Giving Thought: Seeking tolerance, understanding and well-being for LGBTQ people
When Aspen celebrates Gay Ski Week in 2022, it will be the annual event’s 45th year, and the 20th year for AspenOUT, the nonprofit organization that stages the event.
As a city and a resort, Aspen has long embraced values such as tolerance and equality under the law that remain central in the LGBTQ community. Still, the landscape has changed over time, and AspenOUT is evolving to meet the challenges of 2021.
Executive Director Kevin McManamon said the AspenOUT of a decade ago was mostly a “pass-through” nonprofit, collecting money from various sources and then granting it to other similar-minded organizations. Today’s AspenOUT takes “a more hands-on and local approach,” he said, supporting and educating Roaring Fork Valley mental health providers who see LGBTQ clients and referring people to qualified providers. The organization also provides funding to the gender and sexuality alliances in local schools. And there’s much more.
“AspenOUT has partnered with Aspen Film and The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW) in creating the Alliance Film Series,” which presents positive, affirming movies for LGBTQ young adults, McManamon said. “Five years ago we created a scholarship program for graduating seniors in the Roaring Fork Valley from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. This past year we granted $18,000 in scholarships.”
The scholarships aren’t restricted to gay or queer applicants, but McManamon said it’s helpful if the applicants are, at least, so-called allies. AspenOUT’s board of directors reads the applicant essays and tends to reward the real tear-jerkers with real money.
All of these efforts promote valleywide tolerance, understanding and diversity on various fronts, with an emphasis on youth and education. The group’s latest effort is a first-of-its-kind survey of LGBTQ locals that will act as a “needs assessment” for the community.
“There has never been a needs assessment done for the LGBTQ community in western Colorado,” he said. “We hope to bring attention to the needs of the LGBTQ community, especially mental health needs. By understanding their needs we can address them by providing services.”
Of all the sub-groups beneath the LGBTQ umbrella, McManamon said, the T (for transgender) plays a special role in the survey and the current public discourse.
“With the acceptance of gay rights and gay marriage across the country and a shift in social mores, attention has shifted to the transgender community,” he said. “The transgender community has specific medical and mental health requirements.”
Needless to say, the notion of being a man in a woman’s body, or vice versa, is no trifling psychological matter. Nor is the decision to physically change one’s gender. These issues require specific, deep training and expertise for medical and mental health providers to handle properly, and that’s a priority for the people and entities including McManamon who are working on the survey. Among the cooperating parties are Americorps VISTA, Pitkin County and Midvalley Family Practice in Basalt.
The survey is expected to be available near the end of this month. Initially it will go out to recipients on the AspenOUT newsletter list (sign up at http://www.aspenout.com), and the organization will provide a survey link on both the website and its Facebook page.
Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.
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