Though 1969 is more often remembered for such events as Woodstock and Apollo 11, Ryan Acker, executive director for the Colorado Springs Pride Center, hopes this year's Pridefest will serve as a reminder that the summer of 1969 also produced a pinnacle moment for the LGBT community.
That's when rioting at Greenwich Village's Stonewall Inn suddenly brought the gay-rights controversy to the forefront.
"You couldn't be seen in public holding hands with someone of the same sex," says Acker. Prior to Stonewall, bars were raided by police who were instructed to arrest same-sex couples caught in "lewd" acts, often defined as no more than hand-holding.
To commemorate Stonewall's 40th anniversary, this year's Pridefest will celebrate with a "1969 Stonewall Revival" theme focusing on progress and nationwide momentum under a new presidential administration committed to addressing LGBT-important issues.
Though same-sex unions are not legal in Colorado, on July 1 a new state "designated beneficiaries" law went into effect, providing some rights that same-sex partners have long rallied for, such as making end-of-life decisions and other protections related to health emergencies.
There has been another local victory, thanks to Ron Butlin, executive director of the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs. His proposed Downtown Pole Banner Program recently became reality, allowing participants the chance to represent or promote nonprofit, cultural, charitable or civic events or activities of general public interest, by displaying banners downtown (mostly near Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue, with exceptions for special events).
This means downtown streets will be decorated with rainbow flags near Acacia Park for Pridefest.
For Wayne King, founder of the Gay Liberation Front of Detroit, evolution has been a process of growing pains: "Prior to Stonewall, the overwhelming majority of us stayed deeply in the closet." King, who now lives in Colorado Springs and facilitates the Pride Center's "Men4Men" group, which offers support and a sense of community to gay men, adds, "There were no pride centers or other places to socialize or find support."
The Stonewall riots, says King, inspired gay liberation groups nationwide. Gay men and lesbians, who once only met surreptitiously in bars frequently raided by local police, were now meeting in homes and, eventually, centers, where memberships grew sometimes faster than space could accommodate.
"In the 40 years since Stonewall, the GLBT community has come a long way both in terms of civil rights and societal acceptance," says King, who witnessed the 1969 riots in New York.
Colorado Springs Pridefest also receives continued support from state and local officials. Gov. Bill Ritter, for the past three years, has issued a letter of recognition for Pridefest. This year, Vice Mayor Larry Small's letter of recognition praised the gay community for its significant contributions to the arts, business and nonprofit organizations.
For Acker, the best way to commemorate the past, present and future is by bringing the diverse Colorado Springs community together to celebrate individuality with pride.
"When you are at Pridefest, you're a part of history," says Acker. "You're a part of something that will be remembered over the next 40 years."
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