Giving Thought: Community Pride comes to Aspen

Allison Alexander
Giving Thought
Allison Alexander
Courtesy photo

June welcomes the return of staple events to our region, including Food & Wine Classic, Aspen Ideas, the Aspen Music Festival, and countless other happenings. In our region and beyond, it also welcomes activities celebrating LQBTQ+ Pride month, honoring the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Manhattan.

On June 29, the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee of the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) will host its inaugural Aspen Pride month celebration Community Pride Party on the David Karetsky Music Lawn. This celebratory and inclusive event will feature an ice cream sundae bar, lawn games facilitated by Dr. Zackarina Jenny-hoe, performances by the Bonedale Flashmob and the Mister Sisters, community partner booths, a “Drag Closet” hosted by the Roaring Fork Divas, dancing and fun, for the LGBTQ+ community, friends, families, and allies.

This event was born out of work that began almost three years ago. According to their website, “During the summer of 2020, the AMFS began an intensive internal process examining its practices and goals with regard to inclusion, diversity, equity, and access (IDEA). We assembled a committee of board members, artist-faculty, alumni, and staff who worked closely with Justin Laing, a consultant specializing in IDEA, to examine current practices at the AMFS and re-imagine our future. Our goal was to determine a path forward toward greater justice in our own work and as a leader in a field that has been historically white in culture and creation.”

Organizers hope that the community will walk away with an appreciation of “inclusivity and a feeling that Aspen is a welcoming place for all people. This event is given ‘by our community, for our community’ so hopefully everyone attending feels included and welcomed into our community. It is also a place people can make connections with and within the LGBTQ+ community and allies and celebrate self-expression for everyone. It’s a place people can make new connections and strengthen and grow existing ones,” said Daniel Benavent, executive assistant to the president of AMFS, one of the lead organizers of the event.

Events for the LGBTQ+ community have been emerging in our region. Last fall, The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW) and VOICES partnered for a Queer VOICES production with “A Green Bird On Orange Trees.” This spring, the Roaring Fork Divas hosted a community Drag Queen Story Hour in Glenwood Springs.  Earlier this summer, Carbondale hosted a Pride Parade for the community. Aspen has not traditionally had many offerings for the local LGBTQ+ community, and this event seeks to fill that void.

“There is very little LGBTQ+ representation in the upper valley. Gay Ski Week is more for travelers than for our local community and does not represent the breadth of the local LGBTQ+ community,” Benavent said.

The importance of these events is underscored by him: “Given the string of recent local LGBTQ+ youth suicides, it is especially important that we increase the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community in a positive light and celebrate the freedom and joy that is possible being LGBTQ+ in this valley and elsewhere. We want our youth to feel safe to embrace their identity, and with events like this, we can show them there is a place they can be loved and secure.”

As Aspen hosts countless visitors this summer, the community picnic will also serve as a signifier to those who call our region home that they belong.

“A significant portion of the Music Festival community identifies as non-binary or LGBTQ+. As all of the Music Festival community arrives in June, it is important to extend a warm welcome and show them the best of our community. We also have many international students who may have never attended a Pride event. It is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the freedom and liberty we experience in our nation and community,” Benavent said.

While AMFS is hosting this event, it is truly a community effort bringing together support from local organizations, governments and businesses. Community partners for this event include: Aspen Chamber Resort Association, Aspen Community Health Services, Aspen Skiing Company, Basalt Regional Library, city of Aspen, Free Mom Hugs, HeadQuarters, Loving Beyond Understanding, One Colorado, Pitkin County Public Health, PFLAG of the Roaring Fork Valley, Theatre Aspen, Thunder River Theatre Company, Transportation Options Program, and Wheeler Opera House.

As we usher in the summer in our incredible region, may we all celebrate the diverse and rich culture afforded to us as a result of the convergence of a vast range of human expressions and experiences. This inaugural picnic, through its intentional creation and collaborative efforts, embodies a spirit of belonging and inclusion that supports the thriving of our broader community and serves as a model for future efforts.

Allison Alexander is the director of strategic partnerships and communications for the Aspen Community Foundation, which, with the support of its donors, works with non-profits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.