Beyond the rainbow flag: Eagle County Pride leaders call on businesses to support LGBTQ rights year-round
‘This is all very new to the valley, at least in recent history’
As Eagle County Pride works to offer year-round programming, the group’s leaders are hoping that the local businesses taking down rainbow flags from inside their shops will extend their support for the LGBTQ community beyond the month of June.
With Pride month come and gone, there have never been more opportunities for local businesses to keep the momentum going, said Eagle County Pride committee member Madison Partridge.
“I love to have businesses showing that visibility, but also, let’s sit down and chat and make sure that you are being equitable the other 11 months of the year,” Partridge said.
Eagle County Pride is working to become more established as an organization and plans to offer educational resources for businesses, schools and other groups on themes like pronouns, gender inclusivity and LGBTQ rights, Partridge said.
This kind of work is the natural next step to back up the visual display of support represented by rainbow flags hung in shop windows, she said.
Pride wouldn’t be complete without the iconic rainbow flag, which has been central to the LGBTQ rights movement since the 1990s. The arrival of June in Eagle County saw the emergence of the symbol in lawns, on T-shirts, in the town of Avon’s roundabout and in the windows of many local businesses.
On the national level, large corporations often seize upon the month of June to produce Pride-themed marketing and brightly colored merchandise in a practice known as “rainbow capitalism,” eliciting varying reactions from members of the LGBTQ community.
“Some would say they co-opt the Pride flag and Pride events to promote their brands and/or to promote their brands as inclusive … and to show their support,” said Dennis Martin, another Eagle County Pride committee member. “The other side of that is obviously they make money off of it, so there’s the two sides of the coin.”
Some LGBTQ people and allies see this as a “money grab” and call upon these businesses to donate a share of profits generated by these campaigns back to organizations like GLAAD or the Human Rights Campaign, Partridge said.
Personally, Martin said he doesn’t feel that businesses necessarily have a special obligation to do more just because they choose to hang rainbow flags during Pride month. He hopes that all businesses feel a pull to support the LGBTQ community, but given the option between a visual show of support or nothing — he’ll take the flags, he said.
“To see the majority of these companies changing their profile pictures on social media, releasing special Pride merchandise or commercials, I think is great,” he said. “It just creates visibility to the wider population … so for me I think it has a lot more positives than it does negatives.”
Out and proud
At the local level, Partridge said businesses have been very sincere in their support for the Eagle County Pride movement since its birth last summer.
The first pride festival and the Eagle County Pride committee that supports it were founded last year by Britny Rose, a local transgender woman who has since moved out of the valley, Martin said.
When Martin first arrived in the valley in 2019, he said there were really no spaces or events where the LGBTQ community could come together until Rose stepped up to change that — and in a pandemic no less.
So when Pride month came around this year, Martin said he was truly surprised by how many businesses wanted to support Pride in the Park and the broader movement.
“This is all very new to the valley, at least in recent history,” he said. “In that short time with organizing what we have, to see such an outpouring of community support was really great.”
The event’s main sponsors included Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, Mountain Youth, Red Ribbon Project, Vintage, Eagle County Government, SpeakUp ReachOut, Beaver Creek Chop House and Megan Vogt Counseling, Partridge said.
Many others showed their support in the form of in-kind donations, booths, food and support for the fashion show, she said.
And other local businesses, of course, showed their support by decorating their spaces with the bright colors that embody the joyous celebration that is Pride.
‘Work that still needs to be done’
At the end of the day, the use of symbols and decorations aren’t superficial, Martin said, they can create a deep sense of belonging for a community that just wants to feel seen and loved. It’s something both Partridge and Martin said they wish they would have seen more of when they were young and still grappling with their identities.
Martin said he began to realize he was gay around the start of high school but didn’t come out until years later because of “a lot of doubt and internalized homophobia.”
Things were different in the ‘90s, he said. And while he said he respects and understands the points made by those who feel that rainbow capitalism is unjust and hypocritical, he can’t help but think about how rainbow flags in windows might have made him feel as a confused high school boy.
“To see something like that, and to know that I could walk in there and not be completely on guard the entire time, would have been amazing,” Martin said.
The potential for damage with rainbow capitalism comes when a business markets itself as a safe space for queer individuals, but in reality is not, Partridge said.
Make sure “that your employees and individuals feel comfortable being out in the work environment,” she said. “… Across the country there’s a lot of businesses that kind of stifle queerness and don’t allow that open, free environment.”
Partridge also advocated for the use of inclusive language in the workplace and the implementation of gender and sexuality training to “help better understand employees and community members.”
Gender and sexuality is “always evolving” and should be a “constant conversation,” but luckily Eagle County Pride is here to help, Partridge said, encouraging local leaders to reach out.
Hovey & Harrison, a café and bakery in Edwards, is one of many local businesses that puts up decorations to celebrate Pride month every year and this year, co-owner Gretchen Hovey said they took their rainbow-themed festivities to a whole other level.
“We just really wanted to establish Hovey & Harrison as a safe, supportive, affirming place within the community,” Hovey said of their over-the-top decorations. “I think it just recommits everyone to the work that still needs to be done on equality for all and just full justice.”
The decorations came out of a friendly competition that Hovey & Harrison employee Daniel Tapley started with Albert Almodova, the manager of neighboring restaurant The Craftsman, Tapley said. The Craftsman also filled their space with the bold colors of Pride, fixing a rainbow flag to every booth and table in the joint.
In the spirit of doing more, Hovey & Harrison donated a portion of the proceeds made off sales of a particular wine — Paco and Lola’s Pride edition — to The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ individuals, Hovey said.
“Money talks,” Hovey said. And so we thought, “Let’s put our money where our mouth is.”
Beyond this financial contribution, Hovey said she and co-owner Molly Harrison try to take a proactive approach to creating a working environment where staff feel seen, heard and valued.
“I’ve never worked in a place where everyone is accepted and accepted without question, I guess is the biggest thing,” Tapley said. “I can definitely see myself staying there for a long time just because of the joy everyone has working with each other.”
Hovey said she and Harrison try to incorporate discussions around equity and inclusion into their everyday operations and have coached staff to avoid “heteronormative” language typically used in the service industry like “hey guys” or “welcome ladies.”
Small efforts like these have a profound effect in creating a space where members of the LGBTQ community feel genuinely safe and respected, Partridge said.
“Those conversations happen probably more often than usual because we have a diverse team of people who identify differently,” said Joe Cordova, Tapley’s fiancé who also works at Hovey & Harrison.
“It’s always just been a mutual understanding between staff members, and then the same thing goes for our customers: We’ll always respect them for who they are,” Cordova said. “Being out as a gay man … I’ve never felt any reason to hide myself.”
As Eagle County Pride expands, the group is planning events for community connection year-round and is working with Eagle Valley Behavioral Health to launch an LGBTQ support group, Partridge said. The group will also offer support in the creation of Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) clubs at local schools.
“From here, it can only get bigger and better … so we’re really excited,” Partridge said.
Email Kelli Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org