When I was 16, I attended my first ever Pride in Indianapolis, Indiana. I had come out of the closet a few months before, and I was ready to see what being gay was all about. I bought a new tank top, rolled up my shorts way past the knee line, climbed into my 2002 Dodge Neon, and hit the interstate, jamming to something really, really gay… I’m sure.
I walked around the 2008 Indianapolis Pride with wide, excited eyes. The people that surrounded me were unlike anything I had ever seen — I had never felt more turned on, terrified, and happy in my life. It was there that I was finally able to let completely loose and feel at home.
I fell in love with the spirit of Pride.
Since that first Pride, I have attended many, many more, in cities all across the U.S. I’ve marched in the New York City Pride Parade, stood beside my sisters during Chicago’s Dyke March, and ridden a mechanical bull in Nashville.
This year, I had the best Pride in my nine years of attending the annual celebration.
It began on Monday, June 12, during the Pulse Vigil. Although last year garnered far more people, this year’s candlelight memorial was intimate and therapeutic. Small groups gathered on the east side of Cheesman Park’s pavilion, finding shady spots on the grass. As Denver’s Gay Men’s Chorus sang their way through some iconic queer songs, people walked around meeting one another and firmly embracing each other in full-bodied hugs.
I, like many in the queer community, have carried that night with me. As part of my job, I’ve had to revisit the victims’ and survivor’s stories many times in the last year. The gathering gave all who came an opportunity to remember our brothers and sisters who were taken from us too soon, and began Pride week with a reminder that it’s not all about celebration. We still have a lot of work to do.
Throughout the week, a dark cloud followed me through Denver as I prepped for one of the longest weekends of my summer. I couldn’t shake the same nervous feeling I had back in 2008 before my first Pride. I wasn’t scared of violence or protesters. I wasn’t stressed about the busy schedule in front of me. I wasn’t worried about perfecting my “Pride body.”
I was anxious about how the community would come together after a tumultuous year.
The cloud followed me to Bearracuda at Summit Music Hall on Friday. Lucky for me, it didn’t make it past security. It didn’t get to see the multicolored light show projecting from behind nearly naked go-go cubs — one of whom went full bounce while in a handstand. It missed out on the debaucherous dance floor and pulsating music. And was absent as I danced with my friends. But it must have seen me drunkenly stumble into my Lyft, because when I woke it was lingering above my bed, staring at the shoes I still had on my feet.
On Saturday, my own personal cloud was gobbled up by Denver’s overcast skies, and the remainder of my fears dissipated.
As I walked Civic Center Park, I quickly realized that queers were coming out unapologetically. And more than that, they seemed to be louder and more involved with the booths that were pushing for queer rights and advocating on our behalf. Anywhere your eyes roamed, someone could be seen wearing their Pride flag of choice around their neck.
“It truly is the year of the flag,” one of my friends proclaimed later that night. “I’ve never seen so many different flags at any of our Prides.”
After a long day of yelling “HAPPY PRIDE” and pushing bags onto unsuspecting queers, I walked to the nearest McDonalds. It was as if I was eating in heaven as I sat there with a coworker, grubbing on some McNuggets, surrounded by queer people filling every table, and watching hundreds of park-goers walk east along Colfax Avenue.
Later that night, I was ready to celebrate. It was my one night off, and I was ready to dance. So I grabbed a crop top that barely covered my fast food baby and headed to Honcho, a queer dance party that pops up in a different Denver warehouse every Pride.
This year’s venue was incredible. Located near Alameda and I-25, the coordinator perfectly aligned school busses to form a makeshift patio in front of a huge empty warehouse. Once inside, the place was dark, loud, and perfect for hiding my ‘90s white girl dance moves. The venue also offered a booze check, so after 2 a.m. guests could continue to drink until the party ended at 6 a.m. I twirled until the sun came out.
On Sunday, I woke a little tired but completely refreshed. I was ready to get to the park and talk to as many queers as possible. And I did. I talked to our youth. I chatted with our elders. I gawked at and admired the beautiful costumes, and told everyone I came in contact with “Happy Pride.”
But then, something amazing happened and I was taken back to my first Pride.
For the last year, I’ve had a high school freshman intern who has come in every Friday for the entire day and chatted with me about journalism. Together we’ve worked on some amazing queer stories and met some amazing local queer people. But she was mostly isolated in our small office or running around and meeting one or two queer people at a time.
On Sunday, I got to walk with her as she experienced her first Pride. As we walked through the crowded park, I saw the same wide, excited eyes. I saw her face light up as she navigated her way to booths filled with queer art and got distracted by the flamboyantly dressed. When it was time for us to leave, she wrapped her arms around my waist and said, “Thank you. I needed this.”
I agree. Every year, queers of all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, sexualities, and identities show up and proclaim that we are here; we are a family, and we are a force to be reckoned with. And a lot of our community needs that before they can continue to fight for full equality.