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Mountain Minyan welcomes Rabbi Aaron Weininger for Gay Ski Week

If you were in Aspen this week, you likely saw a sea of rainbow flags piercing through layers of vibrant, white snow. You probably heard music and laughter and chatter of how great the skiing was. 

It was the 46th annual Aspen Gay Ski Week, which included a long list of events — from Drag Bingo Brunch at the Hotel Jerome to the first openly-lesbian bishop coming to speak at Aspen Community Church.

To help cap off the momentous week, Aaron Weininger, an openly-gay Minneapolis-based rabbi, came to speak at the Aspen Community Church for Mountain Minyan’s Shabbat service. 

Mountain Minyan is a collaborative project and partnership with the Aspen Jewish Congregation, who used the church’s space Friday to observe Shabbat, a weekly Jewish tradition.

According to Weininger, the service was open to those who are Jewish, Jewish-curious, and Jewish-adjacent — welcoming everyone to have a seat at the table to discuss divine compassion, honor God, build community, and celebrate Gay Ski Week.

Rabbi Aaron Weininger made history by being the first openly gay person admitted to rabbinical school in the conservative movement of Judaism.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“When we come together in community, which we’ll get to do tomorrow evening, showing up exactly as we are and learning from one another, praying together, eating together — because that’s very important in Jewish community — we begin to get on track to do lifelong work to create a world that we don’t yet see, but that we know is possible,” he told The Aspen Times the day before the Shabbat.

In 2007, Weininger made history by being the first openly-gay person admitted to rabbinical school in the conservative movement of Judaism, a denomination in Judaism that is not politically conservative, but is considered one of four major branches in contemporary Judaism, he said. 

In 2006, the Committee of Jewish Law passed two divergent viewpoints on homosexuality: One that didn’t affirm the LGBTQ+ community, and one that allowed seminaries to change their admission policies to accept LGBTQ+ students, according to Weininger. 

Following this historic yet polarizing moment in Jewish law, two U.S seminaries changed their admission policy to allow LGBTQ+ students to attend their theological schools. 

While Weininger knew it would be challenging to be the first gay student admitted to the seminary in New York, he felt called to become a rabbi in his teenage years and knew the importance of representing the LGBTQ+ community in this space.

Rabbi Aaron Weininger, visiting from Minnesota, leads the Shabbat on Friday inside the Aspen Community Church.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“My hope is, as more LGBTQ people are at the table, is that we’re not simply invited to the table, but that we are resetting the table and thinking about ways to push back on a binary,” he said.

This year, he’ll make history again, becoming the first openly-gay senior rabbi of the Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minneapolis. This will be the first time the board of a conservative congregation has hired an openly-gay rabbi in a congregation of their size, he said.

“In many ways, my path to becoming a rabbi has been about orienting myself and orienting the community to catch up with God’s compassion and knowing it’s impossible to do so,” said Weininger. “I feel being in the LGBT community this week, we got to do that in a very special way. And, that Mountain Minyan creates a space where LGBTQ people can begin to imagine, not just for ourselves, but for the larger Jewish community, and, in some small way with the world, a way of creating space for religion that is affirming and beyond the binaries that exist.”

Roaring Fork Valley Methodist churches double down on affirming the LGBTQ+ community

The United Methodist Church’s first openly-lesbian bishop, Karen Oliveto, came to speak at Aspen Chapel on Sunday to kick off Gay Ski Week, which made for a small yet seismic ripple in a wider theological paradigm within the United Methodist Church.

In recent years, churches in the United Methodist denomination have been leaving in droves due to an ideological schism that was in part catalyzed by differing views on same-sex unions and the acceptance LGBTQ+ clergy, according to United Methodist News.

By 2022, it was reported that 2,003 churches in the United States had officially left the organization. In Texas alone, more than 400 churches had left the organization — a “max exodus” consistent with other Southern states, including Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, according to Politico.

Jerry Herships, a pastor at Aspen Community Church, estimated that around 11 churches in the Mountain Sky Conference have left the organization. Bishop Oliveto is the leader of this conference, which is comprised of 378 churches spanning Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and one church in Idaho.

The churches disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church are leaving to form the Global United Methodist Church, which will follow a more conservative ideological framework, Herships said.

“The Global Methodist Church has a stance that is probably what most would consider far more conservative than what is now what I would label the new United Methodist Church, which is far more progressive, open, and affirming,” he said.

While the United Methodist Church is undergoing this shift within their congregation based on ideological fractures, the Book of Discipline explicitly states: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

In 2019, the United Methodist Church’s general conference voted to follow a “traditional plan,” embracing more conservative tenants of Christianity outlined in the aforementioned clause.

