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People hang around and have fun before the Community Pride Awards 2023. Photo by Carly Winchell

The June 3 Ark-Valley Pride event was a colorful celebration of community that filled Salida with music and cheer. Partnership for Community Action (PfCA)and Pride organizer Mark Monroe estimates at least 500 people walked in the Purple People Pride Parade. 1,000 to 1,500 people came through the park throughout the day, 500 to 600 attended the Saturday night drag show in the park, and over 100 attendees came to Sunday’s Drag Brunch.

Purple People (and Giraffe) Pride Parade. Photo by Carly Winchell

Pride Village and the Itty Bitty Health Fair included a wide variety of booths offering resources for the community. Pride Village even included a booth by the Department of Veterans affairs, a particular point of excitement for Monroe. “Having been in the military and having been kicked out of the military for being queer, that’s really important that they’re here,” said Monroe.

Other organizations at Pride Village included Solvista, HRRMC (which features a message for pride month on their sign in Salida), One Colorado, the Salida High School GSA, Chaffee County Department of Human Services Foster Care, Planned Parenthood, Free Mom Hugs, and more.

Youth Ally of the Year Winner Natalie Moore and Jimmy Sellars at Ark Valley Pride 2023

The connecting thread throughout the events that weekend was the importance of protecting and supporting queer youth. “We must protect them at all costs,” said Monroe on stage during the Youth Pride Awards before introducing the Youth Ally of the Year, Natalie Moore.

Moore was nominated by community youth to win the title, which is an award that recognizes and honors contributions that show a consistent commitment to helping the LGBTQIA+ community. “I am both a realist and optimist,” said Moore. “We are witnessing soul crushing statistics of higher suicide rates with our LGBTQ+ youth due to the discrimination, rejection, and removal of basic human rights.”

Moore further emphasized the importance of events like Ark-Valley Pride, “Pride and the events that surround the month of June bring awareness to the gifts and talents of the LGBTQ+ community as well as advocates and allies.”

“Providing an event like Pride demonstrates to our youth and our community as a whole that we are accepting and loving of all,” he added. “Pride is a time to honor those in the Chaffee County community that not only support, but also take initiative to provide equity, respect, acceptance, and love to the LGBTQ+ community.”

Youth Award Winners

Youth of the Year

El Sanchez

Big Bear Award

Mx. Red

Business of the Year

Corvus Clothing and Curiosities

Rising Star

Marcus Gallegos

Youth Community Awards

Alyx Hartman, Felix Raber, Ashton Daley, Moon Harrison, Ava Vanleuken, Leym Ham

Rainbow Award

Olive Ritchie

Leadership Award

Radisen Lawrence

Bianka Martinez speaks after receiving the Community Superhero Award. Photo by Carly Winchell

Community Award Winners

Ally of the Year

Cassie Stauch

Cornerstone Award

Southwest Conservation Corps

Elevation Award

Salida Presbyterian Church

Business Ally of the Year

Tres Litros

Community Superhero

Bianka Martinez

A full list of Pride Award recipients with descriptions of each award is available at Ark-Valley Pride’s website here.

Attendees had some concerns about protesters before the parade. Monroe addressed the issue on stage in the park earlier in the day, “We’re not expecting any bigots, but if we do, throw love at them and positivity. We can generate a lot because that’s how we live our lives, through love and affirmation.” Luckily, those worries were unfounded, and the parade marched through Salida greeted by friendly smiles and waves from people positioned along the street.

Chad and Puppy engage the crowd and the Drag Show in the Park. Photo by Carly Winchell

Later in the evening, large crowds returned to Riverside Park after a brief rain shower cut the Community Pride Awards short to convene for The Drag Show in the Park followed by a dance. The show was hosted by Durango Queen Aria PettyOne and co-host “King of Salida” Chad with additional performances by Salacious Behavior, Buena Vista’s own Adaphalice, Electrix Cute, and Mr. (later upgraded to Dr.) O’Plenty.

The show featured plenty of audience interaction with PettyOne finding a small child who helped co-host for a few minutes while Chad picked up a puppy during a comical performance as Gaston. Dollar bills and cheers were plentiful throughout the show, which ended in a community dance party in the park.

In addition to the fun, the importance of protecting queer youth and fighting for equal rights remained close to the hearts of everyone present. “People are out here trying to tell me what my agenda is,” said Aria PettyOne at the end of the show. “I’ll tell you what my agenda is. I do this so I can see queer youth grow up to become queer adults.”

Aria PettyOne and brief co-host lead the Drag Show in the Park. Photo by Carly Winchell