Denver Pride crowds beat the heat and the politics
Community gathers to celebrate one another
Photos by Charles Broshous, Nikki Kushner and Gary Stefanski
June 19, 2012 | 7:00 pm
(Updated: February 22, 2013 | 6:49 pm)
Denver’s Civic Center was filled with people on a cool, cloudy Saturday, smiling, eating, drinking, collecting free stuff, swaying to the energetic music filling the air. The setback Colorado suffered in gay equality this year seems like a distant memory, but these people were celebrating something that bonds many Coloradans with each other and people all across the nation: Pride.
It was quite a sight: Denver’s 37th annual PrideFest. More than 300,000 LGBT community members and their families were expected at Civic Center June 16 and 17. Colorado’s four out gay lawmakers were the parade’s grand marshals, while Kristine W headlined the main stage. There were dozens of DJs and even more – or so it seemed – volunteers asking passersby if their voting registration had been updated. And while the official numbers weren’t released by deadline, it was clear: No one has forgetten about the death of the Colorado Civil Union Act.
This May a bill that would have established civil unions here was rejected twice by the Colorado legislature – without even receiving a vote by the state House of Representatives as a whole. The development came as a shock and disappointment to many LGBT people and supporters who were sure that if it had gone to the whole House it would have passed.
“Disappointed in the system,” is how Gabriel Christie, a 20-year-old student who is straight, felt about the news. The state “claims to give freedom to everybody but prevents a few from having it. It reminds me of the slavery debate of the 1800s.”
Many PrideFest attendees expressed disappointment in the bill – including some out-of-state visitors. Denver Pride rallied flocks of celebratory guests from all over the country, and they too were heartbroken by Colorado’s politics this spring – some because it has been legal in their homes for years.
“I was frustrated because I had just moved from Chicago where it’s been about a year since [civil unions] passed,” said Nikki Narloch, a 24-year-old lesbian who now lives in Colorado Springs. “Just hearing that it’s as close as it’s been and then to find out that it didn’t pass is frustrating.”
Others said that they want Coloradans to push for more than just civil unions, even though it’s a step in the right direction.
“Colorado residents would be very happy to get that [bill] to pass, but that’s not enough,” said Steven Elmer-Daly, a 41-year-old resident of Salt Lake City. “They should not be satisfied with that; they should be continuing until it’s [marriage] equality for everybody. It needs to be a continued-on process.”
And some found the bill’s failure a blow not only to Denver and Colorado, but the entire LGBT community.
“To me, marriage is about love and to know that people want to take that away from us, it makes me livid,” said Brittany Buss, a 21-year-old Milwaukee resident and lesbian. “When it’s not passed, the LGBT community, it brings us all down as a whole.”
On Sunday, hundreds of thousands gathered to see the Pride parade – under clear, sunny skies in the blistering June sun. Though many expressed their disappointment in speeches and with friends and supporters, they did not let it affect their sense of Pride.
Those involved with the parade marched proudly wearing smile after smile, while a multitude spectators cheered and smiled back.
Such a joyful sentiment might have been caused in part by President Obama’s recently-announced support for same-sex marriage. On May 9, Obama announced the progression of his position on the issue, followed by declaring June to be National Gay Pride Month. In a still-tumultuous political environment, many take this as a sign of lasting change.
“His decision is the first step in remembering that gay pride is American pride,” Christie said.
“I’m thrilled that he came out and finally supported marriage for everybody,” said Steven. “I’m hoping that this won’t be a detriment to his success, but he finally stood up – a step in the right direction.
The view was shared by 24-year-old Aaron Cummins, who is gay.
“I think it’s a step toward an accepting nation for gay people and hopefully people realize there isn’t a seperation between gay rights and human rights,” Cummins said.
Maybe that’s what drove what seemed to be an increased enthusiasm and smiles at this year’s Pride. Many were well-aware of the community’s defeats and challenges, but chose to focus on the poisitve: As the sun set on PrideFest – vendors talking down their booths and attendees meandering out of the park, exhausted and releaxed – it was not the end for Denver Pride, but only a chance to reconnect and look again, into the future.