That same year, the church gave local churches the opportunity to disaffiliate from the denomination “for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference,” according to The United Methodist Church.

Therefore, although the church voted to follow a more conservative approach, the churches leaving to form the Global Methodist Church are doing so in part because the framework is not conservative enough for them.

Despite the “tradition plan,” churches can still be considered a “reconciling ministry,” a network within the United Methodist Church that can openly welcome the full participation of the LGBTQ+ community, according to Rebecca Dunagan, a Roaring Fork Valley pastor and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.

The reconciling-ministry distinction “helps the queer community know where those safe worshiping spaces are in advance,” she said.

According to Herships, The Aspen Community Church is the first reconciling congregation in Colorado. To him, the church taking this lead is consistent with Aspen’s history of progressive values and “gonzo spirit” that have endured through socioeconomic shifts.

In the broader Roaring Fork Valley, United Methodist Churches in Glenwood Springs, Basalt, and Carbondale are working to form a “cooperative parish,” whereby they’ll form a cooperative council, share pastors, and work together more closely.

In addition, these churches are also undergoing the shift to become reconciling congregations. According to Dunagan, the process and timeline varies, depending on the congregation. As of right now, the Roaring Fork Valley churches are in “the beginning phases,” she said.

“Our real hopes and goals in this work is that, as a faith community, we are able to connect with and meet needs in our community,” she said.

While the schism in the church is underway, Herships sees the divide as an opportunity for the church to reform.

“There really is the hope that United Methodism, in this split, will have a rebranding and a rebirth, sort of a phoenix rising from the ashes, so to say,” said Herships. “The United Methodist Church will be the one that will hold on to progressive thought and progressive understandings and will look at look at theology and God through that lens rather than something more conservative.”

For more information, read our previous coverage:

First LGBTQ+ United Methodist bishop kicks off Gay Ski Week at Aspen Chapel

Mariam T handles crossover of Winterskol to Aspen Gay Ski Week with Drag Queen Bingo Brunch

Aspen Gay Ski Week kicked off with a bang in the Grand Ballroom at The Little Nell with Drag Queen Bingo Brunch, hosted by San Diego’s Queen Mariam, aka she/her/Ms. Mariam T.  

A self-proclaimed insult comic, Mariam T. did not hold back with her signature exaggerated makeup, Texas-sized blonde wig, black and gold striped caftan and sky-high platforms. She began with a toast urging the crowd to imbibe freely “and raise a lot of money” as they erupted in cheers.

A drink is served at the Drag Queen Bingo Brunch on Sunday in The Little Nell. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Mariam T. carried on for over 90 minutes with her irreverent, loud and lewd jokes which spared no one, while running through several rounds of bingo numbers and engaging the crowd every step of the way.

The event was a new addition to this year’s festivities and was co-sponsored by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and The Little Nell to celebrate the end of Winterskol and the beginning of Aspen Gay Ski Week in support of non-profit AspenOUT— as well providing one of several one-off events that anyone without a week pass can attend.

Mariam T. lived up to her reputation as an insult comic while urging the crowd to give generously to AspenOUT. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Spirits were high with a mix of locals and incoming visitors there to enjoy the food, drinks and fab entertainment, such as Mark Hammond and his husband, Ziggy Watrous, a couple from Dallas via Costa Rica, who drove from Colorado Springs on Sunday morning just to make the brunch and participate in their third annual Gay Ski Week.

Yes, bingo was as much a part of the brunch event as the toasts, brunch and drag queen presiding over the event. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“Aspen Gay Ski Week is our favorite ski trip because we enjoy the amazing events, camaraderie, and meeting people from all over the world while supporting a charity that helps so many LGBTQIA+ in western Colorado to seek better health care and education,” said Watrous.

Indeed, while the event is a great party and a way to bring everyone together, the folks at AspenOUT make a point to remind everyone that ultimately the week long celebration aims raise money to support disenfranchised and marginalized folks in the community.

“All the money that we raised goes back to the LGBTQ+ community. The grants, scholarships and programs,” said Kevin McManamon, the executive director of AspenOUT. “And I’m proud to say that in 2022, we granted over $160,000 to individual organizations to underwriting mental health care, education and anti-bullying initiatives, and provided over 300 hours of direct services to valley locals.”

As bingo started winding down and after all the prizes had been dispersed, Mariam T. treated guests to a couple of X-rated lip-sync numbers, keeping the crowd laughing and singing along until the end.

