The biggest event on the Denver GLBT community's calendar, PrideFest, is scheduled to go ahead this weekend despite Sunday's mass shooting in Orlando, Fla.
"We're not going to be scared back into the closet," Rex Fuller, a spokesman for event organizers, told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.
The GLBT Community Center, which runs the event, trained staffers and volunteers earlier this year to deal with scenarios involving active shooters or bomb threats. The center is working with Denver police on additional measures in the wake of Sunday's mass shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Fuller said he was encouraged by the reaction of Colorado's Muslim community to the event, pointing to a meeting called by Muslim clergy from across the state within hours of the Florida shooting.
On the shootings’ impact on relationships between Denver’s gay and Muslim communities:
I hope that it will open up more opportunities to share and to understand each other's perspective and certainly yesterday's event at the Islamic Center was a first step. I think that all our organizations are looking for ways to work with faith communities across the spectrum and to encourage acceptance of LGBT people.
On the decision to go ahead with Denver PrideFest:
"We're not going to be scared back into the closet. That's really the whole purpose of a gay pride celebration is to be out and be yourself, despite people's disapproval. So everyone agreed that the festival had to go on. There was no way to not do that."
On keeping PrideFest safe:
"We've been working very closely with the city of Denver's office of emergency management, the city's office of special events and with Denver police department to coordinate aspects of security. We also have private security onsite that we hire as part of the festival."
Read a transcript:
Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. Sunday's attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando came a week before Gay Pride in Denver, which is one of the largest in the country. That event will go on this weekend. We'll speak with an organizer shortly about how they plan to keep people safe. First, there were several vigils in Colorado last night. One at Tracks, a gay club in Denver, where three religious leaders spoke:
Rabbi Joe Black: “Once again violence and carnage brought by the deadly combinations of hatred, intolerance and easy access to weapons of destruction have transformed mothers, fathers, lovers, spouses, relatives and friends into mourners.”
Imam Ali: “We'd like to express our heartfelt condolences to the American people, to the families and during this holy month for us, the month of Ramadan, let it be known that we stand with those who are oppressed.”
Reverend Amanda Henderson: “In our human family today, the GLBT community specifically experienced an enormous loss. As s a group of people who are too often living in fear and continue to be marginalized and continue to experience discrimination even in the face of progress that's made, today opens a wound.”
Warner: You heard there Reverend Amanda Henderson from the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Imam Ali of the Northeast Denver Islamic Center and Rabbi Joe Black of Temple Emanuel. Also at that vigil last night, Rex Fuller. He's spokesman for the LGBT Center which organizes Denver's annual Gay Pride event. And Rex, welcome to the program.
Rex Fuller: Thank you.
Warner: As we said, DenverPride will move forward. We'll talk about that shortly. But first, take us into last night's vigil at a nightclub that's really similar in many ways to the one attacked in Orlando. What sticks with you from that event?
Fuller: This has been such an amazing tragedy and such an emotional 24 hours. It was especially difficult for us at the center because we had just celebrated, on Saturday night, our 40th anniversary at a gala at the Sheraton and we were feeling pretty good when we went to bed on Saturday night. And then Sunday morning woke up to this horror. And I think what was probably reassuring to me over the course of Sunday was how so many community groups came together to organize that vigil and put it together and worked together. There were representatives from all areas of the gay community and then it was very reassuring that in the afternoon the Muslim Society of Colorado also hosted an event at their Islamic Center and spoke up against it also. So despite that it was a terrible event, it was also kind of moving.
Warner: The theme of this year's Pride event in Denver is “building community” according to your website. And I want to ask about building community in particular with Colorado's Muslims. Yesterday a member of the Colorado Muslim Society said Denver's Pride activities should go ahead and in his words he said, “Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate.” How, if at all, might this lead to new channels of communication between Colorado's gay community and its Muslim community?
Fuller: I hope that it will open up more opportunities to share and to understand each other's perspective and certainly yesterday's event at the Islamic Center was a first step. I think that all our organizations are looking for ways to work with faith communities across the spectrum and to encourage acceptance of LGBT people.
Warner: I read several comments from people in attendance at the vigil who wish there had been more room for anger, for rage. In attendance last night was Dede DePercin of Denver,
DePercin: “I think when there's a mass trauma like this, there are a lot of emotions that come up and while thinking about love and forgiveness and the grief are all part of that, there also needs to be sort of a space for the anger that comes with that. It doesn't mean that you stay there but to sort of dismiss that as an emotion, I feel like doesn't help people move through sort of a process."
