We’ve reached the end of another Pride month, which brings with it all sorts of complicated feelings. Happiness at the ground that we’ve covered, devastated by the ground that we’ve lost, and figuring out how to look forward and plan for all the fights and celebrations and living to come.
In Wyoming, especially in Laramie, Pride can be a fraught issue. For many of us in the MFA program who identify as LGBTQIA, choosing the University of Wyoming meant reckoning with moving to a city most known to the outside world as the place Matthew Shepard was killed. A great deal has changed in the last 19 years: the University hosts an annual Shepard Symposium on Social Justice (the flags below are from this year’s symposium in April), Spectrum is a great on-campus resource for queer undergraduate students, and groups like Wyoming Equality provide education, advocacy and support throughout the state.
That said, there’s still a long way to go. Kat, one of our wonderful recent graduates, writes that she “was surprised by what little queer community had been established through the university,” though she found support within the MFA cohort. Sarah, now a second year poet, echoed some of that sentiment. While she wasn’t surprised by the size of the queer community in Laramie, she reports that as her first year went on and she got to know the community more deeply, she’d describe it as “small but mighty!” She’s been impressed by the number of students and locals that “show up for justice” in classrooms and on the streets in protest. The program itself still has some strides to make in how workshops receive and discuss writing about issues of gender and sexuality, but—speaking only for myself here, a queer ciswoman who often appears straight—I believe it’s moving in the right direction. I’ve been heartened to see the number of students, staff and faculty in the Creative Writing and English departments who care deeply about these issues and show up to support and protect our rights. But we need to acknowledge our blindspots, and understand that we can always do better and it’s our job to do better.
This year, Wyoming Equality and other queer-friendly organizations focused on bringing Pride to people throughout the state, rather than gather everyone in the capital. Separate events were held in Casper, Cheyenne, Douglas, Gillette, Jackson Hole, Lander, Laramie and Pinedale. Obviously, there’s tremendous benefit to sending kids the message that Pride doesn’t just exist in one place in your state, that Pride is where you are. But the increasing number of events (or just failures in intersectionality) may also result in diminished turnout for each. According to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, a little over 120 people attended the parade in Cheyenne, which is both wonderful for Pride and yet less than a tenth of the number who attended the Women’s March along the same route in January. That number includes several people from our program, including Kat who went in no small part because she “wanted [her] dogs to get attention from cool queer folks.” (And they did.) It was a beautiful, low-key morning, with some decent chanting and rainbow jackalopes for all.
Laramie’s PrideFest, two weeks later, had between 100 and 300 on hand for each event, along with more MFAers. Still to come this summer is Rendezvous, Wyoming’s biggest queer gathering of the year. In it’s 25th year, this camping event has grown from a handful of attendees to averaging 400-500 folks. So if you’re going to be around August 16-20th, register here and head over to Medicine Bow National Forest for some fantastic company under the stars. And if you’re writing about your identity, if you’re writing to carve out your space in a world that doesn’t want to acknowledge it, keep at it. That’s where the stars burn brightest.