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By Amber Carlson and Elise Ertl

Brayden has known he was different since the fifth grade. But it wasn’t always something he could be open about.

“I’ve been in a private Christian school my whole life. So I mean, in middle school, it was kind of like this taboo topic,” Brayden said. “Nobody talked about it, nobody knew about it. So I honestly—I didn’t know I was gay until I was, like, a freshman in high school.”

Brayden is a senior at a Christian high school. He asked for his school not to be named in the piece because he said if school administrators were to discover his sexual orientation, he could be expelled. His last name has been omitted from this piece to protect his identity.

Inclusive education has not been a hallmark of Brayden’s experience at the school, where he said a majority of students are white, affluent and straight. 

“My school does not highlight the stories of a diverse population,” Brayden said. “It’s a lot of white Europeans. It’s a lot of white Americans. I mean, obviously, we talk about, like, Harriet Tubman a little bit, we talked a little bit about MLK. It’s a lot of just presidents—it’s a lot of white, affluent people and the economy.”

Meanwhile, Brayden said, he’s had to learn his own history because students at his school don’t learn about the Stonewall riots. They’re taught that the queer movement is a “big, bad thing.” 

The school has also held assemblies about how same-sex marriage is “wrong” because it goes against Biblical teachings, or how COVID-19 is “God’s punishment because of gay people,” according to Brayden.

“I thought that was really funny,” Brayden said.

But Brayden also said he’s been bullied by schoolmates.

“I’ve personally experienced true hate from other kids, which is really surprising,” Brayden said. “Just seeing 16-year-olds saying horrible things about people—like, that’s kind of sad to see them act like that. But also, I’ve experienced kids who show support, who show love, who, who still identify as Christian and are very accepting of me, you know, love me for who I am.”

Brayden’s experiences of being excluded and othered is not uncommon among LGBTQ+ students—studies have found these young people face an increased risk of bullying, violence and victimization compared to their straight, cisgender peers. According to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, significant percentages of transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexual youth are threatened, injured, and even driven to attempting suicide.

“When you’re in high school, you’re just trying to get through it,” said Sam Long, a science teacher at Denver South High School, as he reminisced about his own time in school. “No matter how bad or good things are, you are just trying to get through it.”

But for Long, those years proved to be a defining period in his life: It was during high school that Long realized he was not the gender he had been assigned at birth. And he began his gender transition in a hostile and unsupportive environment.

Long, a child of Chinese parents living in Toronto, Canada, started his transition in 2007, near the end of his 10th grade year, as inconspicuously as possible, anticipating that others around him would not react well.

“I shared things only to the extent that people needed to know,” Long said. “For example, if I wanted people to call me by a different name, I would say that, but I didn’t go beyond that and say that ‘I’m transgender, this is what it means and this is what I identify as.’” 

Some teachers and peers at school called him by his correct name and pronouns, said Long, but many did not. And when Long became involved in the school band, he was not allowed to participate in overnight trips or other activities where students were sorted by gender. 

Research has found that teaching LGBTQ+ inclusive content in schools can help create a more positive school experience for LGBTQ+ students by promoting their social and emotional well-being while fostering greater empathy among their peers. Yet teaching about LGBTQ+ people and concepts in the classroom has proven a controversial topic, with numerous states across the country passing laws restricting how gender, sexual identity, sexual orientation and similar topics can be taught in classrooms.

Even in Colorado, one of the few U.S. states with a law requiring funding for inclusive education in public schools, the culture wars over school curriculums have raged on as the Colorado State Board of Education has weighed arguments about exactly how inclusive the state’s social studies and history standards should be. 

Last year, a commission established for the specific purpose of recommending inclusive education standards to the State Board suggested adding references to LGBTQ+ and other marginalized groups to content from preschool through high school. This year, after facing public backlash over the proposed changes, a separate committee recommended removing all LGBTQ+ references in classrooms younger than the fourth grade on concerns that the content might not be “age appropriate” for young children.

According to experts and advocates, what’s at stake in the debate over inclusivity in schools boils down to much more than political ideology. Without inclusive education in schools, they say, LGBTQ+ identity is in danger of being erased, and students and community members who differ from the heterosexual, cisgender norm remain at risk of harm.

The making of an inclusive state

In some respects, Colorado may seem a surprising place for such a debate. The state’s openly gay governor, Jared Polis, was just elected to a second term in office on Nov. 8. And a 2020 report by the Human Rights Campaign found that Colorado has some of the most robust legal protections and policies for the LGBTQ+ community of any U.S. state.

Phil Nash, a longtime Denver resident and LGBTQ+ rights advocate, said he and his partner moved here from Michigan in 1976 to find a sense of community and acceptance that was lacking in his home state.

“When I finally, maybe at age 12 or 13, discovered that there was such a thing as homosexuality, I said, ‘That’s me.’ But there was no place – there was no one around that would even acknowledge that this existed,” Nash said. “The information I got was, homosexuals only exist in a few places in the United States, and there aren’t very many of them. And I thought right away, ‘I have to go there.’”

At the time when Nash and his partner moved to Denver, one of the epicenters of LGBTQ+ culture and community in Denver was the Cheesman Park and Capitol Hill neighborhood. Nash said that area was very attractive to the gay male community, helping transform what had become a run-down neighborhood following white flight away from the city into the suburbs.

Nash characterized the neighborhood at the time as a “gay village” for its high concentration of gay people, businesses, bars, and religious organizations. People of the LGBTQ+ community, and gay men in particular, were buying properties, renovating homes, and building businesses in attempt to preserve older neighborhoods and landmarks. 

But Cheesman Park’s thriving LGBTQ+ community didn’t get built overnight. The history of rebuilding the park goes back more than 50 years, when it began to grow from a run-down, abandoned neighborhood that had a left-behind, dug-up graveyard to match. It was a place long forgotten, but one that held onto its potential. The potential would be brought to life by people like Nash, who was the first director of the GLBT Center.

From here, they built the first organized church for the gay community, the Metropolitan Community Church of Denver, a church that would later open branches all over the U.S. Local residents saw the beginning of both the GLBT Center, now known as The Center on Colfax, and the Gay Coalition of Denver. Today, the reminiscence of the “gay village” still stands with LBGTQ+ businesses, bars, restaurants lining the streets. Even Denver’s Pride Parade starts from Cheesman Park every year. 

