After a successful first year, Laramie PrideFest will return in the summer, said Robert West, the organizer and activist behind last summer’s Pride.

The weekend-long festival will be even larger this year and span a greater number of events, he said, while staying true to its goal of celebrating Laramie’s LGBTQ community — and remembering its past.

“It’s important for any city that has a desire to have a PrideFest to do it, whether that’s Pinedale or Laramie or Cheyenne or Casper,” West said. “If there are any queer people in that community who want to do a Pride, and want to gather and celebrate who they are, they should.”

June is considered by many to be Pride Month — a tribute to the Stonewall riots, which occurred in June 1969 — and is recognized across the U.S. with pride festivals. These festivals — such as New York City Pride, San Francisco Pride and Denver Pride — have grown throughout the years as topics such as same-sex marriage have become more accepted nationwide.

Between a growing drag scene, collegiate and high school support groups, having the state’s first non-discrimination ordinance and now PrideFest, Laramie is known for its vibrant and active LGBTQ community. But the Gem City is also where Matthew Shepard — a gay University of Wyoming student — was murdered almost two decades ago, and that stain on Laramie’s history is still felt by members of the community.

West said hosting a local PrideFest is a way to celebrate these members of the community, who have not always felt welcome or supported in the city they love.

“That’s what pride is about in Laramie — it’s about queer people coming together and celebrating who they are, and also incorporating the broader community into that,” he said. “With the university here, there’s obviously a lot of young people in town, but there’s also a lot of people who live in Laramie and call Laramie home and who are committed to being here long-term and there’s queer people involved in both of those groups.”

Laramie’s first PrideFest included a Laramie Dragonettes show, a pride night dance and a potluck in the park — before finishing with a candlelight vigil for Shepard.

As plans for PrideFest 2018 come together — overseen by a loose committee of roughly 20 people — West said the event could include two drag shows and add a full march and parade through the downtown area. The committee is also hoping to establish a traditional Pride in the Park — similar to the central attraction found at other PrideFests, West said.

“We’re going to have vendors and performances and speakers and everything in the park, hopefully, and then we’re also exploring the potential of a film festival,” he said. “Nothing’s official because we have to get space and do some permitting stuff with the city, but (there are) some really cool things that we’re playing around with now.”

Ideally, West said, PrideFest should engage with the city and be supported by partnerships across town.

“They want to live in Laramie, they are living in Laramie, and it’s important that we make them feel welcome,” he said. “It’s important that queer people come together and celebrate who they are, but they also feel a sense form the broader Laramie community that they’re welcomed here, that they’re loved, that they’re cared about and that they have a space to be who they are.”

PrideFest will run from June 28-July 1, and is sponsored by the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice and Wyoming Equality. A detailed calendar of events is still in the works.

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