Warner (to Fuller): There's certainly grief in your voice. Is there anger?
Fuller: Of course there is and I don’t think that I, I really don't feel that we were dismissive of anger but I do feel that we have a very large public event to plan and we need to think of safety and we want to encourage calm emotions so that everybody is safe at that event, as much as we can. And I appreciate her thoughts, but there's a lot of emotions that are going on. There were other vigils yesterday and there will be others coming up this week and I think there'll be chances at PrideFest to address the full range of emotions.
Warner: Well, let's talk about PrideFest this coming weekend in Denver. Talk to me about the decision to move forward with it. It was made pretty quickly.
Fuller: Well as many people said yesterday and I think I strongly agree with that is we're not going to be scared back into the closet. That's really the whole purpose of a gay pride celebration is to be out and be yourself, despite people's disapproval. So everyone agreed that the festival had to go on. There was no way to not do that.
Warner: And how will you keep people safe?
Fuller: We've been working very closely with the city of Denver's office of emergency management, the city's office of special events and with the Denver police department to coordinate aspects of security. We also have private security on site that we hire as part of the festival.
Warner: And are you beefing up security in any way?
Fuller: We are addressing those issues. It's still a developing plan. We have had a safety plan in place for many years.
Warner: This is not an uncontroversial event in its history in that regard.
Fuller: Right. So we have been very aware of safety and been planning for eventualities for many months.
Warner: Can you speak to any extra steps?
Fuller: Well one thing that we did this year that was a first time and it was good, it was fortunate that we decided to do that, is for our staff for the event as well as our volunteers, we did active shooter training. How to react in the event of an IED or active shooter on site. So we are preparing for that eventuality.
Warner: There was some reports of having metal detectors, magnetometers. Is that going to happen?
Fuller: That will not happen. It's a large, outdoor festival on a three-acre park so there will not be metal detectors but it is a gated festival, it's fenced off and that everyone coming to the festival, their bags are subject to search. We are not allowing weapons on the site and we're also trying now to discourage people from bringing coolers and things like that just to make it possible for the most number of people to get in.
Warner: We're speaking with Rex Fuller, spokesman for the LGBT Center in Denver, which organizes Denver's annual gay pride event.
Warner (to Fuller): Do you think that the event will have a very different tone this year?
Fuller: Yes, I don’t think there's any way to avoid that. Certainly you were speaking about feelings of anger that people are feeling and there's also some fear and I think grief. So that will certainly be part of the mix of emotions at the festival.
Warner: Do you expect diminished attendance?
Fuller: No we don't. I actually have been in contact with so many people who say we're more determined than ever now to come. Also have been in contact with vendors and exhibitors and sponsors who have sent the same message. We wouldn't miss it now for anything.
Warner: Are you in touch with federal law enforcement on this?
Fuller: Not at this time because really that will be coordinated through the Office of Emergency Management at the city.
Warner: With the city. All right. I want to…
Fuller: And could I also say just one thing? We have not received any threats. I think that obviously this was a big, big shock to everybody and it's relevant to us because we're getting ready for this festival but we've not received any threats at all so...
Warner: I just want to reflect on something that I read that came out on Sunday from One Colorado, which is an LGBT advocacy group and it said, "Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place. And this horrific attack strikes directly at our sense of safety." More will come as to the shooter's motives of course, but would you say you feel less safe today, Rex Fuller?
Fuller: Boy that's a trick question. Unfortunately in Colorado we've had many experiences with gun violence and tragic mass shootings, so if anything over the last 24 hours, working with law enforcement and this community I think I might feel more safe because I feel people are taking it seriously and really, really addressing it.
Warner: Thank you for being with us.
Fuller: Thank you.
Warner: Rex Fuller, spokesman for the GLBT Community Center of Colorado. Gay Pride in Denver is this weekend in Civic Center Park and culminates in a parade Sunday. Pride activities are also scheduled in Colorado Springs for July 9th and 10th. Organizers there said on Facebook they're working with police to assess threat levels and develop a plan. Another candlelight vigil for Orlando takes place tonight, 8 o'clock at Cheesman Park in Denver. Here's some of the song, “Lean on Me,” sung at last night's vigil at the Tracks Club. [singing “Lean on Me.”]