And while the significance of the area being an LGBTQ+ hub is not necessarily as important as it once was due to more widespread acceptance, that doesn’t stop the fear that the right to be seen and treated as equals could slip away. 

“One of the things that is very concerning, I think, to LGBT people—wherever they live in Colorado—is feeling like victories we’ve had in the past may be going away,” said Nash. “All this talk about school boards limiting what kind of info is given to students, taking certain kinds of books off the shelves, telling teachers what they may or may not teach about—these are broader concerns than what affect the neighborhood.”

One development to address these concerns is the introduction of inclusive school standards. Since 2019, funding for inclusive history and social studies content in public schools has been mandatory in Colorado. The goal is to ensure minority groups, who have been traditionally left out of American history education, are represented in the classroom. Some groups in Colorado, such as the Civics Alliance, have opposed inclusive classroom content and have favored more conservative education standards, such as the American Birthright Standards.

“I think that many times the people raising these concerns about the way kids are taught have— they’re feeling very protective,” said Nash. “They don’t want their kids to feel hurt, they don’t want their kids to feel guilty—so in the name of child protection or instilling patriotism or things that are really good values, they are crushing other values that are just as important, such as telling the truth or letting us know that not only were there good, virtuous things in our history (as Coloradans and Americans), but there were shameful things—I would call it erasure.”

Colorado’s inclusive standards law

Colorado is one of only seven U.S. states that have laws with provisions for inclusive state education standards. In February 2019, a trio of Democratic state legislators—state Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, state Rep. Bri Buentello and state Sen. Julie Gonzales—introduced the Inclusion Of American Minorities In Teaching Civil Government bill, also known as House Bill 1192. It was signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis just three months later.

House Bill 1192 requires educational standards in Colorado to contain history and civics material that’s inclusive of communities of color, LGBTQ+ individuals and members of religious minorities. Additionally, the bill enables the state of Colorado to provide funding for inclusive content to be taught in schools.

But one other key provision of the law was that it established the 1192 Commission—a commission on history, culture, social contributions, and civil government in education—whose job is to make inclusive recommendations for history and civics standards to the State Board of Education during its periodic reviews.

By law, the Commission must be made up of members of marginalized communities, and these members oversee the inclusivity recommendations specific to their community, according to 1192 Commission co-chair Sam Long, a Denver South High School teacher. This rule means that an LGBTQ+ Commission member reviews and makes suggestions for educational content related to the history, culture and social contributions of the LGBTQ+ community.

Long said his LGBTQ+ and Asian identities both informed his content recommendations.

“We have, and had, people on the Commission who are part of more than one community,” Long said. “[It’s important] to honor the intersectionality of our identities.”

Research has shown that curricula inclusive of LGBTQ+ people, as well as other marginalized groups that have been excluded from the curricula, have positive impacts.

“We know that if we have more diverse representation that more students will feel reflected and they’ll feel safer at school,” said Elizabeth Meyer, associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Colorado Boulder. “They’ll feel like they have a belonging, and we know that’s really important for school climate, which impacts academic achievement.”

Research has also shown the impacts of laws that explicitly exclude LGBTQ+ students in school curricula. There are seven states that have enacted “No Promo Homo” laws, which means schools are not allowed to discuss anything related to homosexuality in a positive light.

“What the research has shown is that the students in schools with ‘No Promo Homo’ laws have higher rates of bullying and harassment, higher rates of suicidality and drop outs, and higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, especially if they are LGBTQ identified,” said Meyer.

And even students in more supportive school environments say they don’t always feel understood or seen by fellow students or teachers. One queer student, advocate and drag queen said that although they are gender-fluid, they typically identify as male while at school because it’s easier to have teachers “just know what I am.”

Jameson, a senior at Grandview High School in Aurora who preferred not to give their surname, said that not being able to fully express their gender identity at school has left them feeling like “an imposter” during the school day.

“I’ve been luckier recently, with being able to teach students and teach even my own teachers kind of what gender fluid is, and how to best handle that, because most of them are supportive,” said Jameson. “But it is frustrating when you kind of have to change yourself just to appease the masses.”

State Board of Education weighs inclusivity of standards, receives pushback

In November 2021, the 1192 Commission generated a 74-page report for the State Board of Education with its finalized recommendations for how to implement inclusive content in each grade level from preschool through high school.

The proposed changes in the standards have provoked a mixture of public support and backlash. Parents and community members wrote hundreds of emails and public comments to the State Board of Education, and while much of the feedback was positive, there were plenty of messages expressing outrage at the new proposed standards, and many comments specifically mentioned sexual orientation, gender identity or LGBTQ+ issues.

Some of the negative messages claimed that LGBTQ+ content was not “age appropriate” for young children, while others claimed that LGBTQ+ issues and sexual identity should not be taught in classrooms at any grade level, with some saying it amounted to “indoctrination.”

“If you force children to explore these topics pre-maturely [sic] it could lead to gender confusion and other mal adjustments [sic]. They are too young to understand such issues,” read one email.

“Sexual identities should not be part of the curriculum at all,” another email read. “Parents do not want their children indoctrinated nor confused by these issues!”

Other emails complained that the changes to the standards were “aggressively woke” and usurped parents’ prerogative to teach children about LGBTQ+ issues privately.

One main theme of some of the comments was the idea that young children, especially, should not be learning anything about the LGBTQ+ community. 

Although including LGBTQ+ references in younger grade levels sparked public controversy, Long clarified that the Commission’s recommendations for the earlier grades were simply meant to introduce the concept of family to young kids, especially in a time when families have become more diverse and many children have LGBTQ+ parents.

“In civics, one of the expectations is that students learn about their families. What role does family play in our experience? That’s one of the places that we thought LGBTQ identity should come in,” Long said. “In kindergarten, our suggestion was basically to include LGBTQ people in how we discuss family … [but] that was one change that the committee that serves the State Board of Education wanted to remove.”

Nevertheless, in response to the public feedback, a separate committee serving the State Board, the Standards Review Committee, suggested revisions to the 1192 Commission’s recommendations that included removing all LGBTQ+ references in the content standards for preschool through third grade. 

