After 20 years, Colorado Springs Pride Fest still not welcomed by the city

(Image: Kellie Parker/Flickr)

The Colorado Springs Pride Festival is coming of age in its 21st year of celebrating the local GLBT community, yet it still faces opposition from those within local government.

Earlier this year, then-mayor Lionel Rivera refused to issue a proclamation or any support of the festival, and was quoted as saying that he did not support any political demonstrations in favor of same-sex marriage.

“Pride Weddings” will be publicly performed at the festival, July 16 and 17, to celebrate either unions or anniversaries among same-sex couples.

Recently elected Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach has also indicated that he will not issue any official statement supporting or welcoming Pride Fest. In fact, he openly opposed the celebration during his campaign for mayor. He did not answer requests to be interviewed for this article.

In a CitizenLink survey prior to the election, he was quoted as saying “The mayor should be focused on the day-to-day operations of the City, allowing private entities to engage in and support their own private initiatives.”

Carrie Earll, a spokesperson for Focus on the Family policy arm CitizenLink, said in an email that they support the mayor in his position.

“Statements around these events call for the legalization of same-sex marriage which is contrary to both Colorado statute and a constitutional amendment that define marriage as one man and one woman. So it’s not surprising that some city officials are opposed to endorsing an event that highlights something that directly contradicts state law,” she said.

“It’s pretty sad that you hear buzzwords during the elections like ‘we build community’; clearly you can see that disappearing,” stated Charles Irwin, director of the Colorado Springs Pride Center. “I’d like to ask them back whether it builds community to refuse support to a weekend for a major part of your constituency.”

Bill Mead, president of the Southern Colorado Aids Project (S-CAP), a Wells Fargo financial adviser and a member of the Colorado Springs community for over 30 years, said the lack of mayoral support is disappointing on several levels.

“It feels like we’ve been battling for over 30 years,” he said. “When you have powerful groups like Focus on the Family in the city, or see actions like rescinding same-sex partner benefits for city employees, it seems like we constantly have to fight to get the community to understand us.”

In contrast, at the Denver Gay Pride festival held June 18th and 19th Governor John Hickenlooper attended and gave a short speech. He was the first governor since 1994 to speak at the event, and Hickenlooper also attended Denver Pride Fest the past seven years during his role as mayor.

In the past, Irwin said that the Pride Center has not always spoken publicly about opposition to the Colorado Springs Pride Festival, but that it has started to take a more vocal approach.

Irwin emailed a request to Bach and the city council requesting their support of the festival, and also gave them a hard copy of the request, but has yet to hear a response. Irwin said that he hopes at the very least there can be an open conversation between the community and city government on GLBT issues.

Shawna Kemppainen, executive director of Inside Out, a Colorado Springs organization for GLBT youth, said that in the past, and currently, she has had many positive interactions with several city council members who make the effort to meet at Inside Out.

“It’s not like kids in this community are waiting for a politician to sanction their future,” she said, but added that when council members make an effort to meet with the GLBT community it has a positive effect for everyone.

Irwin estimates that there are 20,000 to 40,000 GLBT individuals in the city. He notes that despite the conservative nature of the city, the annual Pride Festival has countered little opposition in the past two years. The event has increasingly grown in size. He has also seen a boost in local businesses offering support to the celebration.

In past years there have been a minimal number of protesters. Irwin notes that there is an extremely positive relationship with the police and fire department working with the festival.

“More often than not, the police are there to protect the protesters because it’s such a small group of radical individuals,” said Irwin. He said that the celebration is important, particularly for members of the GLBT community in a politically conservative town.

Despite support for the mayor’s stance from religious groups such as Focus on the Family, many religious organizations have fully supported the celebration in the past and continue to this year. Jerry White, the chair of the Justice and Peace Ministry at Colorado Springs First Congregational Church, said that his church has always supported Pride Fest and has been involved since the first one 21 years ago.

“I think it’s absurd for a politician to talk about family values, when decisions make it harder for gay and lesbians to have families,” he said.

Colorado Springs Metropolitan Community Church, a stronghold of the annual festivities, holds a worship service at the start of every Pride Weekend. The pastor, Rev. Wes Mullins, also questions the lack of mayoral support.

“For too long, many politicians in this community have chosen to align with groups that have a very narrow definition of family,” he said. “In our faith, we believe that all people, and all families, should be treated equally.”

White said that he is also concerned that if the mayor doesn’t support Pride, not only will he alienate the GLBT community, but many religious organizations in town as well.

“It would be good to see the mayor embrace all of the Colorado Springs community and all of the activities going on within it, “ he said.

Many also say that Pride Fest is a positive way for members of the GLBT community to meet out in the open. Kemppainen said that Pride is a positive way for members of the community to break their isolation.

“It’s a way of saying ‘we’re visible, that we matter’ with or without the support of a figure like the mayor,” Kemppainen emphasized. Although Pride Fest will happen with or without the support of Mayor Bach, Irwin says that city support–or lack thereof–has a greater effect on the Colorado Springs community as a whole.

“When he talks about equality and then refuses to sign, that shows ten of thousands of people that he doesn’t support them,” Irwin said. “All we want is dialogue and respect,” he added.

Mead also said that the lack of mayoral support can have negative long-term effects, particularly financially for the city. He said that it is part of the mayor’s job to entice companies into coming to the Springs.

“The question is what do businesses want? And the answer is that they want diversity of all kinds,” He said. “Pride Fest can be an enticing tool for companies when they see that we are an inclusive community.”

Mead urged those who want the mayor to change his stance to email or call him, or get more involved with groups that already lobby the city council.

Kemppainen said that regardless of the mayor’s support, it is important that members of the GLBT community come out to Pride Fest and recognize that they love one another.

“We are creating community and leadership by leading ourselves,” she said.

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