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PrideFest,Colorado Springs have come a long way in 27 years

By: Chhun Sun
July 9, 2017 Updated: July 12, 2017 at 9:30 am
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The Colorado Springs PrideFest Parade moves down Tejon Street downtown Sunday, July 9, 2017, toward America the Beautiful Park. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette

Even at its most boisterous, the 27th annual Colorado Springs PrideFest over the weekend was a family affair.

In its early years, it was more demonstration than celebration, as the local LGBTQ community fought against discrimination, said PrideFest president and event coordinator Nic Grzecka.

Since then, PrideFest has evolved. While there's still a flamboyance, particularly to the parade, it attracts thousands of supporters accompanied by their children waving small rainbow flags.

It's also become a platform for politicians courting votes.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis was the grand marshal of Sunday's parade. The 42-year-old gay millionaire announced last month that he's running for governor of Colorado in next year's election.

"This kind of visibility is so important, to show people of all ages there's a warm, welcoming community in Colorado Springs," Polis said. "Regardless of who you love and who you are, you can find friendship here, you can find love here without having to flee from this community out of fear."

Tolerance hasn't always been what Colorado Springs was known for. In the early 1990s, Colorado Springs was the birthplace of Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment barring laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Approved by voters statewide, the amendment was immediately challenged and was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court without ever having taken effect.

"Since Amendment 2, this town's awareness, this town's acceptance has grown," Grzecka said. "A lot of that has happened in the last 10 years. As we progress, the acceptance comes more and more. With the current administration and political environment, a lot of straight allies are coming out, knowing it's more important to support the LGBT people."

In November, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers wrote a letter to organizers of the 18th annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, saying the city values "diversity, respect and acceptance in our community."

Organizers said it was the first time the city's mayor recognized the event.

Held at America the Beautiful Park, PrideFest began Saturday with music, dance and food as well as providing a kid-friendly environment. Children received door prizes, took part in arts and crafts activities and played yard games, including corn hole, lawn darts and ladder golf.

On Sunday, the annual PrideFest parade followed South Tejon Street north from West Cimarron Street to Colorado Avenue, where the marchers and floats turned east and continued to America the Beautiful Park.

The day before, Jennifer Clubs took her 9-year-old son Gavin to the festival for the second consecutive year. Before their arrival at the park, she talked to her son about same-sex couples, men dressed in drag, or participants not wearing much at all.

"We're pretty open when it comes to people maybe dressing a little different than what you're normally used to," Jennifer said. "It's not an everyday event."

Sgt. Joel Kern with the Colorado Springs Police Department said 5,000 people attended the event on Saturday and 8,000-10,000 showed up on Sunday. 

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