Jenny Pettit and Sarah Hurd, co-chairs of the Standards Review Committee, emphasized the committee’s decision was in part because there was “a lot of negative feedback” about the LGBTQ+ references in younger grade levels. And by Colorado law, taking stakeholder feedback into account is a requirement in the standards review process. 

Young children already are receiving messaging about family and gender roles, even if they’re not being taught about these concepts in the classroom, according to Bethy Leonardi, who co-founded A Queer Endeavor, a center for gender and sexual diversity in education at CU Boulder.

Leonardi said she has heard anecdotes about young kids from diverse families who had already internalized the message that their family was not normal.

“We had a teacher tell a story where a kid is in second grade, and they were drawing their families, and the kid comes up and, like, tugs on the teacher’s sleeve and was like, ‘Is it OK if I draw my family? Because I have two moms.’ In second grade, a kid already knows that that’s not a thing to have. It’s heartbreaking.”

Meyer emphasized that learning about family structures is part of the process that all children go through as part of their process of growing and maturing.

“Students since the beginning of time—preschool through all grades—are learning about family structures, they’re learning about who am I in the world, and we know when we talk about families, we have to talk about all families. And there’s lots of families that don’t follow the heterosexual husband, wife nuclear family model, so [it] is explicitly part of the early childhood curriculum to talk about family,” said Meyer.

“If it’s OK for a class of kindergarteners to hear that their teacher is married, then it should be OK for them to learn that there’s lots of different kinds of families out there,” said Hayley Vatch, a social studies teacher at Denver South High School. “And lots of different ways that people feel safe being in the world.” 

Young students may also become aware that they are different in some way from their peers, and they may lack the language for understanding who they are. Jameson said they knew, even at a young age, that they liked dressing in feminine ways, even though they didn’t have a framework for understanding who they were yet. They said it could be beneficial for younger kids, who are exploring and learning about who they are, to learn about the different identities a person might hold.

“When I was six years old, and all of those things, I didn’t know what queer was, but I knew who I was,” Jameson said. “I didn’t have a definition to it. But I think if we give kids and students that definition, they’ll be more comfortable in themselves, and it’ll be easier to go through the arduous process of American education, just to feel more of themselves.”

Despite the vitriol of some of the pushback against the LGBTQ+ inclusive standards, advocates note that the resistance to the new standards has primarily come from a minority of community members.

“There is resistance, but what I’ve noticed is that it’s very small, but very loud and well organized,” said Meyer. 

While there is fear surrounding the integration of an inclusive curriculum, Meyer says educating the public on what it means to talk about LGBTQ+ people is critical to understanding its importance.

“The problem is when people misunderstand what it means to talk about LGBTQ people. They assume it’s sex education and that’s generally not what we’re talking about. Sex education is a totally different thing and has its own set of laws and regulations,” said Meyer. “What we’re talking about is making sure people’s identities, people’s history, the communities, and the contributions of different groups are included.”

Vatch said she sees a lot of these misunderstandings stemming from fear.

“There’s people who are equating being queer, being gay, being a person in the LGBTQ community with, like, the 1950s idea of deviant behavior or something that’s bad for society when we know that that’s not the case,” Vatch said. “So these old fears and stereotypes that are not correct, I think, are feeding a lot of the fear mongering today.” 

Brayden, the Christian high school student, said his school could do a better job of embracing diversity, and that he has to do his own learning outside of school to be exposed to differing points of view.

“I just wish that my school was preparing its students better for the future. Because I think a lot of students here say the things they do, and think the things they do, because they’re not challenged on it,” Brayden said. “It’s just what they hear at home. And it’s just getting reinforced at school. And then when they get challenged, it’s an attack on them. And it’s [an] attack on their faith but in reality, it’s just, somebody’s challenging their beliefs, because they believe something different.”

What happens next

Ultimately, it fell on the State Board of Education to make the final decision on the statewide social studies standards for schools. After hearing the 1192 Commission’s recommendations as well as the Standards Review Committee’s suggested revisions, the State Board voted on Nov. 10 along party lines to approve many of the inclusive recommendations the 1192 Commission had put forth (the four Democrats voted yes, while the three Republicans voted no). Many, though not all, of the LGBTQ+ references in younger grade levels were added back into the standards. 

But according to Leonardi, there is much progress still to be made in implementing inclusive material in classrooms. “I think we have a long way to go,” she said.

With the standards approved, it’s now up to individual school boards and teachers to create curricula that meet these standards. Unlike states such as North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, where at least some curriculum requirements are statewide, Colorado allows teachers broad latitude to decide what they will and won’t teach in their classrooms.

“We have local control in Colorado. So even if there’s a House bill that says ‘Do this thing,’ it’s up to the local communities to actually do it,” said Leonardi.

Before the State Board vote, a number of school districts had passed resolutions saying they would follow the revised, inclusive standards, even if they didn’t pass at the state level. But Leonardi said she’d heard stories about teachers in those districts being “completely attacked,” and that school boards need to advocate for and support their educators.

“I’ve heard just so many stories about teachers following the revisions and getting blasted by parents, and that is not—it’s not OK,” Leonardi said. “It’s not fair, and it’s not ethical for teachers to have to stand on their own.”

Vatch, the Denver South High School social studies teacher, said, “I teach high school, but I know people who teach elementary and kids are so much smarter than adults sometimes. So I don’t think the issue is with the kids. I think it’s with the grownups.”

The vehement public backlash to the proposed revisions may foreshadow a long road ahead for implementing inclusive content in classrooms. But Jameson, the Grandview High School student, said they see a brighter future ahead if schools can become more accepting of diverse identities.

“I think that if schools can get more inclusive, it will be better for the next generation because we won’t be held in our groups,” said Jameson. “It will be more connected and more people will be more appreciative of each other’s identities rather than, you know, ‘Your personality doesn’t fit with mine, so I’m not going to bother to get to know you.’”

Brayden said he has already seen some of his friends’ attitudes become more tolerant simply from spending more time around him.

“I’ve had friends who are incredibly homophobic, and then the more I hang out with them, the more they’re around me, they realize, like, gay people aren’t what they really thought,” Brayden said. “Like, gay people are just people, we just happen to like the same gender. That doesn’t change anything about me, you know—I’m still me.”

