The annual Denver PrideFest has anchored the LGBTQ+ community since June 1974, when it was known as Gay Pride Week. The event has evolved in step with social and political change. Today, PrideFest is when members and friends of the LGBTQ+ community connect, have fun, show pride, and proclaim their support for LGBTQ+ rights.
It also commemorates a pivotal moment in gay rights history: the Stonewall Riots.
In the late 1960s and ’70s, gay community life centered around gay bars—the hubs of social and activist movements. At the Stonewall Inn, a popular bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, police harassment was nothing new. But, according to media and eyewitness accounts, what motivated the police raid on the night of June 28, 1969, was not that the bar patrons were gay, but that they were gender-nonconforming men—drag queens—who dressed as women for entertainment purposes.
That night, the police demanded that the men dressed in women’s clothing produce ID or come to the station with them. When the men refused, the police determined to take them all in. As they handcuffed and beat a woman in the crowd, she looked up and asked, “Why don’t you guys do anything?” With those words, the crowd that had gathered over the course of the raid took action—initiating what many consider the modern LGBT rights movement. Gay men, transvestites, drag queens, and lesbians fought back, in riots that lasted six nights. When it was over, the first gay rights organizations formed in New York City, then spread across the nation and the world. The riots’ first anniversary initiated gay pride marches in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago; three years later, public displays of activism came to Denver.
No matter the social or political climate, the persistent themes that have defined PrideFest over its many decades in Denver are unity, visibility, and—now more than ever—inclusivity. PrideFest is a time when LGBTQ+ Coloradans can feel truly and openly accepted for their fabulous selves.