In the world of LGBTQ rights, it can be easy to forget how far we’ve come while at the same time recognizing how far we have to go. This past weekend, the GLBT Community Center of Colorado hosted Denver’s 43rd Annual PrideFest. The celebration has grown from a small movement in 1975 to a massive event that attracted 385,000 people in 2017 and was expected to draw even more this year. It is the largest Pride celebration in the Rocky Mountain region as well as one of the largest in the United States. Despite the recent Supreme Court Masterpiece Cakeshop decision — which many people deemed a loss for the LGBTQ community — attendees espoused optimism about the growing acceptance of LBGTQ values. These festival-goers were happy to share with us what Pride means to them and why they attended PrideFest.

We were also lucky enough to speak with Charlie Craig and Dave Mullens, Grand Marshals of the Coors Light PrideFest Parade and the couple at the center of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, about how this recent Supreme Court decision has impacted this year’s PrideFest for them. Read on to find out their thoughts.

READ: Denver PrideFest to Honor Gay Couple of Cake Shop Supreme Court Decision

“We’re really excited that we have the great honor of being the Grand Marshals of Pride this year. It’s been an emotional couple of weeks for us with our loss at the supreme court but, as we’ve gotten a chance to understand the ruling, we actually think there’s a lot of important stuff we want people to know. The most important thing being that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act is still fully in effect exactly the same way it was before the Supreme Court decision. That decision was based on a very idiosyncratic detail to the case and does not affect the law on a broad scale. We also wanted to mention that there was also a lot of language in that decision that really affirms the dignity and importance of LGBT people in society and, actually, the Arizona court of appeals has already cited the Masterpiece case decision in upholding their anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people.” – Dave Mullins

“I grew up in rural Wyoming and when I was 18 I was finally able to come to Denver for PrideFest. It was really the first time that I felt like I could be myself and I could be free. I felt safe and like people weren’t judging me. It’s really come full circle because 20 years later I hope we are able to be inspirations to those 18-year-olds coming to their first PrideFest. It’s a huge honor because Denver is our home and we want everyone to take a moment to celebrate the idea that when businesses are open to the public, they should be open to everyone.” – Charlie Craig

PrideFest

Charlie Craig and Dave Mullens at Denver PrideFest 2018

“Pride means celebrating who you are.” – Teagan Brown 

“Pride means embracing your identity without caring what other people think.” – Justin Rentie

“I’m bisexual and it’s fun to be around people who are celebrating not being straight. To me, Pride means working towards happiness and accepting yourself and everyone else.” – Sierra Brown

“Seeing everyone out and about and being just a little more supportive than they usually are. I really love PrideFest because when I was still in the closet this place made me feel at home and it was really welcoming. That’s part of the reason why I love coming here.” – Michael Bortnowski

“I’m intersex and pansexual so I’ll always be gay no matter who I’m with. Pride is super
important and I love being in Colorado because it’s one of the best places to be open.” – Nicki Onyx

PrideFest

Nicki Onyx celebrating Pride on Sunday

“Pride is a time when you really get to be who you are regardless of where you live and how comfortable those places are [with your sexuality]. When you go to Pride you just get to be you around people who are like you.”- Miles Jones

“I would say pride is just about family. Everyone is different and everyone has their own way of seeing things. Coming together, you can see everyone’s take on what they think pride is.  it’s just about love, happiness and everyone is smiling and happy. It’s good vibes to be around here and celebrate who you are without being judged.” – Jazmine Rojas

Denver PrideFest

Jazmine Rojas and her friend enjoying the days festivities

“It’s a place where you can express yourself as freely as you want to.” – Lili Allen

“It’s just a really hopeful [place]. I feel like a lot of times, queer youth feel alone a lot but you can come here and realize you’re not alone. And even if your biological family is having issues with your identity or your sexuality you can come here and see older lesbians and older gay men and you can know that it’s gonna be okay. I also feel like it’s hopeful for the older generation to come here and see all these young people who are proudly displaying their sexuality in ways that they may not have been able to when they were young.”- Mae Danfelser

