.
“Please, as a queer person, be involved in politics,” Zimmorah said. “People are trying to get rid of our community, it is so important right now to look for candidates who are supporting LGBT issues. Look for bills that want to take away rights from us and get out and vote and also get out and protest when needed.”
Minerva, another local drag performer in Denver, said support for the community is important to keep progress moving forward.
“Pride is more than just a big get-together with everybody downtown,” Minerva said. ”It’s more than just shutting off a couple of blocks and walking around. Pride can be continuing supporting your local LGBTQ+ community and supporting your local artists, supporting local queer businesses, and supporting local benefits targeted for LGBTQ+ communities. And you can literally do that year-round, you don’t have to do it just in June. You don’t have to do it just for one weekend. It’s a year-round thing.”