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Many nonprofit organizations have seized the opportunity of making fundraising active and alternative in order to engage the community and find fun ways to budge the budget over the years. However, few have taken the heels of LGBTQ trailblazers more literally than Art from Ashes (AfA) and their annual Hoofin’ it in Heels Running of the Gays (ROTG).

The ROTG fundraiser collides worlds of creativity and queerness in a three-block “marathon,” with participants charging down 17th from Ace Eat Serve/ Steuben’s in their fanciest heels and dressiest drag. This year’s race, happening on Sunday, September 15, is taking AfA into their 10th iteration of the annual event and is promised to be bigger and better than ever.

“We’ve been doing 10 years of this fun, cheeky, awesome event, but for a very serious cause,” said Jessica Jarrard, director of operations at AfA.

The statistics are evidence that the adversities queer youth experience are in fact very serious. Self-identified lesbian, gay, and bisexual high school students are at an increased risk of being bullied by their peers with 33 percent reporting bullying on school property and 27 percent experiencing cyberbullying in the past year, according to 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Additionally, queer youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, according to The Trevor Project. 

Emceed by Kai Lee Mykels, ROTG’s entertainment is guaranteed to knock off your peep-toe tights, including Shelvis and Bella Diva World Dance at the all-ages XBar afterparty. Prizes will be awarded for “Most Beef” (most money raised), “Udderly Delectable” (best dressed), “Hottest Hoofer” (best heels), and MVP (Most Vociferous Proponent).

Poets from Denver, in addition to youth poets from within AfA creative programming, will be taking to the mic to share their stories, words, and impact from the workshops.

“We serve youth age 12 to 24 and have partnered with 180 organizations to do so,” said Jarrard, “and while we welcome all to come through our doors, we want to provide empowerment programs for LGBT youth who are experiencing these types of challenges.”

AfA is a Denver-based youth organization which utilizes poetry and spoken word as means of therapeutic processing and community connection, taking the story one creates about themselves and shifting the narrative. Self-perception is designed and based on life experiences and circumstances, and as youth under the age of 24, it’s at the pivotal life-stage in which self-worth is engraved and why AfA designs safe spaces of thought and self-exploration.

“We work with a diverse range of youth organizations, including schools, alternative high schools, treatment centers, residential facilities, homeless shelters, LGBT centers, health centers, and hospitals,” said Jarrard. Working with so many different demographics of youth of all backgrounds, lifestyles, and orientations, one thing is persistently the same: every youth has a voice to be heard and a story to tell.

Through the workshops, youth are encouraged to express their creative genius by way of writing prompts, allowing them to free-write thoughts, feelings, and emotions for three minutes without judgement and to exercise critical thought. Through metaphor and self-affirmed sharing, they discover a power in their words and reflect on how many of those words are story rather than fact.

Rant (written in 3 minutes)
by Milo Truby, 18

What would you like me to be?
The marker the doctor stamped on the birth record?
The daughter you always wanted
And thought you had?
The young woman society pushes me to be?

I am sick of the glances when I correct someone,
And the backlash I get
Every time I take a step
Towards being more me.
I am tired of being disappointed in myself
Whenever I can’t be what you want.

Should I put on that dress you bought?
Should I stop damaging my ribs
With a tight piece of cloth?
What do you want from me?

The process is not therapy; however, it is therapeutic and transformational and the reason why the work of AfA is so important.

Proceeds from ROTG racer contributions, as well as from day-of sponsors and donors, specifically fund the transformational, creative programs designed for local youth who identify as LGBTQ. To find out more information about donations or to run in the fancy-footed festivities, check out the event page on Facebook or the AfA website at artfromashes.org.