Sometime between the fancy old convertibles and the authentic gorilla suits on the Tony's Downtown Bar truck, a well-dressed woman walked up to me Sunday at the annual PrideFest parade in downtown Colorado Springs.
She had been marching in the sun-baked procession down Tejon Street that included more than 70 groups and floats, but now she wanted to meet someone from the Independent.
"Are you Ralph Routon?" she asked, almost pronouncing it right, before saying she enjoyed our paper each week. We talked briefly, and then I asked her name.
"Mike," she said. "Well, actually, Adrienne. It's really been nice to meet you."
She turned her attention back to applauding others in the parade. And at that moment, I realized that PrideFest has matured into adulthood.
Don't miss the key word in that sentence. Matured. It's been happening steadily in recent years, but last weekend it was unmistakable.
This was the 21st year for PrideFest in the Springs, and to honor the occasion, organizers came up with the perfect theme: "Coming of Age," complete with 1950s-style trappings. Admirably, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender attendees just wanted to share their ... pride. From this view, not as many folks seemed intent on being as outrageous as possible, and there were clearly more families with kids than in the past.
Sure, people partied for two days, some harder than others. And certainly, many still were stinging from the lack of a hoped-for proclamation from new Mayor Steve Bach or from City Council as a group. They settled for a letter of support from Council President Scott Hente and President Pro-Tem Jan Martin, which still succeeded in providing a city-level stamp of legitimacy.
But there were no anti-establishment outbursts, no acts of opportunism, at PrideFest 21, as might have been the case in previous years. Nobody was interested in letting others' lack of understanding get in the way of their purpose. This crowd had a different outlook.
Many wore brightly colored T-shirts provided by the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado bearing the message "Born this way," obviously inspired by the Lady Gaga song ("No matter gay, straight or bi / Lesbian, transgendered life / I'm on the right track, baby / I was born to survive") but also by the hope that someday the world will have enough undeniable proof to accept "born this way" as genetic reality.
Here's another message that came through at PrideFest 21, though we will be a better city when it's true every weekend of the year: It's OK to be gay.
Certainly, that was the view of the many churches and businesses that manned their booths and tents. They weren't into making political statements. Just embracing tolerance and compassion.
Some of us might not have realized how noticeable it really was, except that a visitor came into the Independent's tent Sunday afternoon. Not just any visitor, but another member of City Council whom nobody expected to see at this occasion.
Tim Leigh, three months into his first term as one of the city's elected leaders, had been checking out PrideFest for himself, and he had feelings to share.
"I just wanted you to know that conservatives do come to this event," Leigh said, in a boastful tone. He came to see what PrideFest was really like, instead of just listening to others' judgments. Clearly, he was surprised to discover that you probably could find far more exhibitionism and depravity on any beach, from Florida to California, than around this celebration.
"This is it?" Leigh asked, almost incredulously. "Heck, I'll walk in the parade myself next year."
He said that, and the reaction was immediate: "We're going to hold you to that, Tim."
"That's fine. I'll be here," Leigh said, and it was obvious he meant it.
Just one person. Perhaps not a total convert, but not an enemy, either. For those who care about the gay scene, it's more about acceptance than anything.
And perhaps next time, everyone on City Council, along with the mayor and even my new acquaintance Adrienne, can wear T-shirts emblazoned with a statement that would mean more than any proclamation:
Tolerance lives here.
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