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Steamboat Springs opens first-of-its-kind LGBTQ+ resource center

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Photos from the Yampa Valley Pride festival in 2021 and 2022 hang on the wall at Queer Futures.
Photo: Alison Berg, Rocky Mountain PBS

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Ariana Anderson is homeschooled in a far northwest corner of Colorado. As a bisexual person in rural Moffat County — one of Colorado’s most conservative counties — Anderson has felt deeply isolated from other LGBTQ+ people.

“I didn't have anyone to talk to about this,” Anderson said. “I have a lot of supportive really great adults in my life, but no one that really understood that kind of stuff.”

Queer Futures, a nonprofit supporting LGBTQ+ youth and adults in the Yampa Valley that opened in January and operates with one full-time staff member hopes to address some of the isolation that these young people often face.

“We’re looking forward to a future where LGBTQ+ people are well and belong here and have excellent futures here,” said Chelsie Holmes, Queer Futures program director.

Other LGBTQ+ community members in the Yampa Valley, which also includes Routt County, said that what feels like a year-round vacation for some feels more like a daily struggle.

“While Steamboat may be more left-leaning, there are still certainly some very bigoted people who live here,” said Jade Godley, a 16-year-old genderfluid Steamboat Springs resident.

Though its numbers may feel small, Godley and others said Routt County’s queer community is strong in its efforts to build safe community spaces for each other and generations to follow.

Holmes said many LGBTQ+ youth raised in Routt and Moffat Counties — which make up the Yampa Valley — leave the area for larger cities with bigger queer communities.

Bigger populations typically have more resources, Holmes said, and LGBTQ+ adults feel that a return to the Yampa Valley may come with a sacrifice of adequate healthcare and friends with shared experiences.

Queer Futures hopes to change that.

“A focus on the future centers youth and also centers community change and systemic change,” Holmes said. “I think that's really important, because right now, there is so much discussion around trans youth, in particular, and we’re not hearing their voices as much as we are the voices of people who are totally ignorant about their realities.”

The center serves queer people of all ages but emphasizes youth so they have a safe space if they don’t feel accepted in other areas. Holmes said Queer Futures also hopes to show examples of thriving LGBTQ+ adults as positive models for kids.

Books and board games on the shelves at Queer Futures.
Photo: Alison Berg, Rocky Mountain PBS 

“Being queer is not super accepted in the public schools here,” said  Anderson, who lives in one of Colorado’s most conservative counties.

“I needed someone to say that even if they don’t understand, they still support me,” Anderson said. “I never really experienced an adult or a kid in my community who was like that.”

Holmes said the center’s name is intentional because it focuses on youth and building happy futures, as well as destigmatizes the word “queer,” which was once used as a slur, though the community has worked to reclaim it.

Steamboat Springs held its first pride festival in 2021.

Despite heavy rain that resulted in dripping face paint and soggy flyers, the festival attracted dozens of supporters decked in rainbow gear. Holmes said the event sparked more conversations about a growing need for support of the Yampa Valley’s LGBTQ community, and Queer Futures worked its way from an idea to a reality.

“The focus right now is just getting the space together and getting people in the door, and then we want to shift toward more of a health equity focus and improving healthcare access for LGBTQ people here,” Holmes said.

Northwest Colorado Health has one clinician providing hormone-replacement therapy, though the provider only sees adults.

Holmes said the service in Steamboat is recent, and those needing gender-affirming care previously had to make trips to Denver or Wyoming to get it — often driving hours through snow and ice just to keep a prescription.

Youth seeking gender-affirming care still have limited options and face long waitlists at the TRUE Center for Gender Diversity at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“It’s a long-term project, but the seeds have been planted,” Holmes said of bringing more LGBTQ-specific healthcare to the Yampa Valley.

Shelves in Queer Futures are lined with board games, books on LGBTQ topics and pamphlets with information about healthy relationships and sexuality.

Godley said the center is immensely helpful, both as a safe hangout spot and as a place for youth to learn self-acceptance and explore identities in a welcoming community.

A bulletin board at Queer Futures displays information pamphlets for LGBTQ+ community members.
Photo: Alison Berg, Rocky Mountain PBS 

“There really isn’t a place where people can just go and hangout, so to have this is really special,” Godley said. “I’m not ashamed of being out, but I know it can be dangerous for other people and this is a safe place for them.”

Holmes hopes Queer Futures inspires other rural communities to start their own resource centers. LGBTQ+ people in rural areas often face a unique set of challenges, Holmes said, and rural areas offer few solutions.

“The youth out here deal with the same issues that youth in urban areas do with healthcare, homelessness and not being accepted by their families,” Holmes said. “But in rural areas, we don’t have the same resources you might have in a city.” 

Alison Berg is a reporter at Rocky Mountain PBS.

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