Mariam T kept the crowd laughing all through the event. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

She closed the morning by encouraging everyone to have a fun and safe experience and to join her at other events throughout the week.

“I love Aspen. I love being here with you all,” she said. “Thank you for coming.”

If you missed her at The Little Nell, Mariam T. will be hosting Drag Queen Bingo Night on Tuesday from 9 to 11 p.m. (which is free to the public) at the W Hotel, as well as the 2023 Bud Light Downhill Costume Contest on Friday from noon to 3 p.m. at the foot of Aspen Mountain.

For more information on Aspen Gay Ski Week events: https://gayskiweek.com/events/

Mariam T. raises a glass in toast during the Drag Queen Bingo Brunch. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Mariam T. has another bingo event Tuesday evening at the W and a costume contest Friday afternoon at the base of Aspen Mountain. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

First LGBTQ+ United Methodist bishop kicks off Gay Ski Week at Aspen Chapel

The United Methodist Church’s first openly-lesbian bishop, Karen Oliveto, will speak Sunday morning at the Aspen Chapel to kick off Gay Ski Week.

She will discuss what it means to be “perfectly imperfect,” while extending the church’s ideas unconditional love and acceptance to LGBTQ+ members in attendance, she said.

“I want them (LGBTQ+ individuals) to know that they are an exclamation point on the heart of God,” Oliveto said. “God made them. God delights in them. And, the world needs them.”

She serves as the leader of the Mountain Sky Area of The United Methodist Church, which consists of 378 congregations in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and one church in Idaho.

Before serving as the first openly gay bishop, she was the first to accomplish many things in ministry.

She was the first woman to serve as senior pastor at the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, a congregation with 12,000 members in San Francisco.

While in San Francisco, Oliveto became the first United Methodist pastor to officiate a legal gay wedding, back in February 2004. At the time, Gavin Newsom, then the mayor (now California governor), issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite California law that explicitly prohibited these unions, according to Mother Jones.

“You had to be in San Francisco to see these couples coming from all over the country to line up at City Hall. Days-long lines, and the whole city turning out. People showed up with pizza and doughnuts and flowers and cakes,” said Oliveto.

“The whole city felt like one big wedding reception,” she said. “God was palpable because love was so palpable.”

According to her, nine couples in her congregation asked her to officiate their same-sex unions. Although the United Methodist Church did not recognize same-sex marriage, Oliveto felt a moral obligation those in her congregation looking to build their lives together.

“How can I say ‘No,’ even though the church was against it? How could I say ‘No’ to these people who I’m their pastor?” said Oliveto. “I work with them. I see their relationship. I see their desire to build a family, and it got me in a lot of trouble.”

Bishop Karen Oliveto said she felt a moral obligation to officiate same-sex marriages in San Francisco when they were illegal.
Karen Oliveto officiates same-sex marriage.

Oliveto received a number of complaints from inside the organization, including a formal charge filed against her that was ultimately dropped. Within six months of her decision to officiate same-sex unions, The United Methodist Church “explicitly made performing of same-sex ceremonies a chargeable offense, after Oliveto’s action,” according to The Chicago Tribune.

Despite some within the church seeking to make officiating same-sex marriage a chargeable offense, Oliveto went on to work in a seminary as the associate dean of academic affairs.

She said the seminary told her: “You’re exactly the kind of leader we want our students to learn from.”

“Here I was with a complaint against me and my ministry, and I was invited to teach United Methodist history doctrine policy, the required courses for United Methodist pastors,” she said.

In 2016, she became the lead bishop for the Mountain Sky Area — a title she wasn’t sure she’d ever hold, and, furthermore, a title she was scared to hold.

“I didn’t know what God wanted next,” said Oliveto. “I didn’t think it was to be a bishop. But, a lot of voices were saying, ‘This is when we need you.’

Before accepting the nomination, she sought guidance from God and her spouse, Robin Ridenour, a deaconess in the church. When Robin quoted scripture, reminding her that “perfect love casts out all fear,” Oliveto felt the fear melt away, she said.

The day after she accepted the nomination to become bishop, she woke up to read about a shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. This tragic event is currently the second most deadly shooting in modern U.S history with 49 fatalities, according to Business Insider.

“Instead of the fear returning, it made me realize it’s time for an openly-LGBT person to be in leadership in the church,” said Oliveto.

According to Oliveto, she was unanimously elected on the 17th ballot. While the United Methodist Church elected her to this position, the church remains deeply divided about LGBTQ+ rights.

