GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. — At 22 years old, Kaleb Cook finally felt at home for the first time after attending a Pride celebration in Carbondale, Colorado.
Cook came out as a gay man at 18 years old, but living in a rural town in Iowa at the time, he never found comfort in expressing himself or meeting others in the LGBTQ+ community.
But seeing drag performers, rainbow flags decorating a stage and LGBTQ+ community members embracing themselves inspired Cook, of Glenwood Springs, to bring the spirit of Pride back to Glenwood, where he works for the city as its community recreation supervisor.
“It was something that I'm passionate about, and I saw the need and I know it's important for individuals to have access to inclusive services like pride,” Cook said. “It’s just an opportunity for us to come in dressed in rainbow and really show that we are a community that supports LGBTQ people.”
Glenwood celebrated its first Pride June 24 at Bethel Plaza — a central area in the city under a historic bridge — with drag queens, businesses hanging rainbow flags and a local restaurant making itself into a makeshift gay bar at night.
Cook said Pride was largely in place to help LGBTQ+ youth in the area, who have little to no resources for exploring their identities and are witnessing attacks on the rights of transgender children across the country.
“My first Pride created that safe environment and advocacy for me, so I want to create that safe space for our youth in Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley,” Cook said. “There are a lot of youth that fall under that umbrella and really don’t have services, and being in rural communities. It's definitely a really interesting place to grow up being gay.”
Cook and other Pride organizers described Glenwood Springs as a generally accepting place toward LGBTQ+ community members, and said most in the city were surprised to see it had never held Pride prior to 2022.
“We’ve been really encouraged and seen a lot of support,” said Bryana Starbuck, spokeswoman for the city. “As word gets more and more out there about the event, we’ve been really excited to see how many people are wanting to get involved and participate.”
Starbuck said the city noticed its gaps in inclusive services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has worked to fill them ever since, but is actively a work in progress.
“This is something we’ve wanted to see and the community is ready for it,” Starbuck said. “This is the first one of hopefully many.”
Alison Berg is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at email@example.com.