(n) the consciousness of one’s own dignity
(the opposite of one's shame)
In Calico Lane, I write about living in Chaffee County, Colorado for eighteen years. Eileen and I loved the little mountain towns and Poncha Springs was our home where we first felt comfortable with our gender identities.
Chaffee County is God's country. It's home to the fabulous 14000-foot Collegiate Peaks Range and the Arkansas River. It's where sunsets and sunrises display hues of purples, reds, oranges, and yellows that take one's breath away. It's a county where 85% of the area is National Forests or Bureau of Land Management lands. We were proud to say we lived in such a place, at an elevation of 7500 feet, with deer and rabbits coexisting in the fields as fox and coyote waited patiently for supper; it's where eagles and hawks scoop up rodents and bull snakes just outside the fence line.
Salida, the county seat---two miles from Poncha Springs---features artists' galleries and restaurants lining the streets in the state's largest historical district; and where the place where five thousand or so friendly people call home.
Salidans have pride in that FIB ARK (First in Boating on the Arkansas) takes place in their town every June. It is on the Arkansas River where rafting events and competitions between both national and international kayakers occur. Eateries, hotels, and campsites are packed with tourists and lovers of things that float on water! Every imaginable river water event takes place over the course of one week. When we first observed FIB ARK, in June of 2000, spectators lined the river banks not more than two deep -- compared with throngs over six deep in 2017.
Chaffee County had about eighteen thousand residents who were proud to live in that mountain area, but the county didn't recognize PRIDE month as a worthy celebratory event. We continued to remain closeted. That changed when we became involved with Salida's Stage Left Theater community. This diverse mix of thespians and crew was our family of choice in the Rockies. We, like others in the LGBTQ community, were KINDA 'out.'
Fast forward to 2013: DOMA is overturned. And several months later, my wife and I were the second same-sex couple to be wed in Chaffee County.
June is PRIDE month and Chaffee County first officially recognized PRIDE in June of 2017. We joined several friends in our first-ever Pride event. A thin crowd lined the main street in Salida on that day in June. I was told the reason for Pride Month is not for the LGBTQ community to be reminded of their existence, but rather to remind straight people that the LGBTQ community belongs. In Calico Lane, I write “We all share being human, and that’s enough for me.”
The Arkansas Valley continues to celebrate diversity with PRIDE now extending for three days in June ( www.arkvalleypride.com ). Events for entire families include games, picnics, booths, shows at Riverside Amphitheater and yes, a parade with residents and visitors crowded along the streets.
Coincidentally, in 2017, PFLAG celebrated the 45th anniversary of founder Jeanne Manford's famous march with her son, gay-rights activist Morty Manford. PFLAG has been saving lives, strengthening families, and changing hearts, minds, and laws since 1972. In 1972, the girls who frequented the White Elephant (an apartment in Calico Lane) hadn’t heard about PFLAG—I cannot envision how our lives would have been different if Scranton, PA, had a PFLAG chapter!
I was 64 years of age when I participated in my first Pride event in Salida; and now, at age 69, I will speak at a local PFLAG chapter. You may ask, “What took you so long?”
In Calico Lane, I pen “…it’s never too late to realize what’s important in life and become true to the person you are—whether it takes several years, a few decades, or a lifetime.” So, perhaps the answer to the question, 'What took you so long?' is simply: It's time.
Salida, Colorado's First Pride Parade, June 2017