Grand Junction’s inaugural Pride parade celebrates changing perspectives
Western Colorado and Eastern Utah communities come together at May 19 event
June 7, 2013 | 2:53 pm
(Updated: September 20, 2013 | 9:59 am)
The sun burned brightly as out Colorado State Rep. Paul Rosenthal – Grand Marshal of Grand Junction’s first-ever Pride parade May 19 – rolled down Main Street, waving to the crowd in his cowboy hat. More than a dozen organizations marched behind, including One Colorado, the West Colorado AIDS Project, Moab Pride and the Colorado Mesa Gay–Straight Alliance.
“Here in Grand Junction, the community is starting to pull together,” said Mark Mathews, co–founder of Colorado West Pride who helped organize the event, which took place in the hub of one of the most conservative regions of the state and a 30-minute drive from the state border with Utah. “They feel it’s about time that the organizations are more visible than they were before.”
Parade watchers lined the sidewalks, clapping, cheering and waving rainbow flags as the parade turned up 6th Street, ending at Grand Junction’s Old Courthouse. Participants then funneled into a Street Fair populated with over twenty vendors, many of them straight allies.
Jesse A. Daniels, also Co–founder and Events Coordinator of Colorado West Pride, has lived in Grand Junction most of his life. “People are definitely becoming more accepting,” he said. “It’s definitely grown a lot, and it’s continuing to grow pretty quickly, especially with Colorado Mesa University (CMU). Just the diversity of the students has grown immensely.” CMU recently transitioned from college to university status, with almost 1,000 students graduating this May.
Daniels and Mathews also organized a series of celebratory events before the Parade, including a production of the play Torch Song Trilogy at Colorado Mesa University, a drag queen celebration at the local Mesa Theater, and a white party on Saturday night – all leading up to the Pride Parade and street fair on Sunday.
“It’s sort of like giving hope back to the community,” said Mathews, who moved to Grand Junction from New York City seven years ago. “Everybody can come together and be part of something and be proud of their group.”
Colorado West Pride works with its sister organization, Moab Pride based across the state line in Moab, Utah, to support the local communities in both states. “We had visited Moab Pride and their first Pride Festival,” said Daniels. “We were super impressed and realized that if they could pull off a great festival, we could too.”
Parade watchers gathered in the shade along Main Street for the Parade to begin.
“I remember going to the gay pride picnics 15 years ago with four people,” said Silvia Bowersox, who has been a resident of Grand Junction for 25 years. “They’ve always done that here, but there hasn’t been a lot of support. So, I’m really excited to see this. I hope that we get a lot of support so we can continue it.”
Jen Mayo and Ilea Kelly drove up from Delta, Colorado, about 40 miles southeast of Grand Junction. “It’s nice to see so many people come out and support,” said Mayo. “We’re seeing a lot of straight allies out here today, too, which is great.”
Tom Levalley grew up in Grand Junction, running a local business for 19 years. “You couldn’t really be open. We’re glad to see it [the Pride Parade] here, and hopefully more people will start tuning into it.”
Ron Zotto operated one of the only gay bars in Grand Junction for 4 years. Though he was forced to close the establishment, Zotto commented attitudes regarding LGBT rights are changing. “I though many years ago that, in my lifetime, I would never see marriage or civil unions.”
Zotto and his partner David Smith have been together for 30 years. They were one of the first couples in the county to apply for a civil union license on May 1 – the first day the Civil Unions Act became law.
“It is getting better, but it’s the young generation that’s making the changes as far as I’m concerned,” said Zotto. “I’ve got a 19-year-old grandson, and I told him and all of his friends – you guys are the ones who made the change.”
It was a recurring theme that the younger generation of voters contributed largely to the paradigm shift in the community regarding LGBT support. Daniels and Mathews hope to capitalize on the growing support by establishing a community center in Grand Junction. “Our objective to have a pride center hopefully within the next year to two years,” said Daniels.
Colorado West Pride also has plans to organize a gay film festival and a prom later this year, and plans to participate in Pride Festivals in Delta, Colorado and Moab, Utah later this summer.
“This whole things a little surreal,” said Mathews, “because it’s all coming together.”
Updates and information on Colorado West Pride’s upcoming events can be found on their Facebook page.