Pride season is a time to showcase diversity in all the ways that promote expression of authentic individuality, and what better place to experience that than at a party with the wildest animals? Denver Zoo is celebrating uniqueness with their first-ever True Colors Safari, an event unlike any other before, and the zoo couldn’t be more proud.
“We’ve been really focusing the last couple of years on diversity and inclusion,” said Jake Kubié, director of communications at Denver Zoo. “Our efforts around the LGBTQIA community, both here within our staff and in the community, are definitely one of our strong points, and our involvement in Pride is one example of showing that in the community.”
True Colors Safari, held on June 15 from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., is an adventure-packed, all-ages evening where queer folks, friends, and families can celebrate their unique and authentic selves during Pride weekend.
“True Colors is a bit more of a statement event than we’ve done in the past, and we’re proud to do it,” Kubié said. “It’s not just about animals and education; it’s really about presenting Denver Zoo in a different light to a different audience. We have a really, really cool place to have a party.”
Sure to be a wildly festive night, a DJ will be spinning danceable tunes under the stars while zookeepers provide up-close animal encounters and demonstrations, all with delicious food and beverages from Denver’s favorite food trucks and local breweries.
The milestone event is the first of its kind and a culmination of efforts over the last couple of years to show that they are representative of and inclusive to the queer community. True Colors Safari genuinely serves as a multi-faceted experience, connecting inclusivity and diversity while being educational and humane-centric.
“We want people to have fun, to come and learn about our animals, and learn how they can be champions and advocates for wildlife,” Kubié said. “If people think of the zoo as a fun place to come and have a party, mingle with their peers, meet new people, and have a good drink and food, that’s totally fine with us.”
With the zoo being one of the most visited cultural landmarks of the city, seeing more than 2 million visitors come through their gates each year, they understand the significance of being a space that highlights and celebrates diversity.
“We have an incredible, rich, diverse group of animals that we care for, about 3,500 individual animals that represent more than 500 species,” Kubié said. “Looking at our same-sex flamingos, a lot of the ways that we’re able to address diversity and inclusion is through telling stories about our animals and sharing the different types of relationships that exist in the animal kingdom.”
The zoo is in a unique position, being able to use examples of nature to show the different types of relationships and family units that exist, as the same-sex flamingo pair can successfully raise a chick of their own.
As the ever-evolving, 123-year-old institution continues to make efforts to be affirming to the queer community, the staff are trained on inclusivity during orientation, and True Colors Safari event will offer all-gender restrooms. While this isn’t a change that will be implemented daily, the zoo recognizes that they can continue to do work around many areas of accessibility and accommodations.
“Denver Zoo’s model is that we are a zoo for all, and we’ve really taken that to heart, not just from a queer perspective, but also income level is definitely a priority here,” said Cristina Diaz-Borda. As the social media and marketing coordinator, she is aware that there can often be a lot of barriers that may make the space feel inaccessible; however, being exclusive to any demographic of person is unacceptable to Denver Zoo.
“We have a partnership with Denver Health and Human Services where, from August 1 to April 30, anyone who is on SNAP benefits can come to the zoo for $1 for up to 10 people in their party,” Diaz-Borda said. Additionally, the zoo offers seven free days each year; the value of free admissions in 2017 for those days was close to $6 million.
With more than 95,000 students visiting the zoo in 2018 as part of official school programming, they also have a program called “Zoo to You,” a group of animal ambassadors and educational staff that go on hundreds of different visits a year to schools and community centers all over the city.
“In some cases, we’re taking educators and ambassador animals to sporting events, into classrooms, or out to community centers so that we can better access and educate people who maybe can’t make it to the zoo due to geographic reasons or financial reasons,” Kubié said.
Knowing that Denver is as culturally rich as the animals that are housed at the zoo, another recent focus has been to include bilingual options as a way of outreach and inclusion. The latest addition of Harmony Hill, the state-of-the-art grizzly bear habitat, was intentionally designed as a bilingual exhibit, and the Diaz-Borda has been incorporating the Spanish language on their socials in order to more accurately represent the city.
Denver Zoo is among the top-ten rated animal care facilities in the country, and while they are held to strict standards of animal care by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, being a safe and inclusive space is less of a mandate and of more of a chosen practice. Incorporating events like True Colors Safari for Pride weekend is a new and exciting way for the zoo to show the community they truly are a place for everyone, and Kubié can’t wait.
“For us, it’s really a feeling of responsibility that we need to be reflective of our community, so we really make every effort to be a zoo for all.”
Photos courtesy of Denver Zoo