On the evening of January 8, the air was crisp and fresh as more than 2,000 people wrapped around Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science. The sun set early in the Centennial State as the eager attendees funnelled into the grid-like hallways lined with artwork, gemstones, and prehistoric artifacts. Beautiful, Mariachi music echoed through the vaulted ceilings of the tri-story venue as history was made.
The Blue Sneaker Ball was a celebratory benefit concert for the recently elected, openly gay, 43rd Governor of Colorado, Jared Polis.
The Blue Sneaker Ball, appropriately named after the governor’s preferred campaign footwear, saw guests donning their finest take on the Polis statement. A varying combination of evening attire accompanied by shades of blue Vans, Nikes, and Adidas were everywhere, with some adding a bedazzled flair or even pulling off tennis shoe heels.
Couples of same and different genders held hands, and groups of friends and families posed before the queered-out mountain range decorations as the massive crowd split off down different corridors and exhibits.
One theme was consistent and common throughout: all attending were there in unity to celebrate the victory of the inclusive and newly appointed governor.
Performances by pop singer and LGBTQ activist Cyndi Lauper, as well as the R&B combo Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, helped those in attendance break in their footwear on the dance floor.
Diversity was abundant as people of every age, race, and gender mixed and mingled together. Many recall how, just over 26 years ago, Colorado was nicknamed the “Hate State” when voters passed a measure to ban anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBTQ people.
The U.S. Supreme Court later overturned the measure, and Coloradans not only bounced back, but fought back to be one of the most progressive states in the nation. This is another factor that makes the election of an openly gay governor so remarkable. LGBTQ advocates and allies packed into the dimly lit museum with only enough elbow room to munch on provided hummus hors devours and sip on craft beverage selections.
Everyone excitedly awaited not only a chance to see Polis but also the upcoming musical entertainment. The energy was alive and thriving. Former First Lady Robin Pringle Hickenlooper led the night’s speeches as she introduced Colorado’s first-ever first gentleman, Polis’ longtime partner Marlon Reis.
Reis, animal rights activist and co-parent to their two children, Caspian and Cora, announced that proceeds from the night, which cost $75 for general admission and $1,000 for VIP, were to be allocated to several local charities. In addition to the Keenesburg-based Wild Animal Sanctuary, a cause near and dear to the heart of Reis, the Rose Community Foundation, Adams 14 Education Foundation, and the Governor’s Residence Preservation Fund will also see donations.
Former Governor John Hickenlooper gave a humble and encouraging speech as he explained this would be his last role in politics for a little while, although chants of “2020” came from the hopeful crowd.
He brought new Lieutenant Governor Dianne Primavera to the stage, and she shared her story of being a four-time cancer survivor and advocate for healthcare. As a former state representative, Primavera will be the Front Range second-in-command as she and Polis lead from the platform of “Colorado for All” and tackle issues around education, housing reform, and protection of public land.
Polis then took the stage, looking practiced and stoically political, as the trumpets declared his entrance. While he began his rehearsed speech as a man fresh off the campaign trail, he quickly relaxed into a genuine and endearing appreciation for the crowd.
While he kept his speech brief, as he acknowledged that the packed house was eager to see Cyndi Lauper and Nathaniel Rateliff, he thanked the community of volunteers who worked with him during his campaign and canvassed on his behalf. He also gave a special thank you to the LGBTQ leaders who came before him and helped pave the way for this victory.
Photos by Veronica L. Holyfield