Being part of the LGBTQIA+ community in the Roaring Fork Valley has had both its highs and lows. There have been times that helped me embrace my identity, while other instances have torn me down.
It’s been roughly three years since I came to terms with my own sexuality. Through that time, I have learned lots about what it really means to “stand out.” Having to tell my family, friends and — through this column — many, many more has been an ever-growing challenge.
Expansive support in schools really helped me feel proud of my identity. Connecting with Basalt High School’s (BHS) Gender and Sexuality Alliance Network (GSAN) provided a safe space to be myself. Senior year, I took on a leadership role in the GSAN to do my part in maintaining this healthy environment — one that was vital along my journey toward acceptance — knowing I was not alone.
Becoming more open about my identity also shed light on harassment that still exists. Peers have told me stories about being called by their deadname (a transgender person’s birthname) hurtfully, getting slurs thrown at them, constantly being misgendered and more. There were many grown-ups who tried to correct the bullying but, frankly, some did not.
One example was a 2021 senior prank which included the tearing down of Pride flags displayed in the school library. With this came a lot of heartache within our GSAN. The rascal students were asked to write an apology by email, but ultimately it came off as insincere. For what it’s worth, it did reinforce GSAN members’ readiness to stand up for themselves.
This past fall, I had a rather hurtful first-hand run-in with homophobia during an annual homecoming parade. Our GSAN created a fabulous float, complete with a rainbow balloon arch, that stood tall and proud. But, as the parade was getting set up, some students on one of the sports teams decided to chuck hard candy at us and call us names.
Although there was an attempt to call them out for their harsh words, in this case, the students never issued an apology. It was just another day.
This was not the first time that a GSAN was targeted and, unfortunately, it won’t be the last. These are but two experiences of countless interactions that LGBTQIA+ youth have in and outside of school.
But with the negative, comes many positives. The Carbondale Pride parade and Glenwood Springs Pride event have been two of the most memorable of such experiences. Attending my first Pride event in the valley where I grew up was empowering. Seeing and meeting other members and allies made me feel accepted and loved.
Everyone from youth to older folks participated. It was a reminder that generations of people in the LGBTQIA+ community have lived through the continuous stages of progress right here at home. It was heartwarming to see our community come together and celebrate their similarities and, more importantly, their differences.
During both events, I got to feel and witness the love first-hand. Because of the internet and my friends, I always knew there were parts of the world that lifted up the LGBTQIA+ community, but it was so much more meaningful experiencing that in-person among my community. Making history by being part of Glenwood Springs’ first-ever Pride event added even more excitement. It also helped that there was a killer drag show involved.
Watching the Valley participate in these events is arguably the most effective show of support for our LGBTQIA+ youth.
The introduction of the Love Notes Project gave the community an opportunity to share their everlasting support for local youth as well. Hearing the voices of fellow LGBTQIA+ people and allies means more than some might know, because the reality is that many young people are still ostracized after coming out.
My personal experiences are but a glimpse of many. Being a gay youth in this community is more intimidating than some might realize. The fear that comes with the possibility of being unaccepted and unloved because of something that is innately a part of you is very real.
With Pride month coming to an end, I reflect on how proud I am of our community and the strides it takes to become more inclusive. Just remember that we exist outside the month of June.
Glenwood Springs’ first-ever Pride event went off without a hitch. Community representatives spoke about the significance of Pride and the Roaring Fork Divas gave a stellar performance for a crowd of proud LGBTQIA+ community members and allies of all ages. Photos by Amy Hadden Marsh