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50 Years After Denver’s First Pride, Freedom Remains Fragile

// June 5, 2024

We Must Continue to Use Our Voices, Votes for LGBTQ+ Rights

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Pride celebrations in Denver (held at Cheeseman Park in 1974). Pride commemorates the June 1969 uprising, led by two transgender women, at the Stonewall gay bar in New York City when patrons fought back, literally, against police harassment. Stonewall made national headlines, marking a pivotal milestone in the movement to secure human rights for LGBTQ+ people. The message of Stonewall was this: We refuse to be shamed for who we are. “Pride,” the opposite of shame, quickly became the rallying cry across the nation and world. It is testimony to the many ways this stigmatized group has persevered by using the tools of democracy to become free. However, freedom is fragile.

Freedom – one of the most powerful words in our vocabulary. The word and concept have taken on layers of complexity in recent years. The very nature of freedom is a defining argument of our time—a tug of war between the values of individual freedom, such as gun rights, and collective freedom, such as safety for our children. Individual freedom is about ME. Collective freedom is about WE. It’s not one absolute or the other—it’s about finding the right balance.

This conflict is playing out in many ways, but one that intersects both the women’s movement and the LGBTQ+ movement is the collective freedom to exercise choice about our own bodies and lives—whether to bring life into the world, pursue gender-affirming surgery, or use a public restroom that aligns with our gender identity.

A Tsunami of Discriminatory Laws Threatens Decades of Progress

Over the last century, civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and LGBTQ+ rights became shining hallmarks of collective freedom. These achievements, won at tremendous sacrifice, remain under siege by groups vested in a binary understanding of gender, sexuality, race, culture, and ability in class. They aim to suppress LGBTQ+ identities and limit their freedom to live and thrive as their authentic selves. They insidiously discriminate, often by denying access to gender-affirming care. According to the ACLU, 515 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced during states’ 2024 legislative sessions. We must fight for their protections. 

I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. – Audre Lorde

CEO of Transhealth, Dallas Ducar, wrote in 2023 that “affirming care can remain a beacon of hope for many Americans. It’s the process through which transgender and gender-diverse individuals adopt the name, pronouns, and gender expression that align with their identified gender. It’s a journey of growth and self-realization, a cornerstone of human development.” Thankfully, Colorado passed a handful of bills during the 2024 legislative session that increase access to gender-affirming care and protections for Colorado’s LGTBQ+ community. One such bill that WFCO ensures that individuals have the freedom to use the names associated with their gender identities.

We Must Fight for Their Protections, Including Gender-Affirming Care

During Pride Month, the Women’s Foundation of Colorado salutes our courageous and determined LGBTQ+ family, friends, neighbors and co-workers who have, by changing the world for themselves, granted us all an extra measure of freedom. We can honor them by using our voices and votes to fight the tsunami of discriminatory laws threatening decades of progress.

Join The Women’s Foundation of Colorado and Caring for Denver Foundation on Wednesday, June 26, for our next Chat4Change community conversation, “Affirming Health Care Is as American as Apple Pie,” featuring an interview with Dallas Ducar. We’ll talk about gender-affirming care, what to expect on the fall ballot, and what states and individuals can do now to protect LGBTQ+ progress. 

The event will also feature a panel with Colorado community leaders working to expand connections to care that fit and honor the identity of our LGBTQ+ community. Panelists include:

  • Janet Alvarado Duran, health program specialist, Denver Health’s Youth Pride Coalition
  • Mimi Madrid, executive director, Fortaleza Familiar
  • Sorin Thomas, founding and executive director, Queer Asterisk
  • Emily Wheeland, CEO, The Delores Project

Register Here

In addition to honoring Pride Month with us on June 26, our event will prep you for what’s to come on fall ballots. In November voters will have the opportunity to further protect trans and LGBTQ+ Coloradans. WFCO supported SCR24-003, which refers a measure to the ballot that will protect the freedom to marry in the state’s constitution. Also, anti-LGBTQ+ activists are collecting signatures to put measures on the ballot that will restrict the rights of trans Coloradans. WFCO will include positions on these measures in our Womanifesto ballot guide that will be released in September.

Pride Month Memory, Recommendation

In another way to honor Pride Month, I recommend picking up a copy of “LGBTQ Denver,” which chronicles the last half century of how our vibrant LGBTQ+ Denver community emerged from the shadows into the full daylight of equality. It was written by my friend Phil Nash, who I met 40 years ago when I had my first encounter with the stigma the lesbian and gay community faced. 

As Mayor Federico Peña’s brand-new communications advisor, I got embroiled in a conflict between Denver’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade organizers and a gay group that wanted to take part in the parade. Mayor Peña had made it clear that gay and lesbian individuals were valued citizens, and that he would refuse to appear if the organizers discriminated against a visibly gay/lesbian parade contingent. Despite our appeals, the parade committee wouldn’t budge, and the mayor didn’t participate.

At the time, Phil wrote for the Denver newspaper serving the gay community, “Out Front.” We had several heart-to-heart (and off-the-record) conversations about what it was like to live in a society where you pay a huge price to live your life openly and authentically. As a Black woman whose family was in the foreground of the civil rights movement, it didn’t take long for me to connect the dots between these different, but similar manifestations of social injustice. 

In “LGBTQ Denver,” Phil showcases how the city evolved from its pre-1970s history of rebuking gay people to a magnet for LGBTQ+ residents and the Capitol of the first state to elect and re-elect the nation’s first openly gay governor.

Two weeks ago I was reminded of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade when the State Department issued a travel warning for LGBTQ+ persons during Pride Month for fear of violence against them. My heart broke. This is not the collective freedom or democracy we all deserve.

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