But Brayden also spoke to the importance of seeing people with his identity represented in what schools teach.

“I want to see somebody who has a similar life story as me so that I can kind of know that there’s hope for my future. I believe there’s a hope for my future, but just being able to see other people, like, older people, go through something and come out of it OK—to me, that’s just a positive reinforcement of what I believe about my life,” Brayden said. “Being able to hear a diverse array of stories truly inspires people. So by only presenting one story and one side to everything, I think it’s only hurting kids. I know it only hurt me.”

By Amber Carlson and Elise Ertl Brayden has

2022 was a year of accomplishments for Bucket List Community Café.  We are on our way to sustainability thanks to your generous giving and to our unique niche at the intersection of journalism and community.  Thank you for helping us accomplish so much and proving that local journalism can be community inspired and most importantly, community supported.

We published over 130 original stories including six podcasts and videos.

We increased our newsletter from monthly to weekly (and during fundraising season to twice a week.)  

We mentored over a dozen emerging journalists and journalism entrepreneurs from CU Boulder and MSU Denver.  They are a diverse group that reflect the city of Denver.  We also worked with CU News Corps to help guide students in their capstone projects.  Here is one on Denver’s DIY Music Scene that we just published on Bucket List Community Café.    

We attended the Independent News Sustainability Summit and received fiscal sponsorship from the Local Media Foundation so we can accept contributions from non-profit foundations.

We brought on our first community sponsors and a business development manager to help us continue offering free journalism without ads, paid subscriptions, paywalls and memberships.

2023: A Year of Big Goals

2023 will be an even bigger year thanks to your support. Because of our work we are receiving national attention from organizations that support community journalism.  We are in the running for grants and recognition and are working hard to collaborate with these groups.

2023 is a mayoral election year for Denver and we plan to do more coverage on subjects such as housing, gentrification, small businesses, climate change, local crime, food insecurity, inequities and other issues that affect our neighborhoods.    

Our brand ambassadors will be out in the community to tell folks about our mission. We are planning events called Bucket List Community Café’s where neighbors can come together to get to know one another, talk about what’s going on in their communities and help inform our coverage by sharing their stories.  Say hello and receive one of our free refrigerator magnets.

We plan to create an advisory group so Bucket List Community Café can be more in touch with the concerns in neighborhoods where we don’t live.

We are seeking grant funding to create scholarships for BIPOC journalists so that our team can reflect the population we serve.

We plan to feature more professional freelancers to produce stories and move our college graduates into paid reporter and management positions with competitive rates for stories and tasks such as business development, analytics, and engagement.

It’s a big list of goals but Bucket List Community Café has always been aspirational and positive. We are creating this together.  Our deadline for the #newsCOneeds fundraising campaign is Saturday 12/31 at midnight.  Your gift will be matched penny for penny by the Colorado Media Project. Watch the fireworks, pop the champagne, and help start the year off by clicking here to support Bucket List Community Café and community journalism.  Happy new year to all of you and blessings for a safe, healthy, prosperous 2023. 


2022 was a year of accomplishments for

By Evan Pratt and Siler Stein/CU News Corps

Deep in the belly of southwest Denver, past any of the concrete throughways and looming overpasses of the I-25 corridor, the 20-mile stretch of road known as Federal Avenue is alive with taco trucks, tattoo parlors, and fast food joints lining the corners of the street. On the south end, near W. 7th Avenue and Barnum Park, life seems to taper off.  The old Comfort Inn, offering perpetual vacancy, stands on one end of W. 7th, and a school bus depot for Denver Public Schools rests on the other.

Nestled between the two lies an unlikely addition to the community: Seventh Circle Music Collective, a local legend of Denver’s underground music scene. Though it stands vacant and still for most of the day, Seventh Circle stirs at dusk and rages blindly through the night.  It is one of the few remaining vestiges of the Denver Do-It-Yourself music scene, an aspect of local culture which has faced numerous challenges over the last decade, many of which are the result of issues innate to punk communities.

The olive-green exterior peels badly and the patchy shingles cling desperately to the roof.  A neon-green open sign hangs from the single cloudy window on the front of the building. Beneath the peak of the roof hangs a stainless steel metalwork announcing the namesake, a jagged-edged number “7” with a half-moon crescent enveloping its figure. Stickers and hand-tagged graffiti occupy any vacant space on the building’s sides, and the red trim of the gutters seems to emit a dull glow in the fading light of the late evening.

Aaron Saye, the owner of the business and the man formerly responsible for nearly every facet of the venue’s existence, is often the first on the scene.  Though at one point he managed everything from booking to sound to lighting to gear loading, he’s taken a step back from the stress-inducing limelight of general management, since the venue shut down during the pandemic, and now enjoys a more backseat role.

“I was the guy at Seventh Circle from its inception in 2012 until the pandemic. It got to the point where it was a huge ball of stress,” he says. Now, there is no head man, the venue is run by a collective of volunteers dedicated to keeping the spirit of local underground music alive. 

The shaky shape of these venues comes down to them being more passion projects than businesses. Those who attend and help operate the venues do so out of dedication to the culture rather than a desire to profit. Given the lack of outsourced advertising and the preference for in-the-know, word of mouth publicity, the audience generally knows what they’re getting into. The meager upkeep of the venue is unlikely to alienate.

DIY shows typically consist of a recommended but optional fee to enter.  These recommended donations vary based on the bands playing any given night. A touring act with a more recognizable name may request $15-20, while a local lineup may only ask for $10. On a concert date, three or four bands play a set in an evening and their durations range from minutes to hours. Due to the spontaneous nature of the scene and the occurrence of mosh pits, age limits are strictly enforced and typically range from 16 to 18 and up. 

The community of fans and musicians that make up the DIY scene is as diverse and inclusive as they come. For many, these venues offer a refuge, a home away from home, where they know they will be accepted by a like-minded group of peers. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism are staunchly repudiated, and most DIY venues have a set of rules disavowing this behavior.

“It brings the freaks together in a beautiful way.”

“The people that come together because they feel a connection will foster that connection with others,” says Saye. “We make a point to be an inclusive community because that’s the way the world needs to be, and that’s the way most of the world is not. We feel a responsibility to be that place for so many marginalized people that don’t find that elsewhere.”

