Casper Star Tribune
When Casper Pride originated six years ago, it wasn’t an event that was a part of the community. It was relegated to a park and hidden. There were only a few vendors, and if the nonprofit received a cash donation, it was common for people to request anonymity.
But 2021 Casper Pride has been wholly reimagined — the theme of this year’s Pride. A few hours in, over 600 people were in attendance at David Street Station, according to Casper Pride Chair Mallory Pollock. More than 20 vendors participated, and to top it off; Clean Slate Body Art Studio sponsored the event.
The move to David Street Station was no accident. Pollock wants the LGBTQ community to be seen and intends to integrate with the community in Casper.
And make no mistake about it. Casper Pride is a legitimate event with visitors from all over. Children, tweens, teens, families and allies filled the space. And performers and vendors were ready to engage with anyone and everyone. Pollock had one word for Saturday’s event: “Wild.”
“The amount of youth this year is outstanding,” Pollock said. “They’ve shown up in full force, and families are here. We have a couple of booths here specifically for families to help them navigate certain aspects of family life.”
The lead-up to Pride was a good indicator of how accepting and busy Casper Pride would be. Pollock received messages from people coming from neighboring states, but also residents from Florida and New Jersey.
“You just think, you’re doing your own little thing, and then all of a sudden other people take notice,” she said. “Yeah, the outside support has been awesome.”
Leo and Nikki Davis, a married couple of seven years and nomads living the RV life, have connections to Casper and happened to be driving through.
Leo, originally from Venezuela, and Nikki, from northern Wyoming, intended to visit family and friends but decided to drop by Pride after hearing about it.
“It’s the youth,” Leo said. “I think that’s why I feel so emotionally empowered today. They already know who they are, and they are proud of showing their flag. I wish I had that back then, but (today) fills me with pride and excitement.”
Josh and Stephanie McConkey, Casper locals, noticed the activity and support during Pride Week. But they were still “pleasantly surprised” by the turnout on Saturday.
Stephanie was excited about the support from the city and the different activities during Pride Week.
“I think it’s cool that kids are adapting to it earlier,” Josh said as he pointed to his 11-year-old daughter. “She’s on board. Her friends are on board, and it should be open.”
Representatives from Juntos, a Cheyenne-based immigrant rights and advocacy organization, Sheridan Supports LGBTQ+, Black Hills Center for Equality in Rapid City, South Dakota, were excited to see the community join in solidarity.
“This is the first Pride event in Casper that I’ve been to, and this is amazing,” Juntos volunteer and member coordinator Johnathon Musgrove said. “I’ve never seen a Pride event in Wyoming this big.”
Musgrove hopes to see a similar-sized crowd for Pride in the Park in Cheyenne, but he also acknowledges that the event is out of view and not integrated into the community.
“I think the problem in Cheyenne might be that a lot of people go to Fort Collins or Denver to do something. In Casper, it’s kind of more centrally located in Wyoming, so everybody who’s not that close to Colorado can come here for this.”
Juntos hopes to rebuild its network of supporters after COVID-19 stifled progress the nonprofit made in 2019.
Tehn Forte, vice president of Sheridan Supports LGBTQ+, has driven south to Casper Pride for three years now and loves the local community.
“I love seeing all the young kids out,” Forte said. “I wasn’t able to be out at that age, so it’s always great that they feel comfortable to be themselves.”
Sheridan recently had its second annual Pride Day last weekend with a good turnout and a substantial representation from the youth, Forte pointed out. And the community has slowly and hesitantly started acknowledging the LGBTQ community.
“It’s a different area, but we’re out there — to discuss why we’re here,” they said.
For Alexis Novotny, the board president of Black Hills Center For Equality, who was raised in Casper and moved away in the late 90s, has noticed the progression the city has made with Pride and she decided to bring her booth down, along with vice president, Toni Diamond.
“It’s been a very eye-opening experience, seeing so much of the community come together,” Diamond said. “There are so many people represented and so many random acts of kindness in the couple of days I’ve been here. It’s been amazing.”
Novotny remembers being afraid to speak out as a youth in Casper — the derogatory words and frowns. But now, she thinks it’s incredible how far Casper has come in just six years.
“(Some) parents have stopped by our booth and were like ‘I’m not quite sure about this, but I’m going to learn with you,’” Novotny said. “Being very affirming with their child — it’s been amazing to see more of that.”
Diamond was the first transgender person to run for office in Rapid City, and while she didn’t win, she was still surprised to feel accepted and allowed to run. She sees the growth and is excited about the future.
The Future is Queer, the final event on Sunday at Conwell Park at 2 p.m., hopes to improve the queer experience in Casper, where Pollock hopes to have more of a year-round presence going forward.
“We’re asking everyone to come out and listen to project leaders,” Pollock said. “We want to break out into groups (to solve key issues on what it’s like being queer in Casper) and start tackling these issues because we can’t do it alone.”