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Gay on Santa Fay lands at Denver's Art District on Santa Fe Friday

Like everything going green on St. Paddy's Day or ghoulish on Halloween, over the next three days our fair city will be going gay for PrideFest.

And Denver's Art District on Santa Fe is no exception to this rule: For the third year running, this stretch will be transformed into a gayborhood for this Friday's Gay on Santa Fay event. "There are the staples of the conventional First Friday type of event," says event organizer and Artists on Santa Fe resident Rodney Wallace, "but for this. everyone knocks it up a notch or two into the real art-opening type of environment: Wines, cheeses, music and we have roaming poets, occasional drag queens, performance artists, so don't be startled if while you are discussing a piece of art some folks walk in the gallery and start yelling about social injustice, and a super hero dances in as they exit."

From its origins as a simple get-together for like-minded art enthusiasts on one of the happiest days of the year, Gay on Santa Fay has snowballed into an essential piece of PrideFest, becoming a celebrated kick-off for an event that doesn't officially begin until the parade Saturday morning. "One third of my clientele are openly gay," Wallace says, explaining how the event got started. "It grew so big so fast that we have become the official unofficial opening reception for PrideFest. Denver has the second largest PrideFest parade in the country and folks from all over fly in on Friday night. Since the PrideFest does not start until Saturday, we accidentally filled a void. And our sponsors provide us with promotional swag so that everyone can figure out where to go after nine."

As much of an institution as the glitter, the abs and the '80s revival acts are the inevitable homophobic protesters, those baffling sociopaths who -- as we've seen recently -- are already gearing up for their own Hate Fest. None of this is shocking to Wallace, who, while wanting to keep the peace at his event, is also prepared for diplomacy. "You can come if you're straight, but not if you hate," he says. "That is unless you want to start a dialogue. Did your daughter come out to you? Did your friend drop the bomb? Do you want to know more than you do now? Come, join us.

"We are also increasing the diversity awareness this year," Wallace continues, "with information available about anti-bullying, safely self-outing, teen suicide awareness -- but not in-your-face-type stuff. There will be information, people and a place if you want to talk."

And in the spirit of progressive humanitarianism, this year's Gay on Santa Fay has added a charity component to the art-walk. Participating artists will be donating 20 percent of the proceeds of individual sales to the charity of your choice; options include the Colorado AIDS Project, PFLAG Denver, Project Angel Heart, The Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). (Make sure the gallery has one of these pink Mona Lisa labels on the wall, and then let the artist know to which organization you would like your contribution donated.)

Gay on Santa Fay sponsor Renegade Brewery has also joined in on the gayety, renaming its 5 O'Clock Blonde Ale -- which will be served at select locations -- and donating 20 percent of sales to a local charity.

Wallace recommends that all those out-of-towners in to the Mile High City remember to pace themselves on Renegade's featured brew. "We do want to advise our friends coming in from the sea level, and the flat lands, to drink all the water you can and dance a lot this night," he says. "Alcohol, even in moderation, at this altitude will not be your friend Saturday morning."

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Gay on Santa Fay runs tomorrow, June 15, from 5 to 9 p.m. in Denver's Arts District on Santa Fe. For more information, visit www.gayonsantafay.com.

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