As Colorado celebrates 50 years of Pride, young LGBTQ+ advocates plan for the future

“Colorado is a very progressive state when it comes to queer rights and LGBTQ+ rights. But I think it is up to young people to continue that,” says Myles Chapman
Myles Chapman
Posted at 11:17 AM, Jun 25, 2024

DENVER AND AURORA, Colo. — As Coloradans reflect on 50 years of LGBTQ+ activism and Pride celebrations in the state, the next generation of advocates are keeping focus on the future.

“When you look back at history, and how people have advocated for queer rights, it definitely can still correlate today,” said Myles Chapman, a recent high school graduate who has been politically active long before he’s gained the right to vote.

Chapman has spent his teen years advocating with One Colorado, the state's most prominent advocacy group representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Coloradans.

“Colorado is a very progressive state when it comes to queer rights and LGBTQ+ rights. But I think it is up to young people to continue that,” he said.

Chapman has been a member of One Colorado’s Gender and Sexuality Alliances Council and joined their Youth Summit, which brings together like-minded young people from across the state.

Myles at 2023 Youth Summit
Myles Chapman, bottom right, joined other young Coloradans at the 2023 Youth Summit hosted by One Colorado.

“Growing up, I kind of didn't really feel seen being a Black and queer person,” he said. “I was bullied in middle school for my sexuality and being who I am. So, it was just important for me... growing up to advocate for my community, because there's truly lack of representation.”

Perspectives like his are now helping shape Colorado’s policies.

“Our young people, they are just tearing down boxes, and you know, creating this kaleidoscope of light and energy,” said Nadine Bridges, One Colorado’s executive director.

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"It's really about being authentic, and really seeing young people as the courageous, intelligent, powerful folks that they are, and that they have the right to speak their mind,” Bridges said.

Young people are increasingly aware of the diversity and intersectionality of Coloradans and want that reflected in the state’s laws.

"Our community is not a monolith. We're literally representative of every identity, race, ability out there,” Bridges said. “So it's not just about LGBTQ+ issues. It's about Black and Brown issues. It's around immigration. It's around health equity. It's around our environment and conservation. And they are going full throttle, and I love them for that,” she said.

Nadine Bridges One Colorado
Nadine Bridges directs the advocacy group One Colorado where she includes the perspectives of young people. She was also previously the director of youth services for Rainbow Alley, an LGBTQ youth-serving organization under The Center on Colfax.

With so many overlapping issues and identities to keep in mind, Bridges said youth leaders are holding adults accountable for a broader vision.

"We have to do a good job of harnessing that and figuring out what to do to create a blueprint for them to have a foundation to build on,” she said.

After five decades of LGBTQ+ advocacy, Bridges said Colorado has come a very long way, from being known as the “hate state,” to having among the most protections of any state in the country right now.

History Colorado gay Pride
Coloradans have fought for LGTBQ+ rights for decades. Like these activists who traveled to Washington D.C. in the 1990s.

Still, there are challenges ahead, especially nationally. Bridges and Chapman said extremist “culture war” politics are fueling discriminatory laws in states like Florida. In recent years, Florida Gov. Ron De Santis has supported controversial changes in education policy, such as the “Parental Rights In Education” bill referred to by opponents as “Don’t Say Gay.”

Colorado itself has been the focus point of several recent Supreme Court decisions which LGBTQ+ advocates worry are chipping away at their rights. Last year, the court sided with a Denver graphic designer who argued it was an unconstitutional breach of her free speech rights for the state to require her to offer her services to same-sex couples.

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In 2018, a Colorado baker who argued his Christian faith should allow him the right to refuse making a same-sex couple’s wedding cake also won a partial Supreme Court victory. However, last year, he lost an appeal in his legal fight to reject making a cake celebrating a gender transition.

"It's hard to not get jaded,” Bridges said. “But what I'm seeing is that our community is saying, ‘You know what, we're not going to be reactive, we're going to be proactive, we're going to celebrate joy, we're gonna celebrate love. And we're going to keep demonstrating resistance,’” she said.

Myles Chapman celebrates with friends at Pride events like this one last year.

For young activists like Chapman, who is soon heading to an historically Black college where he plans to study political science, this ongoing resistance and celebration by LGBTQ+ Coloradans is inspiring.

Just as activists in the past put their lives on the line for their voices to be heard, Chapman said “it’s up to young people to continue that.”

"We are the future and it's up to us to continue to change the world,” he said.

As Colorado celebrates 50 years of Pride, young LGBTQ+ advocates plan for the future

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