Mountain Pride to become Eagle County’s first LGBTQ support and advocacy nonprofit
Madison Partridge will lead the organization with the help of a grant from Eagle Valley Behavioral Health
It was the summer of 2020 when Britny Rose, a transgender woman living in Eagle County at the time, proposed the idea to host the county’s first LGBTQ Pride event, which she called “Pride in the Park.”
Rose’s post in the community Facebook group Eagle County Classifieds garnered over one hundred comments from residents expressing excitement and offering to help organize the event, which was planned at Avon’s Nottingham Park with just one week’s notice.
“I’ve lived here for three years now, and I know there is a LGBT+ community in this valley, but with all the beauty we have to offer we don’t host anything,” Rose said in her post in June of 2020.
Madison Partridge, a resident of Eagle, had been feeling the same, she said in an interview Friday. But having to carve out a space to be herself was, unfortunately, something Partridge had grown accustomed to by that time, she said.
Partridge grew up in a small town in Nebraska where she “didn’t know a single gay person until maybe late in high school,” she said.
“I bet there were supportive teachers, but nobody was being that visibility or that representation that I needed,” Partridge said. “I had language from family, friends, people around me in my community saying that it was wrong to be gay, telling me it was wrong to be who I was.”
Her parents are very supportive of her and her wife now, Partridge said. Still, these aspects of the environment she grew up in caused her to struggle with her mental health in ways that she believes would have been lessened significantly if she had even one LGBTQ mentor or ally to look up to during those years.
“I was isolated in myself and had no one to connect or listen to me because I was afraid of being kicked out of my house or losing friends,” she said. “I think people in my town, my family, they didn’t have the language or the understanding of the LGBTQ community to be supportive.”
Two years later, Partridge has been named as the executive director of Mountain Pride – Eagle County’s first and only provider of support, advocacy, education, and resources to the LGBTQ community.
“When I came here, I wanted to build that community,” Partridge said. “I was like, ‘Where is our queer community at? I know you’re all here, but I don’t see you.’”
When Partridge attended that first Pride in the Park event back in 2020 and saw the pride and the joy being unleashed all around her, she knew she needed to do whatever she could to keep up the momentum that Rose started.
She and a group of about eight other volunteers, including Rose, began laying the foundation for Mountain Pride, formerly known as Eagle County Pride. They made a Facebook group and shared photos from the event along with resources and messages of encouragement.
With a year’s worth of planning, Eagle County Pride in the Park 2021 had a full schedule of events including a youth fashion show, a drag show, yoga, a Pride parade, and several community speakers.
Rose left the valley in 2021 and Partridge stepped up, acting as the group’s president alongside vice president Orlando Ortiz.
The group began hosting informal gatherings of the local LGBTQ community once a month. In September of last year, it hosted the first of many “Big Gay Giveback Days,” bringing together community members and allies to volunteer with local nonprofit organizations.
All the while, Partridge had bigger aspirations for what the group might become and spent many nights burning the midnight oil, trying to figure out how to make those dreams a reality.
This was in addition to her full-time role as marketing and events manager for Mountain Youth, Ortiz said.
“She’s just a sweet, great person. She’s humble, but also, she’s very assertive, and her dedication, her knowledge, it just goes beyond the call of duty,” Ortiz said. “This is something that she breathes, that she sleeps and that she takes home to her house. It doesn’t stop when the time runs out or dinner starts. It’s who she is. It’s a part of her life.”
“We knew we were working on something spectacular, but I don’t think we really wanted anything out of it,” he continued. “We were doing it because it was our passion and it’s amazing to see what it has now become.”
It wasn’t long before Partridge had secured support from Eagle Valley Behavioral Health to launch peer support groups led by her and Ortiz.
The first support group to be formed is called “gay, straight or anywhere in between,” which Partridge described as a kind of “catch-all” for anyone from the loud-and-proud who have been out for decades to those just starting to explore their sexuality or gender identity.
Partridge then started a peer support group for loved ones and allies of LGBTQ individuals and another specifically for transgender and non-binary youth. Ortiz leads a support group for LGBTQ individuals who identify as Hispanic/Latino.
All this to say that Partridge put countless hours of unpaid work into making sure that the next generation of LGBTQ youth have the visibility, mentorship, and support she lacked growing up in a rural area. And now, this hard work — along with the hard work of many others, Partridge would add — has paid off in a big way.
