July 21, 2013 Updated: July 22, 2013 at 6:52 am
Thousands turned out for the Colorado Springs Pride Fest's 23rd anniversary at America the Beautiful Park, an event that spanned the weekend.
Charles Irwin, executive director of cosPride, said the event's success is a clear indication of the direction of gay rights and equality efforts in the city.
"There's a real shift in the perception of the population in Colorado Springs and the country as a whole, where they want equality for everyone across the board," he said.
Changing its venue from Acacia Park, as well as the parade's route, was a bit of a challenge, Irwin said, but the sizeable turnout showed the shift to a bigger park was the right choice.
"We had 250 parking spots allotted for Saturday and we turned those over twice, plus there were all these people streaming into the park," he said. "On Sunday, we've seen probably 10 times as many people. The lines of people walking on the bridge is just exhilarating, the beer garden is full, the vendors are full and we've got even more than we did at Acacia Park. We've more than doubled in size."
In his fifth year with cosPride, Irwin said he has noticed a change in the way the city's organizations and departments work with his organization.
"We're seeing a great change in the city departments, such as the police department, city parks and recreation, convention and visitors bureau, the downtown partnership, all those folks have been so supportive and fantastic to work with," Irwin said. "It really started last year, and this year was the first time that people actually came to our organization and asked how they could help us. It feels amazing to notice the acceptance."
Sen. John Morse made a brief appearance to an excited and visibly supportive crowd Sunday, celebrating the recent legalization of civil unions in Colorado.
"That bill was signed into law to cheers that were amazing," Morse said. "Civil unions are great; we needed to get there."
The people attending were diverse, from young to old, children with their parents and their grandparents, a trend that Irwin said has become more obvious in recent years.
"We've seen a tremendous amount of change, not just in our community, because people are feeling more equal and they're living their lives openly, like everyone else does," Irwin said. "Because it's becoming not so much of an issue, people are so much more comfortable and accepting. Moms and dads are more loving and accepting of their children. Grandpas and grandmas come to support them. We've arranged vendors and activities that involved the children and are appropriate for them, so it really works for everyone."
For Jennifer and Daniel Nyberg, bringing their daughters Terra, 10, and Shea, 8, was an important lesson in equality and acceptance.
"The most important thing is to teach the kids that it's OK to love everyone and anyone," Jennifer said. "Whether it is a woman or a man, it's up them whom they want to love."
Malikay, 4, and his mom, Harmony Stott, joined the Nybergs for Sunday's celebrations and agreed that there's never been a greater need to preach equality to children.
"There's so much talk sometimes of hate and intolerance, that as parents we have to make sure they know that love is never wrong," Stott said.