Zac Grice, a second timer at Seventh Circle but a longtime fan of local punk music, echoes the sentiment. “It brings the freaks together in a beautiful way. I remember when I was a kid, I would hang around my brother’s punk friends, with the spiked vests and the mohawks, and I was so scared. But they were all so nice.” 

The last decade has put massive strains on the DIY music venues across the country, a wave that began following safety concerns after a deadly fire in Oakland, California claimed the lives of 36 local fans and musicians at the Ghost Ship DIY venue. 

The DIY scene, made up of genre-bending like-minded musicians who stick to the mantra of complete independence, rely heavily on venues to get their art out into the world. These venues across the country felt the fallout from the tragedy, and the Denver punk community mourned as the beloved Rhinoceropolis venue was closed in 2016, in light of fire hazard concerns, leaving a hole in the Downtown Denver RiNo District.  Glob, another RiNo venue, was forced to close as well, and Flux Capacitor, a DIY spot in Colorado Springs, met the same fate shortly after. 

Colorado was hit especially hard. Not only did this hurt the local music scene, but also the members of the community, some of whom had taken up residence in the Rhinoceropolis. Eleven people were evicted from the premises when the order to comply was issued, leaving local musicians unhoused and unable to perform. 

 Adam Croft, the head of local label Convulse Records, who signs and promotes numerous DIY acts from Colorado’s front range, believes the Ghost Ship tragedy offered cities an opportunity to rid themselves of these independent venues, which offer little in terms of real estate development and profits.

“It gave them a reason to shut down our spaces, and move towards making these neighborhoods more profitable for the city,” Croft says. “When every DIY spot is a potential dispensary or set of condos, it really lights the powder keg. We do these things because they’re good in and of themselves, not because they make a ton of money.” 

Seventh Circle managed to stay afloat through the tumultuous period thanks to its adjustment of occupancy policies and its cooperation with local inspectors, but it seemed undeniable that the so-called golden age of the movement had come to an end.

The inclusive nature of the culture has also brought on challenges from those with conflicting political agendas, according to Saye. “Some people on the far-right side of things take that as an opportunity to rat out places they see as the anarchist and communist breeding grounds. We kind of got some false reports sent to the fire department about us but I’m not sure who it was. When the fire marshall did show up he looked around and said ‘fine, this place looks great.’” 

Though the struggles have been significant, Seventh’s legacy and status is undeniable. The venue enjoyed a steady stream of popularity and success in the years leading up to the pandemic, which became a challenge in and of itself. 

“Keeping the demand at bay was hard, because as we became known worldwide as the DIY place to play in Denver, the emails were impossible to stay on top of,” says Saye.

The venue was bringing in five shows a week for nearly eight years, and the savings they accrued from this consistency allowed them to coast through the COVID-19 shutdowns without needing to fundraise, unlike many other venues.  “We had a year and half’s worth of expenses sitting in the bank, so we said hey, it can stay shut and locked and we will be ok,” says Saye.

Now, on the other side of the pandemic shutdowns, Seventh is back to hosting multiple shows a week and drawing in a crowd big enough to line the street with cars each night, despite it appearing near lifeless during the day. 

“I feel like it’s a very accepting place where you can be yourself and also escape from normal reality…”

“Even when the forces of finance and capital and development are marshalled against the DIY community, it still couldn’t kill us, because you can’t ever kill this community,” says Adam Croft. 

Not too far away in Boulder, burgeoning DIY venue Blue House stands hidden among the student housing trying to nurture the faltering music scene under the university’s shadow. A few times a month, students and locals alike, through word of mouth, make their way to the unassuming venue to watch artists burn through loud and riotous sets.

Though the venue has only existed since late 2021, they’ve garnered a loyal following amongst local bands and fans alike. Over the summer, touring acts Weatherday (Sweden – 120,154 monthly listeners) and Michael Cera Palin (Atlanta, GA – 131,345 monthly listeners) attracted some of the venue’s biggest crowds yet, and the co-headlining show sold out before it even began.

Blue House has managed to avoid complications with the Boulder noise code standards by employing early call times, which allow the shows to conclude before the 11 p.m. noise restrictions are put into effect.  Their strict adherence to vaccine card checks and ID scans allows them to avoid further potential legal complications. 

Nate Lott, a senior at CU Boulder, frequents Blue House whenever a show occurs. “I feel like it’s a very accepting place where you can be yourself and also escape from normal reality,” Lott says. “I think that it has a very positive effect on the community because DIY in Boulder is a pretty small scene and it brings people together who wouldn’t normally be in the same circles.”  

“If you love what you make, other people will too, and to me loving what you make is the only true success.”

Jeremy Baxter, a DIY musician, photographer, and co-founder of Blue House, says that despite the setbacks and challenges, the scene is on the rise in the Front Range.

“I have found, for the first time in my life, a community that loves me and appreciates me for me, and one that encourages me to create the art I love to make,” Baxter said. “I have been able to come to terms with my gender fluid identity and it has helped me to shed some of the internalized homophobia I have about my pansexual orientation.”

According to Baxter, these back alleys of society are defined by an active and engaged fan base. He learned the intricacies of the business by helping to run Blue House. His firsthand experience in all facets of the scene as a musician, showrunner, and sound engineer have brought him to the conclusion of what defines success.

“Success in this scene, on a surface level, is playing shows to decent sized crowds that are active and engaged,” Baxter said. “If you love what you make, other people will too, and to me loving what you make is the only true success.”

The artists that comprise the bands in the DIY sphere are a tight-knit group, with much overlap. It’s not unusual for a drummer to play in 5-10 different bands in the scene, or for a guitarist to finish his set with one band only to reveal himself as the vocalist for the next. Baxter, for example, plays in four bands in the scene.  Though he’s most excited about his project MESHES right now, for whom he plays guitar, his new band Sqerm recently played their first show at Blue House and the crowd was more than enthused. Between those residing in Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins, the bands that convene in the metropolitan center almost guarantee some overlap on a given night. 

“There’s lots of people who care about the past, present, and future of this. So I couldn’t be more optimistic.”

