Three years later, Pueblo finds Pride

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Originally published in The Metropolitan Aug. 23, 2007

I came to Denver three years ago to attend Metro. I wrote then, “Denver is a city of extremes. Whether it’s a football game, a rain storm, or a shopping spree, Denver does it the only way it knows how – big.” I had spent my childhood in Pueblo, a town of about 90,000 (a third the size of Aurora) and Denver was always the “big city.” I was beside myself. I was lost.

When I go back to Pueblo, like I did last Saturday night, I like to drive around town in the evening and survey everything that changed. It’s quiet. And the summer nights are always comforting. Some of my happiest memories in Pueblo are from similar evenings. Vita Bella, the restaurant I used to work at, is now The Venue. The costume shop has closed; the coffee shop I haunted is gone, too. And the Riverwalk – Pueblo’s crown jewel – is expanding even more.

It was at the Riverwalk where I found Pueblo’s Gay Pride celebration. While it wasn’t the city’s first official Pride celebration, we could say it was the first more-than-official celebration organized by the Southern Colorado Equality Alliance. Prior to this year, Pride was put on by a few activists in the city, with little if any information being spread to the larger public.

I didn’t know what to expect of Pubelo’s Pride. Pride in Denver is officially a week-long event, and unofficially a month long. There are multiple social events, huge parties, big DJs, and of course all of Civic Center and the surrounding blocks are crammed with homos, queers and allies alike for two days. By no means is it the biggest and best Pride celebration in the states, but according to multiple sources, it ranks pretty awesome. Sort of like the city itself.

But back to Pueblo. As I drove down Main Street from the Mesa Junction I saw a group of fags sashaying. One was wearing green bellbottoms, and another was wearing an Abercrombie shirt. I knew I was heading in the right direction. And so is Pueblo. There is no doubt in my mind that a bigger and more public display of Pride is good for the city and all of Southern Colorado. For so long, Pueblo’s gay scene has been reduced to a bar, The Pirate’s Cove, and a few “freaks” here and there. When I graduated high school in 2004, there were only two students out. But from what I gather now, there are more than a gaggle.

Sadly, there are two sides to every story. While more queer youth (and adults) are able to come out in a portion of the state that could be classified as simple and close-minded, there is a greater chance for hate. Just ask Anthony Hergesheimer, a Pueblo Centennial High School student, who was attacked – just for being gay – last spring by his classmates. And this problem just isn’t in Pueblo; queer youth across the nation face harassment from their schoolmates. One student in the Bronx in New York was quoted in The New York Daily News on Aug. 21 as saying, “When I came out in my school, at lunchtime, somebody threw an apple at me. It was just this big fight between all of us, and I got blamed for it.”

But back to the good news: Pueblo did a pretty good job of getting a Pride together. Sure, it was just a row of booths like the gay men’s choir, a church and the chain lady who sell handmade jewelry, but it was a good start to something wonderful.

To be honest, I didn’t talk to anyone. I was shell-shocked. No, it wasn’t because there wasn’t a drop of alcohol to be found, even though Stoli vodka and Coors are regular points of interest in Denver’s party. Nor was it because in the amphitheater across the river there was a group of dancing fags singing hymns to Jesus… which sort of freaked me out. It was because this small gathering of people was exactly what I was missing while growing up in the Steel City.

Maybe that’s why I was so lost when I came to Denver. Because, even in a small town like Pueblo, I couldn’t find myself. Not to sound too gay, but that Kelly Clarkson song rings pretty true right about now. “Trying hard to reach out/ But when I tried to speak out/ Felt like no one could hear me/ Wanted to belong here/ But something felt so wrong here/ So I prayed I could break away.”

Luckily for me, Denver allowed me to break away. And luckily for the next generations of Pueblo gays, they’ll have something wonderful to look forward to every August, to help them find their way to Pride. And there’s nothing extreme about that. Or maybe, in a good way, there is.

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