A queer perspective on History Colorado’s LGBTQ+ resources and the Rainbows & Revolutions exhibition
“The more we band together, the stronger we are,” said Sister Cheyenne Demure during her 2021 oral history, reminding us that the history of Colorado’s LGBTQ+ community is all about banding together. It’s a complex fight that all members of the community take up every day through quiet resistance and out-and-proud activism. Whether the adversary is open homophobia, the AIDS crisis, Amendment 2, or bullying, Colorado’s LGBTQ+ community has never stopped fighting for acceptance.
One of my favorite resources in History Colorado’s collection is an oral history from Sister Cheyenne Demure of the Golden Nugget Sisters, “an inclusive order of queer drag nuns.” As the collection entry explains, Sister Cheyenne’s oral history is the first of History Colorado’s in forty-six years to explore drag culture, making it a vitally important record of Colorado’s past. Sister Cheyenne Demure’s infectious joy demonstrates the optimism of drag organizing, and her passion is clear in the numerous projects she describes. It’s an example of the activism that is interwoven with the fabric of Colorado’s drag community.
Contrasting this joy, Sister Cheyenne’s oral history goes on to discuss the struggles she endured. She shares the pain of interacting with her biological family: “Yes, I lost my birth family,” she says, “but there was another family ready to step in and fill that void with much more love and acceptance.”
I felt my own pain mirrored in her experiences, but I also felt the hope she shares relating to her chosen family. Additionally, she shares the challenges of supporting her community during the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the creative ways the Sisters found to show up.
Towards the end of the oral history, the interviewer asks how Sister Cheyenne wants to be commemorated. She responds, “If anything, I just want to be remembered as somebody who picked up chairs, and put them down where they needed to be put down. I want to be remembered as someone who showed up and did what needed to be done.” Her commitment to the work of organizing is clear throughout her oral history as she makes this sometimes unglamorous work seem completely fabulous.
Working towards greater tolerance is a never-ending task, and History Colorado’s commitment to this work is only beginning. Rainbows & Revolutions, Colorado’s first state-sponsored LGBTQ+ history exhibition, represents months of groundbreaking scholarship on the state’s LGBTQ+ history. Standing in the brightly colored gallery, I deeply feel Sister Cheyenne’s words: “You’re not alone.” Setbacks are an expected part of progress, but seeing how many people have fought this fight before me inspires me to continue this work for future generations. If you haven’t had the chance to share in this experience yet, History Colorado recently announced that Rainbows & Revolutions will remain open through Pride Month in June 2023.
The recent violence at Club Q in Colorado Springs left me feeling hopeless. One of the many benefits I gain from studying history, however, is a reassurance that though discrimination is persistent, activism is even more so. Combing through History Colorado’s LGBTQ+ resources, I felt a spark of hope as I caught a glimpse of the constant work that keeps us moving towards a future where LGBTQ+ people can live as their full selves without fear.
For Further Learning
The Rainbows & Revolutions exhibition features original artifacts from decades of LGBTQ+ history in Colorado. Some of the most compelling items on display include:
A timeline of the history of the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado, and beyond, stretching from 1883–present day
Colorful stained glass that hung at the Woman to Woman Feminist Bookcenter on Colfax Avenue in the 1970s and ’80s
Governor Jared Polis’s trademark blue tennis shoes that he wore during his historic 2018 gubernatorial campaign
Drag outfit worn by Juiccy Misdemeanor at Black Pride Colorado
Striking hot wax artwork created by Maya Youcef-Toumi, a queer Latine femme artist
Posters from Pride marches, gay magazines, court documents, personal photographs, and more