Growing local legends like Militarie Gun, Raw Breed, and Destiny Bond unite under the Convulse label, which is locally run and subscribes to the mantra of DIY religiously, often releasing demo tapes for their signees on cassette tapes recorded on a 8-track, or even a cell phone. 

On November 10th, Convulse hosted a show at Seventh celebrating some of their label veterans like those aforementioned, with Miltitarie Gun, Destiny Bond, MSPaint, and Public Opinion in attendance. Militarie Gun, who boast over 64,000 monthly listeners, are one of the label’s biggest success stories, and the crowd was ecstatic.

“This has to be one of the biggest shows that’s ever happened here on a weeknight,” remarked Croft, who volunteered at Seventh the night of the show. 

“There’s always a place here where you’re not alone. And most people don’t go through life with that guarantee.”

Fans congregate in small circles and their voices fill the yard, only drowned out by the distant sound of feedback emanating from the garage where the bands prepare for their sets.  Once they begin, the lights flash on and off from inside the doorframe and people march mechanically into the dark room to witness the bedlam. Dissonant guitar chords reverberate off the concrete walls as the sweat-drenched floor is transformed into a thresher of convulsing bodies, their vacant faces lost in the trance of the music.

Wet spilled beer on your arms and the smell of cigarette-licked hair in your face become the only sensations you can feel as your body is tossed throughout the crowd and the snare drum beats a steady pulse into your skull. To some, this is heaven, and to others it may sound like hell. Regardless, this is DIY music, and the sound of tuning guitars and a drum kit soundcheck will continue to draw in misfit kids and old school punks alike despite any challenge the venues may face. 

“DIY scenes ebb and flow, people get jaded, they break up. But there’s new kids coming in right behind them. There’s lots of people who care about the past, present, and future of this. So I couldn’t be more optimistic,” says Croft. “There’s always a place here where you’re not alone. And most people don’t go through life with that guarantee.”

By Evan Pratt and Siler Stein/CU News

On Dec. 16, 2022, Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Globeville kicked off its annual Las Posadas celebration.  Las Posadas, which translates to ‘The Inns’ in Spanish, is a religious festival that comes from Mexico and some parts of Latin America. The festival runs for nine nights, traditionally from the 16 to the 24 of December and depicts the journey Mary and Joseph took to Bethlehem.  Adrienne Andrade, has celebrated Las Posadas since she was 5 or 6.  This year she came with her mother, niece and nephew.    

“It’s a beautiful tradition that can be passed down from generation to generation,” said Andrade. “Las Posadas is part of the community, not just something that stays within families, but it’s something that opens doors to meeting more people here at the church. It’s also a part of identity, not just Latino and Catholic identity but also an identity of the community that we have here in the nearby area.” 

Las Posadas is a joyous occasion that involves a procession to symbolize Mary and Joseph and their search for an inn on the night Jesus was born. Once the march is over, a party is held that includes prayers, food, fireworks, and most importantly pinatas!  The tradition is alive and well in the United States, typically celebrated on the same dates as in Mexico. Las Posadas are special in passing on Mexican and Latin American traditions to future generations. It is a celebration of religion, culture and community.  

“It adds something more special to these days because with Christmas there’s a lot of anticipation with it and the presents, but Las Posadas bring different traditions out. Something to look forward to,” explained Andrade.

The church began the night by singing traditional songs depicting Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Afterwards, the church’s youth rushed forward to the hall’s stage as the lights dimmed and the youth whispered and ran around backstage to get ready to put on their play.

For Andrade’s 3-year-old niece, Alyssa, Holy Rosary’s Las Posadas event was her first one!  Alyssa’s favorite parts of the night were singing and the pinata! 

“Little by little we teach them about Las Posadas, Baby Jesus, and that Christmas isn’t just Santa Claus and presents, it’s something bigger than all of that.

Carmen, the coordinator of the Holy Rosary’s Catholic Church’s youth group, believes that it is important to keep passing along the tradition of Las Posadas to younger generations.  Carmen states that the youth group has been doing plays and participating in Las Posadas for four years and they travel to different churches to also participate in Las Posadas events. 

“It’s a beautiful experience and a culture that is important for them to learn about,” said Carmen. 


On Dec. 16, 2022, Holy Rosary Catholic

The ballroom buzzed with commotion and the warm smell of fried potatoes wafted through the air at the Staenberg-Loup Jewish Community Center this past Sunday. The JCC, which is celebrating its 100th year in Denver, hosted its first annual Latkes and Lights celebration to mark the first night of Hanukkah. 

The sold out event included clay dreidel making, representatives from different children’s programs and camps around Denver, and a fiercely competitive latke-making contest. Attendees filled their bellies with samples from each entrant, but the final verdict was passed down by a panel of judges.

Kipper Carter, a first-time latke-making contest entrant, won the citizen category with help from her friend, Piper. Her secret to latke victory is simple:

“Make them with love.”

In the local business category of the latke-making contest, Joshua Pollack and Enrique Socarras of Denver’s famous Rosenberg’s Bagels and Delicatessen prevailed against Safta Restaurant and Zaidy’s Deli and Bakery. Latkes made using the same winning recipe will be available at both Rosenberg’s locations while supplies last. 

Daniel Siegel took to the stage sporting a t-shirt that read “LOL (lots of latkes)” to announce the results and give the winning teams golden, 3D-printed trophies depicting four hands holding up a platter of latkes.

Although Siegel, who works as the JCC’s engagement program manager, grew up in a conservative Jewish household, his relationship with his faith is rooted in community rather than religious doctrine.

“For me, it’s more from a culture and peoplehood lens,” he said.

Both Siegel and Jamie Winter, a PR representative for JCC Denver, want the JCC to be a place where everyone can find community and expand their horizons, regardless of their faith. 

“It’s a space where anyone can feel comfortable and know that it’s also a safe space for the Jewish community,” Siegel said.

Winter recalls a time that she brought a non-Jewish friend along for a babka-making class. Her friend had never even had babka, let alone made it.

“She was like, ‘Oh my god, that was amazing,’” Winter said. 

It’s no secret that there has been a rise in highly publicized antisemitism in the news recently, which President Joe Biden addressed at the White House menorah lighting on the second night of Hanukkah this past Monday.

