After a tragedy felt across the state and nation, members and supporters of the local LGBTQ+ community have come together to prove that love and support still exists in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“Our right is to feel safe and to express our identities without fear of prosecution or attack,” said newly elected state representative Elizabeth Velasco.
On Sunday night, the Bluebird Cafe in Glenwood Springs held a vigil to commemorate the victims of the fatal Club Q shooting the night before in Colorado Springs. And Thursday morning’s Thanksgiving Turkey Trot in Carbondale included a “Queersgiving Tailgate” reception to remind local members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community that they still have a place to feel safe.
The local demonstration of support came after the Nov. 19 shooting at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub that killed five and wounded 17. The alleged shooter may face hate crime charges in addition to first-degree murder.
“It’s been a tough few days,” said Kaleb Cook, organizer of the queersgiving event. “The queer community is certainly suffering a lot, but we’re really trying to figure out how we can use our community to build on that and what we can do to take action to make sure queer people feel safe in our community.” and actually have a sense of belonging.”
Velasco attended the Sunday vigil at the Bluebird Cafe held on Trans Day Of Remembrance to show her support not only as a politician but also as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and stated that she is a proud bisexual woman, and that be fair as much to defend their community.
“It was really heartwarming to see so many people come together here in Glenwood Springs at the Bluebird because we need these safe places to mourn, gather, celebrate and help one another,” she said.
Emotions in the valley range from fear to optimism for the future of LGBTQ+ people, but for the most part support can still be felt.
“Our valley is rich with resources that support the LGBTQIA+ community in so many ways, and we are fortunate to live in an incredible state – a state that protects our most vulnerable,” said Sheri Smith, co-founder and board member of the Roaring Fork Valley’s LGBTQ+ resource organization PFlag. “Yet there are still so many of our community members who live in fear that they may be targeted for authentic living.”
Rather than letting hate or anger prevail, Velasco, Smith and Cook use love and optimism to combat hateful rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community.
“May we all learn to judge a little less, love a little more, and respect the differences our neighbors may have,” Smith said.
Cook Inclusive Company, a non-profit organization founded by Cook, is focused on supporting all underserved communities, including the LGBTQ+ community, while PFlag of the Roaring Fork Valley is a non-profit organization promoting a safe and loving space for people and members of the LGBTQ+ community forwards to various resources.
“The good in this valley absolutely outweighs the bad,” said Steve Mills, a member of the local LGBTQ+ community. “There are a lot more loving, open-minded people in the valley who really want to build a strong community, and then there are those few people with a platform spouting hate.”
He said they have their own platforms and audiences for people to cling to, but the youth of the LGBTQ+ community are seeing that and it can really hurt them and their self-image. It can even make them more prone to self-harm, Mills said.
“It just creates a bigger divide,” he said. “It’s just… it’s not necessary. There are so many other things to worry about in this valley than who someone loves or how they identify. That should not be the focus in this valley.”
Representation, security and a sense of community are key to making members of the LGBTQ+ community feel that they belong. Adding extra struggles to self-image at a young age can only lead to more struggles later in life, Mills added.
“I know how much having safe places to grow up and all the different communities that I’ve lived in has helped me a lot,” he said. “Right now I think it’s very important that we stick together.”
Janet Gordon, a Carbondale-based counselor who works with LGBTQ+ clients, wants to remind both allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community that they are no more vulnerable to mental health issues than anyone else. But the added stress of hateful rhetoric and bullying can weigh on anyone, she said.
“I never want another week where customers come in and say they’re scared to be in this community,” Gordon said.
Hate speech and hateful rhetoric have an impact on both the people on the receiving end and the community as a whole, she said.
What both Gordon and Velasco found troubling was that the gunman was still able to access a gun and injure people, having previously confronted police with alleged violent threats.
Bullying can be harmful, words hurt and words have an impact, and pretending they don’t hurts our society, Gordon said.
“Being an ally is an act,” she said. “Being an ally is a verb. What people can do is show up and advocate for safe spaces, for schools to be safer, for more affirming spaces.”
Post Independent reporter Cassandra Ballard can be reached at [email protected] or 970-384-9131.