Following the announcement of her role as bishop, she said, she experienced overwhelming kindness from many, some telling her, “I’m alive because of you.” Still, the threat of violence also was overwhelming.

“The problem was the hate mail was really bad, to the point that I needed a bodyguard,” said Oliveto. “I was run out of one town, literally, under the threat of violence. So, it’s been hard.”

Despite the hardships, she said she knows she is carrying both the hopes and fears of many. Through her faith and the kindness of others, she pushed through.

“I’m aware that my presence in that position of leadership has changed hearts and minds, but, more than that, it saves some lives,” said Oliveto. “There are young people who are alive because they see what their life could be like.”

On Sunday, she will speak at Aspen Chapel at 9:30 a.m. and then head downvalley to the Carbondale Community United Methodist Church to speak at 5 p.m.

Sandra Bernhard brings her one-woman show to The Wheeler for Aspen Gay Ski Week

A pioneer of the one-woman show, performer, actress, singer, and author Sandra Bernhard will headline The Wheeler Opera House on Thursday, Jan. 19, in support of Aspen Gay Ski Week and AspenOUT for the first time.  

She’s known for her raucous mix of cabaret, stand-up, rock ‘n’ roll, and social commentary that are hallmarks of her live stage performances.

“It’s an hour and a half of full-on connection with the audience with storytelling and music and funny asides and kind of an overview of, you know, where we’ve been in the past couple of years,” said Bernhard. “It covers all the different topics that I find compelling, like hot off the presses. Because, as we know, every day there’s something else, and you just shake your head and go, ‘This is insane.’”

She has had a long and prolific career that started in the 1970s, when she gained attention as a stand-up comedian who often appeared at The Comedy Store in West Hollywood, which led to being cast in The Richard Pryor Show in 1977.

In the 1980s, her big break came when she was cast by Martin Scorsese to star as stalker/kidnapper Masha in The King of Comedy for which she won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress. Soon after, in 1988, she launched her off-Broadway one woman show, Without You, I’m Nothing, With You, I’m Not Much Better.

She has gained notoriety for her many film and television roles, including her role as Nancy Bartlett, one of the first lesbian recurring characters on an American sitcom (She eventually came out as bisexual), in the hit show Roseanne in the 1990s.

More recently, Bernhard appeared as a series regular in season three of the FX/Ryan Murphy-produced show Pose on FX and is currently co-starring on season 11 of the popular series American Horror Story’s latest installation, American Horror Story NYC.

Despite all her success on the big and little screens, she still loves the direct connection she forms with her audience during live shows, she said.

“Above all, I want my audience to have that deep emotional connection that you have with a performer that you relate to and come to for ideas and thoughts and the kind of insight that a good performer has,” she said. “I’d like people to walk away with how I process the world and how I try to do it on behalf of everybody because that’s what we do as performers.”

Bernhard identifies as bisexual, has raised a daughter with her partner of 20 years, Sara Switzer, and has long been an advocate and supporter of LGBTQ+ rights. So, when AspenOUT approached her to perform for Gay Ski Week, it was a no-brainer.

“We’re all fragile people, you know. There’s elements to all of us that we need support and love, especially when you’ve been marginalized throughout your life. I don’t speak for myself; I haven’t felt marginalized, so I have even more empathy to those who do,” she said. “I like to think I’m one of those people who defends and protects. My women friends, my gay friends, my black friends, whatever situation that people are in, I like to think I’ve got the chops to  step up for people, and that’s really something I like doing.”

If you go…

What: An Evening of Music and Comedy with Sandra Bernhard
Where: The Wheeler Opera House, Aspen
When: Thursday, Jan. 19, 8:30 p.m.
More info and tickets: gayskiweek.com/event/comedy-show-thursday/

46th Aspen Gay Ski Week expands entertainment and event offerings

What began as an argument over two men dancing with one another in a local Aspen bar circa 1977, Aspen Gay Ski Week has morphed from informal annual meetups and parties to the biggest and most influential non-profit LGBTQ+ ski week in the world.

And its 46th year is shaping up to be the biggest yet, with a conservative estimate of 3,500 attendees expected to descend on the Roaring Fork Valley for this year’s festivities from Jan. 15 to 22.

“Aspen Gay Ski Week is the most popular week of the year, hands down,” said Melissa Temple, president of AspenOUT. “No one knows how to have a party like gay people. The town is just happy, restaurants are abuzz and joyful, the mountain is fun, and everyone is welcome to come out and play.”