According to Siegel, this rise in hate speech toward Jewish people hasn’t changed how he does his job. Instead, he says, it’s caused an uptick in curiosity “and a little bit more importance to some of the work that we’re doing as people come through our doors in a good way and just kind of are curious and supportive.”

Maggie Osburn and Eddie Quartin started coming to the JCC during COVID. Quartin grew up going to a JCC in Miami, so it was a natural way to find community through outdoor social events. When Osburn found out that they were hiring preschool teachers at an event the JCC hosted in conjunction with Denver Pride, she seized the opportunity, and the couple has been involved ever since.

While the JCC’s programming is mostly geared towards young families, Osburn’s favorite event is their annual Purim Drag Queen Bingo.

“It should be the funnest thing of the year,” she said.

Osburn and Quartin decided not to enter the latke-making contest this year – they found the task of making 50 latkes to be too daunting – but Osburn recommends using a cheesecloth to squeeze extra moisture out of your latkes to get the perfect balance of soft on the inside and extra crispy on the outside. 

“She has a seasoning mixture that we unfortunately cannot say because we’ll probably be doing this next year,” Quartin said.

Siegel got his game-changer latke-making secret from a woman who was cooking alongside him in the JCC’s kitchen for last year’s Hanukkah celebration. 

“She’s like, ‘Oh, when I make latkes I put a big slice of carrot in the pan with it,’” he said. “I was like, ‘What are you doing?!’”

As any seasoned latke-master knows, you typically have to change the oil in the pan a couple of times or your later latkes won’t come out as crispy and golden as your first couple of rounds. When Siegel tried this new method, all of the little impurities and bits of potato that would normally burn and spoil the oil clung to the carrot chunk.

“And I have never looked back,” Siegel said.

The ballroom buzzed with commotion and the



“In the beginning, we didn’t know a lot about other Polynesian — especially Tahitian–, there’s was just a lot of Hula. Now I feel like… I’ve been here for 15 years, —- people are starting to know US.” They hear the drumming and they come in.  Sometimes we even have like in the park and food trucks come and shaved ice and we become part of the community.



“So I believe you should always be a student. Like knowledge, and like learning more, and I’m talking from seasoned, professional older instructors, but also younger, the younger generation. So uh, we have workshops here, a lot of them where we bring people in from Hawaii, from Tahiti, from all over, from Florida, everywhere and they come here and do like three or four days of like classes and workshops.”



I think it means life it means the place that I can express my emotions and let it out and it’s like the thing that I really enjoy and I’m also always striving to be better. I never lose interest. I always wanted to do better I just yeah and I think that’s what it is for me. I couldn’t imagine my life without it it’s been in my life my whole life so I don’t even know who I’d be without it.


“it’s best to give them the strong roots in the culture and the traditional motions and building a strong foundation for them to stand on that way by the time it comes and they are ready to spin with fire they’re prepared and ready both physically mentally emotionally too. It takes a level of maturity to handle something of that magnitude.”

Like these kids I’m teaching now they’re in their teens right now so like you know 30 years from now and they think about dancing with Halau Kalama I want them to smile and feel that rich Mona that comes from having that connection to the Polynesian culture in whatever capacity that it may be so I want them to smile and be like “I really felt that” and that it touched him in such a positive light in such a positive way.”



Councilwoman Amanda P. Sandoval, along with Denver Chief Storyteller Rowena Alegria, took the stage at the Holiday Theater Tuesday night to present the film, ¡Que Viva La Raza! Honoring a Denver’s Legacy and to discuss the preservation of La Raza Park.

In partnership with MCA Denver, and the Denver Office of Storytelling, Councilwoman Sandoval organized the community event to discuss the importance of keeping the culture and honoring the stories of her community. 

“I want to make sure that the people who are coming into our community understand who was here before them, and how important it is to honor them, and how much we have fought for, and how the struggle has been real, “ said Sandoval. 

Organizers honored the community by providing pan dulce from long time local business Rosales Mexican Bakery and screening ¡Que Viva La Raza! Honoring a Denver’s Legacy, a documentary overview of more than the 150-year history of Mexicano, Chicano/x, and Latino/x people in Denver. 

Highlighting a variety of voices from the Latino community, the 32-minute documentary shares the story of Rosa Linda Aguirre and her restaurant Rosa Linda’s. Located in Northside, Rosa Linda’s was beloved by the community for 30 years, serving hearty Mexican dishes and offering their Annual Thanksgiving Feast to the Needy. Rosa Linda recalls the diversity in the neighborhood and compares it to a bouquet, filled with different colors and languages. Although she closed the doors in 2015, Rosa Linda takes pride in the effect her restaurant had on the neighborhood. By opening it’s doors it brought people together. 

Following the documentary Chicana activist Nita Gonzales began the conversation by sharing her thoughts on the importance of young people knowing where they belong and their moral standing in Colorado.  

“I think it’s just scratching the surface of the history that we play here. And I would just say history is important because it tells you, your people’s place, and your place, it tells you what you contribute to, what you add to, and if you don’t have that in history than you feel like you don’t exist and need to add anything.” 

La Raza Park has been a major part of the Chicano Rights movement. For many like Diane Medina and Ana Castañeda, La Raza Park has been a part of their entire lives. When asked about their favorite memory of the park, Ana recounts a memory of the swim meet celebration held at the park when she was young. 

“I remember that the opening ceremony was done by Corky Gonzales, and once he did his speech and the music started playing, the kids had their swim meets, they had their diving competitions, peaceful.”

Other community members shared what the community means to them so future generations continue to preserve the park. Lorenzo Ramirez, artistic director for Grupo Folklorico Sabor Latino, has called Northside home since 1985. His involvement with La Raza Park was through the crusade for justice, contributing his artistic talent by painting murals at the park’s bathhouse. It was during his time working at the park where he learned about the importance of this community. 

“There is a lot of history here, there’s a lot of stories that need to be told, and need to be preserved.”

 Councilwoman Sandoval hopes that events like these can open discussion and bring awareness to communities like Denver’s Northside.

“How I as a Latina born and raised in the Northside, graduated from North High School, our family started a local restaurant, I stand on the shoulders of those who come before me. I stand on mighty great shoulders. And it’s my job to use my position to be able to elevate those voices.”

