Editor’s Note: The Fight for Equal Rights is Everyone’s Fight

By on June 13, 2018

Jackson’s first gay dance party could be the beginning of a new era

JACKSON HOLE, WY – When LGBTQ people visit Jackson Hole, they often do not feel welcome. That’s what Vinicius Freitas wrote in an email to Andrew Munz. Freitas was writing to thank Munz, a PJH columnist, for throwing Jackson’s first gay dance party.  

Freitas, though, did not attend the June 9 sold-out Pride Month celebration at the Pink Garter Theatre. Nor has he ever met Munz. The 26-year-old Brazilian left Jackson in 2012 after a four-month stint on a J1 visa and has not returned. Still, even with Jackson a continent away, he was surprised and inspired when he learned of the event and felt compelled to share his experience living in Jackson Hole.

Ahead of Munz’s party, Freitas wrote, “I had a very difficult time during those four months when it comes to my sexuality. I was all by myself during that winter, with no friends or relatives around.”

Subsequently, he concealed who he was “from everybody.”

The experience, however fraught, was also transformative. Freitas returned to Brazil and decided he should do something for people like him—young members of the LGBTQ community.

He began hosting small events for LGTBQ people, parties that were inclusive and welcoming, much the opposite of anything Freitas experienced in Jackson. Today, he is head of production and marketing for the largest LGBTQ nightclub chain in Brazil. In the process, the young Brazilian learned about the intricacies of throwing events for LGBTQ people and concluded his message to Munz with some insight.

“I guess maybe in this first edition, some people might be shy to go there and celebrate the pride,” Freitas wrote. “I don’t know exactly how the whole town is reacting, but whatever the number of participants the party gets, I can assure you it’s already a conquest—the fact that it happened!”

Indeed, the very notion that such an event transpired in Jackson Hole was a feat in itself. After all, the entire state of Wyoming is devoid of gay bars and in Jackson Hole, I have witnessed at least two incidents of homophobia while running this newspaper. Both involved prominent businesses that no longer wanted to distribute Planet Jackson Hole because of this paper’s choice to cover the LGBTQ community.

Yes, this was a bold move for Munz who indeed became rattled during the planning stage of the event after a gay couple was stabbed on May 28 outside a Denver nightclub for holding hands.

“I’m trying not to let it get to me, but it’s igniting a bit of fear,” Munz wrote to me in a text.

Munz’s worries would ultimately dissolve.

On Saturday, Jackson residents arrived in droves to support the event. The night’s festivities were not only peaceful and joyous, they also sent ripples of hope through a community of young and old queer people, some who are increasingly refusing to conceal who they are.

“I felt free to touch, kiss my boyfriend and not look around at who might be noticing, or having someone say something,” Chad Horton said. The whole experience, seeing a gay pride flag displayed in a Wyoming bar, the inclusive, loving vibe was “definitely something I’ve never felt before in Jackson Hole.”

What many of the more than 450 sequined and sweaty partygoers realized that night is that the gay pride dance party was not really about costumes or dancing or watermelon “mar-gay-ritas” or lip syncing (though I deeply regret showing up after that drag-bedazzled portion of the evening). It was about sending a message to Jackson’s residents and visitors.

That message is that our values are not only steeped in conservation and wildlife; our values are anchored in human rights.

Now it is up to Jackson’s young and old queer people—but mostly, straight allies—to help usher in a new era for Jackson Hole. Right now there are tangible, easy ways to move the needle.

Send emails of support to Jackson Town Council members about the town’s proposed non-discrimination ordinance, which is slated for its first reading in the upcoming days. Attend the annual PFLAG Pride Picnic at Mike Yokel Park on June 23. And if you witness someone enduring harassment for their sexuality (or for any reason), don’t be a bystander. Position yourself near that person or at least pull out your phone and document what you see.

When I left the Garter at 1:30 a.m. Saturday, I nearly tripped over my feet at a sight largely foreign to the streets of Jackson: two shirtless young men passionately making out against a downtown storefront. Such a raw, human display of emotion should not be an act of courage. It should merely be another night in Jackson Hole.

About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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