by Cecilia LaFrance
The bag check at the gate of Denver’s PrideFest screens for weapons and alcoholic beverages, but visitors who truly want to experience the annual event also leave behind judgment and intolerance. Welcoming choice and diversity is the point of the day. Expression takes its form in costume or lack of one—thongs paired only with shoes, slave and master leather, masks, accessories in rainbow colors, and anything that transforms easily to a cape. Wardrobes lose gender associations. Or, in the case of Taylor Llorens, body paint wins as the choice for her chest today. Taking cover under a tree during a light rain with Kristal Richardson at Civic Center Park Saturday afternoon, the two friends relish a day to live freely.
Over the Rainbow
“It’s kind of why I love pride. Everybody is in good spirits because everyone needs it.” Kristal calls PrideFest “true adult recess.” Eyes etched in neon and lips bold in purple, the Georgia transplant sees PrideFest as a place to find a tribe. Declining her family’s pattern of military service due to dissatisfaction with the direction of her country, Kristal says PrideFest gives her hope. “This is the exhale.”
Around the pair, four city blocks hold multiple stages of entertainment, more food vendors than the County fair, and an expo touting national banks, insurance providers, employers, and grocers vying for the thousands of attendees’ business. Sponsors of the event estimate a gain of $25 million in revenue for the city in exchange for extravagant displays, lax enforcement of public space laws, and transforming the heart of the metro into a playground.
“Everyone’s so free,” says Taylor. People’s “bubble of parameters has been popped and they live today.” A layer of glitter sparkles from a painted red tie dividing her pale breasts as she motions to the crowd. Drama, litter, rebellion, grit—all are showing they deserve to be in this space, she says. Openly gay, Taylor credits brave people who paved the way before her. “It’s easy for me to run around with my nipples out.” Or, she says, people can wear any gender of clothing now and not get arrested, as was the case for previous generations. “It’s our right. They did it when it was hard instead of easy.”
Kristal says people don’t have to have a reason to be part of PrideFest. She’s not gay, but repeats the right to be “allowed to exist without apology.” For her, the diversity of Denver has supported that cause. “I can’t live in the south,” where white males keep power, she says. “Don’t tell me what to do with my body. How dare you!”
364 Other Days
Denver presents more options to meet like-minded people, Kristal says. “It’s the only place I feel welcome in my own country.” Events like PrideFest build friendships like the one she has with Taylor. The two stay connected and go out dancing. For Kristal, she says she has a better view of the bigger picture. She wants to help educate others and “leave an impact, even in its smallest measurement.” Being patient, empathetic, and sweeter to everyone she meets are incremental acts. “I sleep well at night knowing I did the best I could today.”
Taylor, three years distanced from her former Long Island residence, says she can tend to fall back on her New York attitude of “get out of my face” with people. Then, she has to pop her own bubble, maintain love and openness, she says. “You have to be comfortable with yourself.”
Typical of Colorado weather, the light squall passes. On the expansive lawns and sidewalks, people watch a parade of individual preferences and define what Pride means for themselves. Kristal and Taylor, freshly hydrated, head off to dance.