AspenOUT Executive Director Kevin McManamon and board President Melissa Temple during Aspen Gay Ski Week’s annual Downhill Costume Contest last January.
Rising Sun Photography/Aspen Skiing Company

Six years ago, when Temple was approached to join the board of AspenOUT and take the helm of Gay Ski Week, she was reluctant because she “didn’t want to take on an organization that was for bearded men, by bearded men.” 

She ultimately accepted, aiming to make the event more inclusive “gay, male, female, straight, whatever.”

A dachsund stays warm last year on a snowy afternoon at the base of Aspen Mountain watching the Gay Ski Week costume downhill.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

She credited the team she enlisted, led by event director Kimberly Kuglia, for expertly executing that vision and turning Gay Ski Week into a sexy premium event and brand, noting that “the event was seamless last year” and she was looking forward to next week’s festivities.

This year, guests can expect the same well-produced and beloved experiences such as daily apres ski, friendship dinners, the Caribou Club benefit and the Top of the Mountain White Party, just kicked up a notch, she said.

“Why is it bigger than ever? I think it’s because we’ve got an amazing marketing team of one person,” Kevin McManamon, executive director of AspenOUT, said with a laugh. “But seriously, we have real high level sponsors who expect us to produce high quality events, and ours is a fundraiser. We’re the only nonprofit gay ski week. Park City and Mammoth are produced by the same guy, and Whistler is produced by their Chamber of Commerce. So ours is unique.”

Two people wave pride flags as they ride the Little Nell lift during the Gay Ski Week downhill costume contest on Aspen Mountain last year. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Due to the popularity of the week and to accommodate the influx of more attendees this year, Kuglia and her team have added several new events and reworked some favorites to ensure there is plenty on offer for anyone who cares to participate.

One she is most excited about is Drag Queen Bingo Brunch at The Little Nell, kicking off the week-long event Sunday at 10 a.m.

Brunch Bingo is scheduled at The Little Nell on Sunday with host Mariam T.

“This event is a partnership with ACRA (Aspen Chamber Resort Association) and The Little Nell celebrating the end of Wintersköl and the beginning of ski week,” said Kuglia. “I’m just really excited to be collaborating with our local resort chamber for the first time. They have been so generous to work with us. We are planning for a diverse mix of locals and visitors. This is one event that is not included in the pass, so anyone can attend.”

The event will include morning eats and options of Santa Julia Sparkling Rose, Ketel One botanicals, mimosas, bloody Marys, or bloody Marias in the Grand Salon at The Little Nell. This is a separate ticketed fundraising event presented by Aspen Ski Week, The Little Nell, and ACRA to benefit AspenOUT. Reusable Bingo cards will be available separately for purchase during the brunch via cash or card for $25.

San Diego-based drag queen Mariam T. will host several events during Aspen Gay Ski Week.

A San Diego-based and self-proclaimed “insult comic,” the loud, lewd and crude drag queen Ms. Mariam T is set to host. This will be Mariam’s fourth Gay Ski Week.

“I always tell my friends Aspen is like being trapped inside of a Hallmark card. It’s such an interesting little spot on the map where reality is a little bit different. Additionally, Gay Ski Week has gotten more diverse over the last few years, and we’re adding so much more entertainment and all different walks of LGBTQ+ come to the event now,” she said.

Mariam T. will also host bingo at the W Hotel and The Collective in Snowmass Base Village for the first time, as well as the 2023 Bud Light Downhill Costume Contest, and confirms that even though “her current condition is ‘too delicate’ to ski,” she plans to take the gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain for the first time and welcomes everyone to come interact.

“Come say hi. Come take a picture. I didn’t put on two hours’ worth of makeup to not have people take pictures of me. So come see me,” she said.

Participants in Aspen Gay Ski Week’s Downhill Costume Contest ski down Little Nell on Aspen Mountain with a large pride flag.
Paula Mayer/Special to The Aspen Times

Other new events are some VIP JPMorgan Wealth Management events, appearances by Los Angeles-based DJ Kimber Chronic, and a special Womxn’s dinner at 39˚ at the W Aspen with celebrity Chef Emily Oyer, who has been featured on Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay and also won Chopped 420 on Discovery+.

While Gay Ski Week is one of the bigger parties of the year, Melissa Temple wants everyone to remember it’s also a fundraiser that provides crucial support to the local LGBTQ+ community.

“The community loves us because we bring so much business to this town. We’ve worked so hard to build this brand the past six years, but this is not just about the party, it’s about the funds we raise and the causes we give to. That’s what’s important. “ she said.

For a full list of events and more information go to https://gayskiweek.com/