I don’t know who thought a 10 a.m. 5K on the first morning of PrideFest was a good idea. Somehow (thanks, Advil), I stumbled out the door in time for our rideshare.
Last year was my first PrideFest, not because I don’t love watching drag shows and concerts in the sun with sexy, queer people of all shapes and sizes. I’ve just usually traveled during the summer. I’d read enough to expect hangovers, exposed torsos, and sunburn. Yet, there I was encountering all three.
Not until I was jogging up the hill on 14th Street did my hangover and endorphins begin to do-si-do, the grumpiness fading away. As I ran through Capitol Hill, I was face-to-face with queer history. All I could think of were the stories I’d heard in the past nine months writing for OUT FRONT, and the ones I had yet to hear, a swirl of LGBTQ history in the gayborhood.
Denver’s post-WW-II zoning laws aimed to keep families in the city, since so many were headed to the suburbs, so in most parts of town, unmarried adults were prohibited from living together. (The law was typically invoked through neighbor complaints, and people of color and queer couples faced the most discrimination.) Capitol Hill, however, had the loosest zoning laws, due to its density, so it naturally attracted queer people who wanted to live discreet lives together close to downtown.
This, I thought, is where queer people lived for decades, attending coming-out classes together at First Unitarian Church, sharing stories over coffee, exchanging glances at the Queen Soopers. This is where thousands of people donned drag, some exploring their true gender identity for the first time through eyeliner, wigs, or haircuts.
This is where the Mattachine Society met before the Denver PD intimidated them to shut down. These are the alleys where trans women were harassed, some of them killed by police. This is where men were subject to entrapment, arrested for cruising around the Capitol. This is where queer sex workers returned home after spending a night in Denver Jail and where others less fortunate were never able to return.
This is where some, newly informed of their positive HIV status, wrestled with what they should do next, where groups of men and women gathered to mourn those lost to disease, where others reeled from rejection from their families, where still others discovered a new kind of family that offered support
This is where picnics, volleyball, acro-yoga, weddings, vigils, and after-dark hookups all went down. This is where people were sexually assaulted, and this is where they found the strength to heal from those horrific experiences. This is where people explored new substances, invented new kinds of relationships, discovered each other’s bodies, and dared to begin lives without fear or shame.
As I crossed the finish line, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all the people who have come before me and, unknown or known, been a part of Denver’s queer history. I’m not the first queer person to live in Denver, and I certainly won’t be the last, but I am overwhelmingly proud to be in this city with all of you beautiful people.