Thanks to an “initial development grant” from Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, Mountain Pride is now a fully-fledged organization seeking nonprofit status.
“I am extremely grateful for the generosity and support and the belief in the work that we’re doing,” Partridge said of EVBH’s support. “…This is huge for our community, for the generational and cultural change we hope to have on better understanding the diversity of Eagle County and being a face and name and a resource for people to come to.”
Mountain Pride has its first full-time, paid staff member in Partridge, now the executive director, and is overseen by a seven-member board.
For years now, Partridge has been “approaching each day as a new opportunity to connect with others who want to make the world better than they found it,” one board member, Grace Anshutz, said of the board’s decision to choose Partridge to lead the organization.
“As a leader (Partridge) shows up authentically,” Anshutz said in a written statement. “This is especially important to local youth and young people who might not see themselves represented in other leadership roles in the community.”
“(Partridge) has shown fierce commitment and leadership already in pushing our community’s LGBTQ+ involvement to the next level — all while working multiple other jobs. I can only imagine what she’s capable of now that she’ll be able to focus solely on Mountain Pride,” another board member, Amy Vogt, said in a written statement.
The organization’s work will be guided by four areas of focus: education, community, resources and advocacy and activism.
“Our eyes are wide, and our minds are open and ready to offer services and meet needs that are not being met right now,” Partridge said.
One piece of this is working in local schools to strengthen education about LGBTQ language and culture so teachers and students can better support LGBTQ youth. Even before receiving the grant, Partridge had been working with local schools to educate teachers and parents and to provide mentorship to budding “gender and sexuality alliances.”
Colorado Mountain College has a GSA that predated the 2020 Pride in the Park celebration, but Partridge created one for the community at large and has been providing support to a GSA at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards.
Lucy Anderson, a Battle Mountain High School senior who has been working with Partridge through the GSA, said Partridge’s mentorship opened her eyes to what the group could accomplish within the school.
On Friday, Partridge, Anderson, and other GSA members put on a panel discussion for teachers in which Partridge gave information on gender-affirming language and other ways to support LGBTQ students within the school. After her presentation, a panel of students answered questions from teachers and other staff, Anderson said.
“In my short time that I’ve been involved in (LGBTQ advocacy), I think very few people have been so open to hearing the opinions and issues of youth in our community like the way that (Partridge) was open to hearing it,” Anderson said. “…That is so important to me that my voice is being heard, that the voices of our other students are being heard.”
As a young person, Anderson stressed the importance of having an adult LGBTQ mentor in her life, and the impact this can have on an individual’s mental health.
“When I was 13 and 14 and struggling with my sexuality, I was looking for those resources, and I didn’t have them,” Anderson said. “…I cannot express how important it is to me that no more queer youth in the Vail Valley are going to go looking for those resources and not be able to find them because now they are there and they are there permanently.”
Previously, when local teens had questions about their gender or their sexuality, many of them would turn to social media for answers as she did when she was younger, Anderson said. This, of course, can be problematic, she said.
“We’ve never had an organization to represent our community, to create this safe space for us, and it feels like it’s official now that Mountain Pride is becoming a nonprofit,” Ortiz said of the news. “So, it’s just very exciting.”
Partridge said the organization hopes to fund a position for Ortiz as soon as possible as his natural ability to build relationships and forge connections across cultures has been and will continue to be an asset to Mountain Pride’s work. For now, he remains involved as a volunteer.
As the valley begins to burst with signs of springtime, Partridge and her volunteers are turning their attention to planning the county’s third annual Pride in the Park event, which has now become one of the town of Avon’s “signature events,” she said.
This year’s event will be held on Saturday, June 18, but will offer a whole week of activities with “more drag shows, more food” and “more opportunities to connect,” Partridge said.
As an executive director, Partridge said she will have an open door to community organizations, initiatives or individuals who want to partner with Mountain Pride and encouraged potential partners to reach out.
“Mountain Pride being a full nonprofit organization, versus just a single-event focused committee, means our entire community’s lived experience will continuously improve through access to LGBTQ focused events, advocacy, education, and resources,” Vogt said in her statement.
“For my own children, growing up in a small town with two moms, I hope it will mean that their peers and mentors are better educated on and connected to the LGBTQ+ community their family is a part of.”
Email Kelli Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org