June was pride month, and while many cities nationwide celebrated with elaborate parades and parties, the valley’s gay community didn’t hold a central celebration.
However, a float in Aspen’s Fourth of July Parade flew the rainbow flag. It’s part of an effort to make the gay community more visible, and effort that includes new summer events and a pop-up gay bar. Each week they set up shop at a downtown restaurant and set aside space for themselves.
Kevin McManamon is executive director of AspenOut, a nonprofit that works to promote the LGBTQ community through visibility, mental health and gay ski week. McManamon said maintaining community is a constant effort. Though sometimes, their work is as simple as getting together over drinks.
“There’s always this need for a social event that aren’t just about hooking up,” McManamon said.
That's why he created Guerilla Gay Bar. It's a Sunday afternoon gathering that gives LGBTQ identifying denizens of the Roaring Fork Valley a space to meet.
It was a small but lively get together: 15 or so men are gathered around a tall table, sipping margaritas and beer with lime. Their ages range from 18 to 80, but they have similar experiences of being out in the valley.
There was discussion of theater, fashion and how to find a therapist, sensitive to queer issues. One common theme was that Aspen has a particular kind of gay community.
“The gay community here is about being outdoors. Whether they’re hiking or biking or fly-fishing," said McManamon.
Lars Stenstadvold, who grew up in Aspen, agrees
“Your core group isn’t based on being queer or anything, it’s based on hiking or work," he said.
Bert Myrin, who serves on city council emphasizes how inclusive Aspen feels.
“I think it’s a very integrated community in Aspen, and that everyone feels welcome everywhere.”
While that might be the case there’s something to be said for getting together with peers who really understand your experience. The guys at Guerilla Gay Bar agreed that they needed a specific time and place, set aside where they can come together and just be - out, and themselves.
“There’s something about talking to another gay man, it’s a connection, or like a common understanding that you can’t really get talking to straight people,” said Stenstavold.
Even with these events, it can be hard not to feel lonely. It’s a small town. People move around. Many people don’t stick around long enough to put down roots and connect. The transient nature of Aspen can make many things - from finding a hiking partner to finding a life partner - challenging.
The community just isn’t that big. LGBTQ people are a minority, and no matter who you are, it can be hard to build community in a valley that’s forty miles long. McManamon explains that even though the critical mass just wasn’t there for a traditional pride parade, AspenOut had other plans.
“During the Aspen Fourth of July Parade, which is huge, we have our own 15 foot wide by 140-foot long pride flag that we use during Gay Ski Week, and we’re going to march it down Main Street,” said McManamon.
The work goes beyond the parade. AspenOut is working to connect the community across the valley with the people and resources available to them. Their biggest event of the year - Gay Ski Week raises money for youth programs across the valley. They've also organized hot spring soaks in addition to Guerilla Gay Bar.
Mi Chola is still bustling as the conversation at Guerilla Gay bar becomes even more animated. It’s clear that this is a place for both light-hearted and serious discussion about LGBTQ life in the valley.
McManamon, Stevstavold and Myrin agree it’s important to share these moments whether it’s in Mi Chola or parading down Main Street - to show that they belong, and invite others to join in too.