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A Celebration of Dignity, Love and the Power of Unity

CMU, community organizers and local businesses work together to celebrate Pride Week

Commencing on Sep. 5 with an official declaration from the Grand Junction City Council, the 12th annual Pride Week festivities began in the Grand Valley. This year’s signature event, Pride in the Park, was the largest yet and the free, all-ages and substance-free event featured musical performances, food and a variety of opportunities to connect with different agencies and organizations in the area that are dedicated to fostering dignity and belonging for all. This year’s theme was Out: Loud and Proud. 

CMU Adjunct Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences Jennifer Miller deftly debunked the misconception that Pride is only for people who are LGBTQ+.

“Probably half of the people in attendance were there to support loved ones and the community. Or they were there to attend a cultural festival. Pride is just like so many other cultural festivals that people choose to attend — it’s like going to a Cinco de Mayo festival to enjoy the food and expose oneself to the culture. I hope that in the future more people will come to these events to experience the culture and to see that we’re not really separate, we’re all part of the same larger community,” said Miller.

CMU Coordinator of Student Belonging Ta’Lor Jackson addressed the fallacy that Pride revolves solely around parties and rainbows.

“Pride embodies a profound history of oppression, ongoing struggles and significant triumphs. Delving into the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals fosters compassion and empathy, reminding us of our shared humanity. Unfortunately, the LGBTQ+ community still grapples with hate, fear and discrimination. Pride serves as a platform to amplify the voices and visibility of those often marginalized and silenced. It's an opportunity to shed light on the challenges they face, highlighting the need for continued support and advocacy,” said Jackson.

Pride was first given federal recognition in 1999 when June was declared Gay and Lesbian Pride Month on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots that took place in New York on June 28, 1969. In 2011 Pride Month was expanded to include the entire LGBTQ+ community. Many large cities celebrate Pride in June, but Grand Junction is among a handful of locales that choose to celebrate in September instead — college students are back in town, the weather is lovely and there is less competition with other Pride events this time of year.

On Sep. 6, CMU President John Marshall sat down with local community leader and founding member of Colorado West Pride Heidi Hess and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to discuss the progress and challenges that the LGBTQ+ community has experienced in Grand Junction and throughout the United States on a special edition of the CMUnow Podcast.

Colorado Mesa University · Unity in Diversity

Throughout the conversation, Weiser highlighted the common ground that all Americans can find when it comes to civil rights-related issues and he provided a historical perspective on how the legal environment in Colorado has changed in such a short amount of time regarding LGBTQ+ rights.

“Diversity and inclusion are hard because many people who are different in any way — their sexual orientation, their religion, their ethnicity, their race — often ask, ‘Am I safe to be my authentic self? Should I stay in the closet? Should I pass as somebody else?’” said Weiser.

He continued, “If you don’t believe in progress in America, you haven’t studied the history of LGBTQ equality because this history is unbelievable. In Colorado, within 30 years, we went from being known as the ‘hate-state’, where we had passed this Amendment 2 that limited access to civil rights protections to electing our nation’s first openly gay governor.”

Hess shared her perspective about how the West Slope has changed since she first arrived, and how much the annual Pride Festival has grown over the years.

“Today there are more people on the sidewalks watching the parade or coming to Pride events that don’t identify specifically as LGBTQ, so the larger community is coming to some of these events and participating in a friendly way. And that’s positive! It’s slow, but it’s a big change for the West Slope,” said Hess. 

She continued, “Living over here on the West Slope there is this connection to community and there is also a sense of ‘live and let live’. There is a bit of a libertarian streak out here. I think one of the biggest and most impactful things are events like Pride — empowering young people and other people to come out and be their authentic selves in our community. It opens dialogue, it opens up conversation and it’s gotten safer. It is safer in Grand Junction to be out and to walk down Main Street holding your wife’s hand. And that’s because there has been this integration — we are also part of the community, and not a separate community but a part of the larger community.”

Jackson expressed her enthusiasm for the new events this year and highlighted the work that has been done to encourage more interaction between the CMU campus and the broader community.

