"It was a real whirlwind."
That's how Rex Fuller, vice-president of communications and corporate giving for the GLBT Community Center of Colorado, characterizes this past weekend's Denver PrideFest, which the center produces. If anything, that's an understatement.
The huge event took place on the same weekend as Denver Comic Con and the Denver Greek Festival and just a week after the massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which left 49 victims dead and more than fifty others wounded.
Reports surfaced about displays of negativity at the PrideFest Parade, including threats of gun violence and a burning swastika left near Colfax and Sherman.
But Fuller, who didn't even hear about these incidents until PrideFest was over, chooses a different image to symbolize this year's festivities: artist Lonnie Hanzon's memorial to the Orlando victims.
"It was a giant black cube, and people were encouraged to write on it with sidewalk chalk," Fuller notes. "Lonnie's vision was that it would start out black and would be covered with color over the weekend, and that's really the way it worked out. It went all over the sidewalk. People were spending a lot of time with it, taking pictures, sharing pictures. It was really a positive way for people to express grief and anger and all the other emotions they were feeling" about the Orlando tragedy.
The swastika at the parade wasn't the only example of hate to surface on Pride weekend. In an e-mail blast, Leslie Herod, a candidate for House District 8, revealed that a team member knocking on doors while wearing a rainbow sticker was slapped with the slur, "Oh, please, don't let me kill a faggot today. Fuck you!"
Moreover, Fuller says, "We got some trolling on our Facebook page on our post about sending our thoughts to Orlando. But I ended up disregarding it, because we could tell it was coming from Virginia and other places around the U.S."
At PrideFest itself, "we worked closely with the Denver police and city officials to make sure everything went safely, and they were fantastic partners. After Orlando, people kept asking me, 'Are you nervous about safety?' And after working with the folks at the city, I came away feeling safer, truly supported — feeling like everything was going to be okay. And that turned out to be the case.
"Overall, it was a really positive weekend, at least from our perspective. And we had great attendance — some of the best attendance we've ever had."
Indeed, the center estimates that 380,000 people took part in PrideFest, with 120,000 witnessing the parade — and Fuller thinks some of the other weekend events may have boosted crowd sizes rather than shrinking them.
"We've been working with Comic Con so we could cross-pollinate, and we certainly saw a lot of cosplayers who went to the festival and also went to Comic Con," he says. "We were nervous, too, that people would stay away because of the Orlando shootings and because of the heat, but that didn't seem to be the case."
Even so, Fuller concedes that "there was definitely a change of tone" during parts of PrideFest because of Orlando. "At the end of the parade, we always have a rally. That's often where the governor is going to speak, or other political figures. And this year, they read all the victims' names, which was really emotional for a lot of people in the crowd.
"We also had a Jumbotron with the names scrolling, and there were other acknowledgments during the parade. The grand marshals were all wearing black armbands — and there was a huge response to Lonnie's memorial.
"Last year, we worked with Lonnie to create a 21-foot-tall wedding cake in the middle of the park because of the marriage law, " Fuller goes on. "So we had a relationship with Lonnie, and he helped us come up with the idea for the cube.
"The festival this year felt really special, because a lot of people felt this need to speak out and be present and be visible. And many people commented to me that there was just sort of a renewed spirit of gay pride at the festival. Sometimes it can feel like, 'Oh, it's a festival, but it's like a lot of other festivals.' But this year, it felt really special."
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Planning for Denver PrideFest 2017 will begin soon.