Councilwoman Amanda P. Sandoval, along with Denver

After 39 years with 9News, Gary Shapiro retired on December 9. That’s a lot of 9s. He had a unique vantage point to the biggest stories that happened in Colorado over four decades. Gary sat down with Bucket List Community Cafe’s podcast to talk about the stories he’s covered, his thoughts on life after television, and reflections on the incredible changes we’ve seen in broadcasting both locally and nationally. Full transparency, Gary and I go way back to our early days at KAKE TV in Wichita, Kansas in the early 80’s. Our paths led us both to Denver and we’ve stayed friends and colleagues. We’re thrilled he sat down to chat with Bucket List Community Cafe.

After 39 years with 9News, Gary Shapiro

Julia Wilkinson knows how challenging it is to be a mother of a special needs child during the holidays.  Many of the entertainment other families enjoy like visits to see Santa and Christmas performances are unmanageable.

“When a family has a kid with special needs, they live in fear that people are going to criticize them which is why a lot of families with special needs kids don’t go to performances,” Wilkinson says.

Wilkinson is the founder and artistic director of the Colorado Conservatory of Dance and she wanted to create a welcoming environment for those like her five year old special needs son who is often left out of traditional family experiences.  Sitting still, staying quiet and being in the dark surrounded by loud noises and unfamiliar people doesn’t work for him.

“I don’t go to regular performances with my child because I know he can’t handle sitting, I mean we’d be there for 30 seconds and then I’d have to take him out, and as a parent you endure a lot of disdain.” Wilkinson says.

This holiday season the Colorado Symphony and Colorado Conservatory of Dance are hosting sensory friendly performances of holiday classics at Pinnacle Charter School in Federal Heights to create a space where those with special needs and their families can feel welcome.

Sensory friendly performances are specifically designed to accommodate people with sensory processing disorders like autism, or any other condition that may make it harder to enjoy a concert. The sound is lowered, house lights are kept on throughout the performance, and audience members are encouraged to react and move with what’s happening on stage.

The first event on Dec. 3 was a sensory friendly performance of a selection of holiday music such as Frosty the Snowman, Sleigh Ride and excerpts from The Nutcracker. The next sensory friendly experiences are performances of The Nutcracker on Dec. 16th.

Sensory friendly performances modify the way the audience experiences the music and dance but not the onstage performance. The performance is designed to have a “no-shushing” policy to ensure that everyone can be included in the concert space. At the Dec. 3 concert audience members were given colorful scarves, pop it’s and other fidget toys.

“It’s really important to us that everyone can access the art form.” Wilkinson says. “And while the experience is different from a typical audience experience, we still want to have the art form be as pure as it can be.”

Assistant Principal Viola with the Colorado Symphony, Catherine Beeson explains that they don’t play their instrument any differently and the dancers don’t adjust anything about the performance.

The Colorado Conservatory of Dance has been hosting these performances since 2014 and has offered dance classes for kids with special needs called Dance Expressions since 2008. The Colorado Symphony has been hosting sensory friendly performances for the last several years but only this year have the two organizations partnered.

​I am really grateful to partner with an organization that gets it.” Beeson says.

Beeson notes that traditional concerts have an “invisible keep out sign” for special needs families and they want to change that.

“We need to ask ‘who’s not in this room?’” Beeson says. “And then we need to ask ourselves why and figure out a way to get them there.”

Wilkinson has expanded their sensory friendly performances to include more dates throughout the year so there are additional opportunities for families with special needs children to experience the arts. Information on how to get tickets for the upcoming sensory friendly performance of The Nutcracker is available online at           

Julia Wilkinson knows how challenging it is

I am Victoria Perez, and I am queer women of color. Ten years ago, I was forced to come out. At 23 years old, I am still searching for the safe place I lost at the age of 13.  I was forced to explain myself to the adults in my life about why I had been so close with another girl.

When I was forced to come out everything that I had (and had just started building for my identity and safety) was taken away from me, and exposed to the world.  It felt as if I had experienced loss; knowing that I wasn’t able to decide to come out when I felt ready and most importantly, safe.

My adolescence made me wonder “Why am I being treated poorly? Why do I feel stripped away of my identity?” I felt frustrated and confused. Were these feelings and thoughts I had abnormal?  I had seen so many students at my middle school getting away with simple acts that any young teen would do when they had a crush. Holding hands. Sending notes. Talking about their crushes endlessly. Hugging. Maybe even that first kiss.  I tried to understand what I did that was wrong.

When I look back at that moment, I regress back to that adolescence and the fear that I was faced with; knowing that my safety was on the line from my environment. I also shudder at the toll it took on my mental health. 

It wasn’t until I realized that the circle of adults who surrounded me at that table created an environment where I felt scared, where I felt nervous to be myself, and where I felt like a target both emotionally and physically. It was because of my sexuality.  Their perception of me was redefined; and my perception of who and what was once my safe place was redefined as well.  The feeling of uncertainty has lingered with me throughout the ten years.  I wonder if anyone in the LGBTQ+ community will truly achieve that safe place.

As a queer person who had my safe place removed in the beginning of understanding my sexuality, I strive to merge my platform and communities to vocalize these issues.  The LGBTQ+ communities’ need and fight for a safe place continues to evolve gradually.   

The topic of a safe place in the LGBTQ+ community has only recently become visible because of more generational acceptance in the community. This does not negate the fact that LGBTQ+ individuals are at risk everyday solely because of their identity. The LGBTQ+ community still needs to create a stronger safe place. This is done by listening, educating ourselves, and valuing the information that LGBTQ+ peers in Colorado spread.

Below are resources for  LGBTQ+ peers in Colorado.  In light of recent events it is necessary to take care of yourself as tragedies such as the mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs create a ripple effect. Safety matters, and these resources may provide what you need to create a space that values that safety. These sources range from centers where you may seek community and support whether it is mentally or physically. 

The Center on Colfax –

One Colorado –

The Trevor Project –

LGBTQIA Resource Center: Support Lines –

Inside Out Youth Services –

Coping in the Aftermath of A Shooting –

QTBIPOC Mental Health and Well-Being –

I came out to the publisher of Bucket List Community Café.  When I was ready. I found a safe-place over at Bucket List Community Café and I came out on my terms. 

I am Victoria Perez, and I am