“To me, pride means safety. It feels like a weight gets lifted off your shoulders.” – Lizzy Cabrera

“Pride is respecting people for who they are.” – Phillip the Pride Angel of Peace

PrideFest

Phillip the Pride Angel of Peace at PrideFest on Sunday

“It means being proud and being who you’re supposed to be. Live the life you want, you’re gonna be the one who’s experiencing your life so you may as well do what you need to do to be happy, and that means being yourself.” – Gisela Rodriguez

“I’ve been coming to pride since I was 17 so I always come to support and be with family … It’s great to see all the different walks of life in our community and seeing it celebrated.” – Joseph Sousa

“We can all come together and express ourselves in our own individual way and it’s okay with everyone … There’s so much diversity [in Denver] that people don’t know about.” – Bryan Sousa

Denver PrideFest

Joseph and Bryan Sousa at Civic Center Park on Saturday

“What pride means to me is acceptance. Not just of sexuality but of everything. Gender identity is accepted here, racial identity is accepted here and even disabilities are accepted here. There’s people here in wheelchairs and with their service dogs and they’re taking pride in that. I just love that no matter who you are you’re accepted here.” – Kasey Martinelli (with service dog, Charming)

“Pride, to me, means accepting people for who they are. Gay people are just as human as everyone else and they deserve the same rights that I have.” – Carly Heisdorffer

“Pride is important to me because all the community comes together and we celebrate life.” – Sophia More

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Sophia More at PrideFest on Sunday

“Pride means equality. Love is love. It’s just so awesome to see how supportive everybody is here.” – Meghan Parr

“We need to support one another. We’re from Nebraska where there aren’t any pride events so we love to come to Denver and support pride and LGBT equality here.” – Scott Plummer

“Where we’re from it’s not acceptable to be out as a gay couple. We can go out to dinner but we can’t hold hands or show affection. We love the atmosphere here and seeing all walks of life, it’s just so refreshing to see, it really recharges your battery.” – Dean Johnson

“When I was little I didn’t see a lot of people like me. So coming and being in a place where I’m surrounded by people like me and seeing all the different kinds of people and knowing that we’re all connected just really gives me a good feeling. I’m here with my son and I feel like its great for him to see all these different types of people. It’s great to have everyone here and experience this together.” – Marc G.

Marc G. and family enjoying the festival

“[We’re] just here to support everybody’s rights to be happy and not have to deal with anything from anybody that they shouldn’t have to deal with.” – Lester Case

This is actually my very first Pride. I’ve always been supportive but this year I wanted to come out and be a physical presence here. You should live the way you want to live and be able to express yourself freely and happily.” – Katherine B.

“Pride means a lot to me because, back in the day, I wasn’t able to be who I am today. So being able to actually be out here walking freely is definitely different for me. Pride is just being who you are. It’s tough but you have to be strong and know it’s okay to be who you are.” – Dawndria Turner

Dawndria Turner and friends at PrideFest on Saturday

Pride means inclusion. Right now, with everything that’s going on in America, it’s really important that we remember to be inclusive. [Pride means] expression too, so many people are afraid to express themselves and show themselves off. There’s a lot of body positivity here and a genuine sense of care and love and art.” – Juvenlee Ayudtud

“I’m here to support everyone and for equality and happiness. I think love should be available to everyone despite how other people may feel. Having my first queer girlfriend has opened me to a lot of new avenues of life that I wasn’t open to before.” – Bryan Daniels

Bryan Daniels and his girlfriend, Kendra, at PrideFest

“Pride is a mixture of being able to express yourself but also being able to blend in and not being considered ‘out there.’ ” – Noah Verbonitz

“Usually when people say ‘gay’ it’s something that’s bad but, whenever you come here, everyone is supportive and loving and totally down for everything you have to say.” – Jessica Porter

“Pride means everything. Above all else, Pride means empowerment.” – Jay and Ronnie

PrideFest

Jay and Ronnie at PrideFest on Sunday

All Photography by Emma Pion-Berlin and Kyle Cooper.

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