“What fills me with excitement as an ally during Pride is watching our students, family, friends, colleagues and neighbors wholeheartedly embracing their authentic selves. The week-long festivities create an incredible platform for our diverse community to come together, build connections and stand united in solidarity with one another. It's an amazing experience to be a part of! Over the years, Grand Junction's Pride celebration has experienced tremendous growth. Seeing our Mavily actively engage and participate significantly contributes to nurturing a profound sense of community, both on and off campus. This transformation has been especially heartening, as historically, these spaces haven't always been welcoming,” said Jackson.

Evelyn Drollinger-Smith, co-coordinator for the Genders and Sexualities Alliance (GSA) at CMU was thrilled about breaking barriers between CMU and Grand Junction this year by hosting the first major Pride event on campus. On Sep. 7, GSA partnered with the local charity Rainbow Closet to host the 2023 Pride Fashion Show held on CMU’s campus.

“The fashion show was held right out there on the Plaza under the big tent. We had people from the community coming onto campus, we had students who were just wandering by slow down, looking and getting curious about what all the music and cheering was about. GSA makes a point of not restricting access to our events by never charging admission and as a result, I saw a few students sit down and start talking to people at the event — so that was a pretty huge win in my opinion,” said Drollinger-Smith.

She continued, “Essentially whoever showed up and wanted to appear on the runway got a chance to do so. We had a local drag queen, Stella Rae, hosting the event as emcee, we got to hear from a couple of speakers in the community like Heidi Hess from Colorado West Pride and Marcella who runs Rainbow Closet, and we had a good time. It was fun, a bit disorganized and very, very queer.”

Abby Brownell, co-coordinator for GSA assisted with the Pride Fashion Show and shared, “I was most excited about being out and feeling safe within my community! It’s a lot of fun event-wise and assuming an active role within my community in Grand Junction is very important to me.”

On Sep. 9, Pride in the Park was held at Lincoln Park. Among the 60-plus booths at this year’s celebration, CMU’s Student Life, GSA and Real Talk were present. Student Life partnered with the Tomlinson Library staff to present a mini library of fiction and non-fiction LGBTQ+ literature for attendees to explore.

“We had little pamphlets with QR codes for books from the mini library that people could download and read for free. We were giving away stickers and we had some larger pieces of Pride merchandise we were giving out for donations. We also got to talk with other members of the community. It was a good opportunity for us to be out and visible, to make connections and to integrate ourselves more with the broader community. I’ve noticed that there’s a tendency for students to be sort of secluded here within campus and for some of the LGBTQ students that’s doubly true, so I want people to mix and mingle and get outside of their usual territory,” explained Drollinger-Smith.

You can explore an online version of the mini library on the Tomlinson Library website.

GSA will be hosting a drag show on campus at the end of October at The Point and GSA is planning to send a delegation to Lobby Day in February when they plan to travel to Denver to address the state legislature to advocate for LGBTQ+ issues.

Outside of CMU’s involvement with this year’s Pride festivities, Student Services and CMU Real Talk have worked to develop a series of LGBTQ+ training sessions and created a pronoun FAQ sheet to help individuals expand their toolkit for creating inclusive and affirming environments for both students and colleagues on campus.

“During our Be Heard in the Herd student listening sessions, it became evident that there was a demand for establishing a name change procedure for students who no longer identified with their birth name. While this procedure is open to students of diverse identities, it primarily serves our transgender students who expressed concerns regarding email and other technology platforms displaying the incorrect name, resulting in misgendering,” said Jackson. This name change process is conveniently accessible through an e-form.

If you are interested in learning more or getting involved on campus, Miller offers an LGBT Studies class every semester, you can follow GSA on Instagram and GSA meets weekly on Tuesday evenings at 5pm in Escalante Hall 101 — all are welcome.

It is also a great time of year to apply for or contribute to one of the CMU Foundation’s scholarships that support the LGBTQ+ community.


Written by Giff Walters