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LGBTQ community and allies share the impact of Pride flag removal from Gypsum Recreation Center

Individuals spanning multiple generations and queer identities brainstorm ways to bring inclusion to community

Ali Longwell
Vail Daily
The rainbow flag, or pride flag, has been an iconic symbol of the LGBTQ rights movement since the 1990s. Now, many different flags exist to recognize a number of identities.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

GYPSUM — On Wednesday night, nearly 70 individuals — spanning multiple generations, several Eagle County municipalities, and representing the full spectrum of LGBTQ identities and allies — showed up at the Gypsum Recreation Center to discuss the recent removal of the Pride plag from the facility, and its impact to the local LGBTQ community.

Mountain Recreation put up the Pride flag at all three of its facilities in March 2022, as a show of support and allyship for the LGBTQ community. However, last week the Pride flag at the Gypsum Rec Center was taken down at the request of the town of Gypsum, citing that the rec district had not received the proper approval from the town, which owns the facility, to put the flag in the lobby.

Members of the Gypsum Town Council, in a Vail Daily column, wrote that Mountain Rec’s initial request to fly the flag was denied, “because the Gypsum Recreation Center is a taxpayer-funded facility that should be devoid of political, ideological or religious symbols so that all can approach its services without any preconceived notions.”



“We mean it when we say that the primary thing we believe all patrons should universally think when they go to the Gypsum Recreation Center is, ‘I feel welcome here and I had fun,’” the council wrote in its column.

Following this decision, local LGBTQ advocacy and education nonprofit Mountain Pride hosted a facilitated discussion to “hold space for our LGBTQIA+ community members and our allies to respond to what happened, to respond to the Pride flag being removed from this public space here in Gypsum,” said Madison Partridge, Mountain Pride’s executive director. 



The objective of the evening was twofold: First, to listen and hear the impact that the flag’s removal had on the local LGBTQ community and its allies; and second, to agree on action items Mountain Pride could take to further advocate for visibility, inclusion and equity for the LGBTQ community in community spaces, both at Mountain Recreation and in Gypsum.

The flag’s impact

The rainbow flag, or Pride flag, has been an iconic symbol of the LGBTQ rights movement since the 1990s.

“The flags have a simple message that says more than just ‘LGBTQIA+ folks are accepted.’ The flags send the message: ‘You are welcome to be you, here,’” Partridge previously told the Vail Daily.

Speaking at Wednesday’s event, several members of Gypsum’s LGBTQ community — including individuals that use or work at the Rec Center — spoke about how the flag being flown at the Gypsum Rec Center made them feel.

As part of the event’s ground rules to create a safe space for the conversation to happen, the Vail Daily was granted access to the dialogue on the condition that names of individuals who spoke would not be publicly identified.

“When I saw the pride flag, I thought, ‘Yay, this is finally somewhere in Gypsum that’s a safe space,’” one speaker said.

“It gave people so much hope,” said another.

“Seeing the flag here, I thought was a great thing, there was hope,” said another.

One person said that after the flag was put up, multiple individuals who identified all over the spectrum and represented different age groups felt “excited and so grateful to be seen.”

On the flag’s removal, these same individuals reported feeling frustrated, hurt, unsafe, unwelcome, sad and angry, with several people saying it felt like a slap in the face. 

“This removal of this flag is more than just removing a symbol, it’s two steps forward and three steps back,” one individual said.

With the flag down, one local student said that many people who use the facility “don’t know if it’s an LGBTQ safe space anymore.”

Another student commented that the town’s decision “doesn’t really help anyone below them change their actions,” citing frequent experiences of homophobia in the community.

One Gypsum resident said that listening to the stories of local students and youth — many of whom spoke on Wednesday — was where she really felt the impact was because they were “growing up in a world where this should not be happening.”

Multiple individuals spoke directly to the town’s ruling that its properties need to be “devoid of political, ideological or religious symbols,” and its implication that the Pride flag falls under one of these three categories.

“Who you are as a person, on the inside, is not politics,” one Gypsum resident said. 

Another Mountain Rec employee also said that “if a Pride flag is seen as a political or religious or ideological symbol, then why are we putting up Christmas decorations, why did we just take down a bunch of Halloween decorations, why do we put up Easter decorations?” — a sentiment that was echoed by many other attendees.

Visibility

For many who spoke on Wednesday, visibility — and its importance to the LGBTQ community, particularly LGBTQ youth — was a prominent topic.

“Representation and visibility are so critical and lifesaving for so many of us,” Partridge said.

One mother, who identified herself as a Gen X-er, said that she only came out two years prior because “I didn’t see anyone when I was young that represented the way I felt.”

She added: “Visibility is important so people can discover and take their journey to figure out who they are” early in life, she said.  

Visibility, as someone else put it, allows individuals to present however they want and still feel valued in their community.

Many adults referenced the importance of visibility specifically for LGBTQ youth, citing statistics from The Trevor Project on the significantly increased risk of suicide among LGBTQ youth as a result of mistreatment and stigmatization.

Moving forward

“One flag went down, but 50 need to go up,” Partridge said at the end of Wednesday’s session. “I cannot wait for what we can do as a community.”

While no concrete steps forward were decided on Wednesday, many ideas were brainstormed. This included approaching the Gypsum Town Council with various forms of public input (letters, presentations, etc.), more Pride marches, allowing employees to wear pride merchandise (like pins, stickers, etc.) on their uniforms, adding resources for mental health support for LGBTQ youth in community spaces, the widespread sharing of local LGBTQ stories, and hosting more events.

nd as Mountain Pride determines its next steps, Partridge reminded the group of the organization’s many existing opportunities for connection, building community, and raising the voices of local LGBTQ individuals.

This story is from VailDaily.com.


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