Thousands attend Denver’s PrideFest

Participants flooded Downtown Denver, Colorado this past weekend to attend the 41st Annual Denver PrideFest, the third largest LGBTQ celebration in the country. Civic Center Park was transformed into a colorful and glittering gathering of people celebrating gay rights and living life their own way.

Not only does Denver PrideFest attract over 380,000 people every year, 100 percent of proceeds go towards local programs for the LGBTQ community of Colorado. The fundraising is ran by the GLBT Community Center of Colorado, which serves more than 47,000 people annually. Not only does the festival help the Center with programs, it is also a huge economic driver for Denver, generating millions of dollars.

The 2017 World Pride Theme is “¡Viva La Vida! Live Your Life!,” reminding everyone they have the right to live their best life. Pride Fests around the world have a goal of creating a fun, safe and empowering space to celebrate LGBTQ culture.

“In a tense political climate, we are lucky that Denver PrideFest was a real demonstration of unity for our community,” said Rex Fuller, vice president of Communications & Corporate Giving at the GLBT Community Center of Colorado. “There are many stories of people who were closeted and afraid to be their true selves who discovered at PrideFest that they were not alone and who had the courage to come out to the community and live an authentic life.”

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Spread Pride: one of the many rainbow clad participants of the Denver PrideFest. Photo credit: Sarah Ehrlich

This year’s PrideFest kicked off with “The Big Gay 5K,” a race everyone was encouraged to do to show support the LGBTQ community of Denver. On Sunday was the Coors Light PrideFest Parade, which featured over 200 participants. MillerCoors has long been a supporter of the LGBTQ community, donating more than $94 million to LGBTQ non-profits and offering same-sex domestic partner benefits as early as 2001.

Throughout the weekend, there were over 200 food, craft and business vendors as well as three stages, the Center Stage, Dance Stage and Latin Stage that hosted DJ’s and drag queens. The Denver Rally for Equality on Sunday brought out speakers from Planned Parenthood, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and members from the faith community.

Special guests at the rally included Leslie Herod, the first black and openly gay legislator who was recently elected to the Colorado State House, and pro-equality Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper, who spoke a few words.

“I think it is a fair time to reflect on how deeply the actions in Washington can affect our lives and how divisive language can be,” Hickenlooper said. “It creates divisive communities, promotes hate and promotes the crimes that come from hate. This is also a time that reminds us that the cause of justice will ignite our fight and we won’t slow down or back off.”

One festival participant who truly stood out went by the name of “Betty Sparkles Butzin” and is an employee of Midtowne Spa Denver. Dawning a glittery beard, holographic boots and an extravagant headpiece, Buztin was happy to be celebrating their 6th Pride.

“I hope acceptance, diversity and love are achieved this weekend,” Butzin said. “It’s been a busy weekend with a lot of great people, and I am going to need to rest.”

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Betty Sparkles Butzin celebrates Pride every year with a different and fabulous outfit. Photo credit: Sarah Ehrlich

Peppermint, the stage name of Agnes Moore, is a drag performer from New York City and star of the current season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Peppermint graced Denver Pride on the Center Stage with a performance of sassy banter, original and covered songs and plenty of laughs.

“I have been on planes, trains and automobiles to get to you, Denver,” Peppermint said. “And I have never seen a city throw it down like this. Thank you for the support.”

In addition to great performers, artists and vendors added to the creativity of the festival. The centerpiece of the festival was perhaps the large interactive art piece entitled “The Shrine to Humanity” by artists Lonnie Hanzon and Paolo Wellman. The artists called the piece “a symbol of spirituality, speaking to everyone all religions —all faiths, all colors, all shapes.”

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"The Shrine to Humanity" by artists Lonnie Hanzon and Paolo Wellman added a pop of color to the landscape of the Capital Building this past weekend. Photo credit: Sarah Ehrlich

Among the many vendors was OutFront, a LGBTQ newspaper and daily online publication in the Denver area that is also the second oldest gay media in the country. In addition to being a news outlet, OutFront has a foundation that hosts LGBTQ events, as well as provide journalism internships for underprivileged students.

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A closer look at the “Shrine to Humanity” art piece. Photo credit: Sarah Ehrlich

“There’s so many new people coming to Denver, so we’re here to encourage people to support our community,” said Maggie Phillips of OutFront. “I love being here watching people be able to be themselves and be comfortable in their own skin.”

Denver PrideFest showed everybody across the country the immense support this state has for its LGBTQ community. The festival was impressively organized, creating a safe space for everyone to express themselves unapologetically. When it was all over, Civic Center Park was cleaned spotless, as if a giant festival had never happened days before.

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Two participants went all out to show their pride Photo credit: Sarah Ehrlich

For more information on how to get involved in the LGBTQ community, visit glbtcolorado.org

Collegian reporter Sarah Ehrlich can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and on Twitter @SarahEhrlich96.