CHEYENNE – More than 120 members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, along with their allies, turned out Sunday morning for the inaugural Cheyenne Pridefest.
The event, the first of its kind in the capital city, began with a parade up Carey Avenue to the Wyoming State Capitol, then down Capitol Avenue to the Cheyenne Depot Plaza, where event organizers recognized the significance of the event and the continuing struggle for equal rights LGBTQ Wyomingites must wage.
“Five years ago, the idea of addressing you at Pride was unimaginable because I was not out,” said John King, the chairman of LGBTQ awareness group Wyoming Equality. “If you have not come out yet, I understand. A lot has happened in the last four years; I was embraced by my family, I was supported in my career, and some friendships became closer while others fell away.”
King said during the last year, donations to and membership in Wyoming Equality have each more than tripled, and Pride events have been spreading across the state to communities like Casper, Douglas, Gillette and Pinedale.
“But what’s most important to me is the number of people who came out (Sunday) to support us,” he said.
Melanie Vigil, who serves on the Wyoming Equality board, said when she first came out as gay nine years ago, the only Pride event she ever expected to attend was in Denver.
“But that is no longer the case, and this is an amazing turnout,” Vigil said as she addressed the crowd at Depot Plaza, many of whom had donned rainbow shirts, necklaces and other accoutrements to show their support. “These events are taking place all across the state and it’s amazing to see for me. I’ve been out for a while, but I know a lot of queer youth especially maybe and make the trip to a larger city and they want to see community support here.”
Sara Burlingame, the education and outreach coordinator for Wyoming Equality, said as the LGBTQ community continues to work toward universal acceptance and equality, it’s important not to forget history. She noted how the 2015 film “Stonewall,” depicting the 1969 Stonewall Riots that led to the creation of the modern Pride movement, largely failed to represent the broad spectrum of humanity who comprise the LGBTQ community.
“If you saw the movie then you don’t know what happened at Stonewall because the movie told you it was some pretty respectable gay men; but the story of Stonewall and the story of Pride is the story of the most marginalized taking back their power,” Burlingame said.
“It’s the story of butch women who were told they needed three items of women’s clothing on them when the police stopped them. It’s the story of transgender women, of drag queens, of homeless youth who had no other place to go,” Burlingame said.
She also sought to thank policymakers who have been allies to the LGBTQ community – people, she said, “who don’t make us beg … who don’t ask us to start with crumbs at the table, but who tell us, come in, it’s your house.’”
Among these, she gave special recognition to Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr, who met with Burlingame during her mayoral campaign last year.
“I went the way I go to all of these meetings, with the trepidation that I am going to have to fight, I’m going to have to make a case the way I make a case every day for our full humanity,” Burlingame said. “And when I sat down I didn’t have to make the case because (Orr) said ‘I’m there, what can I do, I don’t need to be convinced,’ and there’s no other feeling like that.”
Orr herself also spoke Sunday, proclaiming June as LGBTQ Pride Month in Cheyenne and telling the story of how her own daughter came out to her six years ago. Orr said her initial response to the news was, “I love you very much; I will always love your partner.”
Orr joked that while her devout Roman Catholic parents “still go to daily Mass and they still pray very hard for us all,” they also “love and respect their granddaughter very much.” Further, she told the assemblage, “You have a friend in the mayor’s office, and you have my support, absolutely.”
The message, as well as the festival itself, were heartening for A.J. McDaniel, a local transgender man whose marriage to Jennifer Mumaugh in October 2014 was the first in the state made possible when the United States Supreme Court overturned state bans on same-sex marriage.
“My experience (since then) has been pretty good; there’s been a few bumps in the road, but for the most part it’s been pretty good,” said McDaniel, who is expecting his second child with Mumaugh later this summer. “It’s important to raise awareness there are people like us here and we’re proud to be here. This is where we make our homes, and we’re here to stay.”
Asked if he’s found the environment more welcoming to the LGBTQ population in the years since his marriage, McDaniel said “Yes and no.”
“It’s kind of a live-and-let-live type state, but on the same token, a lot of the older generation still don’t quite accept change,” he said.
Shayna Alexander, who was largely responsible for coordinating the march and festival, said she believes the last U.S. election may have been the catalyst for Pride events becoming more open and numerous this year than in the past.
“Traditionally Wyoming has had these potlucks; it’s not big and it’s not visible, we’re not marching down the streets,” she said. “But especially after this last election cycle and how a lot of us were scared, it’s time for us to take to the streets like our foremothers who started the Pride movement.”
She noted that Sunday’s first-of-its-kind event provided a safe place for some LGBTQ people who’d been too afraid to show their pride before to come out and celebrate who they are. One such person, Leila Randall, had come with a group of schoolmates from Saratoga.
“It’s really hard there, honestly; the only reason I hadn’t come out until recently was because of my school and because I was scared what people would think of me,” Randall said. But Sunday’s event – her first Pride event, she said – taught her “don’t be afraid, and it’s an amazing feeling not to be afraid.”