The 2015 Pridefest Parade brought 1000s of people into the streets of central Denver on Sunday, June 21, for Denver’s 40th annual gay pride weekend. According to GLBTColorado.org, 370,000 people attended the two-day event. Along with their folding chairs, rainbow-colored attire, water bottles and sunblock, many at the parade also brought their voices to speak about their opinions and perspectives on a spectrum of issues facing the LGBT community.
Crowds gathered as a menagerie of floats, fancy cars, vendors and volunteers slowly passed by on their Colfax route from Cheesman Park to Civic Center Park. Standing in the speckled shade of a tree, in the shadow of the State Capitol Building, Denver native Slum Pickens cheered for every attraction that passed with almost the exact same cheer of gratitude and support, but it never got old. It never lost its charm.
“You’re beautiful. Thank you for what you do,” Pickens yelled.
Next to Pickens stood Kay Troxell and Allison Mellor, two sisters who feverishly shook their rainbow flags in one hand while waving at people, strangers, in the parade with the other.
“Pride is the best day of the year. It’s like Christmas for gays.” Troxell said.
The energy on the street was electric, coursing through the humid June air. It seemed like everyone was hooting and whistling, screaming and laughing with unabashed enjoyment. Babies somehow dozed off in their strollers amidst the ruckus. Mellor said the huge cross section of people present at the parade speaks to one of Pride’s defining qualities.
“You can be gay, or straight, and you’re part of the party, part of the fun.”
There was nothing but fun, smiles and colors in all directions, but as the crowds thinned out and the last float drifted through Capitol Hill, a new voice was heard in the distance, carried in bristling, stacatto bursts. It felt harsh and seemed odd.
The commotion was coming from the nearby corner of Colfax and Grant where a man, going only by the name of Matthew, stood on a small step ladder, yelling anti-gay statements into a megaphone. “Have you people completely lost your minds? This is a sickness,” Matthew said, while holding a banner that read, “Jesus saves from Hell.”
A police officer, present in the situation but not imposing, looked unaffected as he stood off to the right of the Matthew, while a young lady, V Martin, posted up right in front of him with a sign of her own. Martin’s arm were spread wide like she was trying to hug the whole crowd that had now gathered, but she was fanning out a tapestry that read, “Born This Way” in rainbow-striped letters. Martin said she couldn’t let Matthew’s message be the only one heard.
“I just wanted to stand here with my ‘Born This Way’ sign. I’ve been standing here all day next to him, sending my message out too. I’ve been in tons of pictures. No one can really shut him up,” Martin continued, “Everyone is happy. This is the only guy that’s not happy here .”
Simeon Martinez, a gay man in attendance, feels that paying no mind to Matthew, and others who scorn the gay community, is the best way to deal with them.
“It just aids his cause. If everyone just ignores it then it’s not giving any power to him. He has a voice but if we don’t give him any power, then it’s fine. Everyone is allowed to express themselves. His view is a little skewed.” Martinez said.
Max Ruda, a friend Martinez, agrees.
“We have the power by ignoring him. If you’re voiceless, you’re powerless, and if we don’t hear his voice, he has nothing,” Ruda said.
Ignoring a man yelling into a megaphone isn’t the easiest thing to do, but it’s possible. While several people stopped to yell and laugh at Matthew, most people did in fact carry on past him, often shaking their head in disdain and then flashing an encouraging smile and wink to Martin as she held her ground.
Matthew folded up his little step-ladder, rolled up his banner, stuffed it under his arm and shuffled off the corner. A chorus of insults and sarcastic comments accompanied his exit.
This was the third Denver gay pride event which Matthew has attended. He does not claim to be a preacher, and did not say which church he attends. Matthew said that homosexuals and their supporters are “evangelists for the Devil because they are out spreading their false message,” and are destined for Hell if they don’t repent.
“I’m just a straight up Christian, [who] just believes the Bible. Jesus was out exposing people’s sins, so that’s what I’m doing, is exposing their sins. That’s why they hate me. My motive is that they might be saved,” he continued, “They need a shock treatment, and that’s what I administer, is a shock treatment so they can wake up out of their sleep and love for sin. Most people don’t cooperate.”
Matthew said the same damnation also awaits the members of those churches who support homosexuals.
“They’re all headed for hell. Every single one of them. So, the whole community, God has no place for them in his kingdom. None, and there will be no exceptions,” he said.
Peter Eaton was the Dean of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Denver from 2002 to 2015 and is currently the Bishop of Southeast Florida. The Episcopalian church openly accepts homosexuals into its congregation, and well as their clergy. Eaton said that treating everyone with respect and decency is a true Christian trait.
“Over the last several decades the church has tried to face, seriously, a range of issues to do with the human condition that we think are important. We’ve welcomed gay people into the life of the church,” he continued, “We say that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and therefore, anything that has to do with human dignity is a religious or spiritual issue that we think is important for us to pay attention to.”
Eaton’s comments reflect the Episcopal Church’s policy in acceptance of homosexuality within its denomination, in contrast to Matthew’s inflammetory comments, which Ruda pointed out.
“[Matthew is] the ‘Jesus loves you’ guy, but that ‘Jesus is going to send you to hell’ guy. It’s a mixed message and it’s terrible.” Ruda continued, saying that the real impact felt at Pridefest came from the many people who came out to support the LGBT community, not Matthew, “The gay pride event is going to make a big difference. The 1000s of people who are here to support a larger cause of love are going to make a big difference. He’s not.”
Martinez reiterated this point.
“If you stop and spew hate back, then that’s just only feeding his cause and it’s giving him power and it’s not what gay pride is about in any way.”
Standing defiantly in front of Matthew as long as he was was present, Martin said her actions were a statement for equality in defense of the homosexual community.
“[I am] just showing that we have just as much right in the world as he does.”
At the beginning of the parade, before Matthew began his rant or Martin decided to take a stand, Pickens relayed a sentiment that seemed to ring loudest at the end of a day where many voices were heard.
“You can’t fight hate with hate. You have to have a love fest like this. You have to love all over everything.”