Laramie’s LGBT community is possibly the most visible in Wyoming. Downtown bars frequently host drag shows and pride dances, advocacy groups stay active in Laramie’s political, social and artistic scenes and the University of Wyoming is host to pointedly inclusive events throughout the year, such as the “pink prom” and the Mathew Shepard Symposium on Social Justice.
But Laramie has never hosted a PrideFest — such as Denver and other major cities have been doing annually for decades — until now.
Given the political climate and the uncertainty surrounding legal issues affecting the LGBT community, it is important for that community to come together, said Robert West, the Laramie resident who organized the city’s inaugural PrideFest.
“It’s very important that queer people in Wyoming start standing up and start putting ourselves out there and start telling our government and our representatives and our leaders that we’re here, you can’t pretend that we’re not here and you need to start listening to the concerns and issues that we have,” West said.
Though West did the legwork involved in setting up this event, he received support from various groups, including Wyoming Equality, ASUW, the United Multicultural Council, the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, Spectrum and Poppy’s Flowers and Boutique.
“The community response has definitely been something that’s kind of taken me aback,” West said. “I knew there would be support, but I didn’t know there would be this much support and this much excitement around it.”
PrideFest starts tonight at 8 Bytes Game Café with a Laramie Dragonettes drag show at 9 p.m., to be followed by a pride dance night at 11:30 p.m.
The drag troupe is excited to open such an important event, said Cole Moncur, president of the Laramie Dragonettes.
“PrideFest gives visibility to the LGBTQ+ community, as well as giving the community a time to remember things that have happened to the LGBTQ community,” Moncur said. “It’s just a nice time to reflect and celebrate.”
West said it was important for the community to gather together for a fun evening, because celebration is an essential part of pride.
“But there also should be space for us to remember where we come from, remember that pride isn’t just a celebration,” West said. “It comes from Stonewall riots and it comes from trans women of color and drag queens standing up to oppressive police systems and oppressive police practices.”
Accordingly, the second day of the PrideFest starts with a potluck at 1 p.m. in Washington Park — potlucks having special significance for marginalized groups in Wyoming, who used the old American tradition as a way to convene in secret, West said.
“Oftentimes, queer people had hosted potlucks within private residences, in their own houses, to create that sense of community,” he said. “But they were very, you know, under-the-rug, not very advertised, and it was just kind of an invite-only thing.”
The potluck in the park moves that community-building tradition into a public space, allowing participants to loudly and proudly be who they are, West said.
The potluck is open to all ages and designed to be family-friendly.
The festival finishes on a somber note, with a candlelight vigil for Matthew Shepard — a gay Laramie man killed in 1998 — from 8-9 p.m. in UW Simpson’s Plaza.
West said he hopes the event becomes a yearly occurrence in Laramie and that it grows larger every year.