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Valley LGBT community braces for Trump’s America

Courtesy Photo/AspenOUT

Aspen Gay Ski week has come and gone — but its impact on the community is felt year round.

Up front, the event is flashy and loud, but behind the scenes there’s a local non-profit organization that funds youth groups and mental health organizations, which support LGBT rights.

“The community is amazing during Gay Ski Week. The community really comes out. But then, you know, those rainbow flags go down and those X Games flags go up,” said Natalyn Cumings, AspenOUT board member.

Aspen OUT is the non-profit behind Aspen Gay Ski Week. The organization donates the proceeds to help LGBT youth in the valley and beyond. This year, a new development has happened since the rainbow flags came down: Donald Trump is now president. While he has characteristically kept his cards close to his chest about his views on gay rights, Cumings has seen how his derogatory rhetoric is “normalizing” hate speech.

“I think the hatred has always been there, but now it’s more accepted, which I think is terrifying,” said Cumings.

Bullying is a main focus of AspenOUT’s work. With the Roaring Fork Valley’s chart-topping suicide rate, those who already feel different or ostracized are even more vulnerable. To that end, volunteers help curate Gay Ski Week participants’ words of encouragement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, and turn that “it gets better” sentiment into a video produced for a mental health agency.

Aspen Gay Ski Week is a lighthearted non-stop party, but the $100,000 it raises for the gay straight alliance groups in Valley high schools is serious. Because, said Kevin Mcmanamon, executive director of AspenOUT, topics that were thought of as victories for the LGBT community during the Obama years are now back up for discussion.  


“There are people out there that want to take our rights away. There are people out there that want to repeal gay marriage, and it’s going to come to the forefront very soon,” Mcmamamon said.

AspenOUT supports the Gay/Straight Alliances (GSA) at Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs high schools. Even area middle schools are putting together those clubs, which provide a safe place for students to support each other and talk about sexual orientation, gender identity, homophobia and transphobia.

Bo Takarabe is the advisor for the GSA in Basalt. Even when the nation’s leaders don’t call for tolerance, she said this next generation demands it.

“It’s not like I started a club because I thought our school needed one. Kids came and said why don’t we have one? And, can we start one? It’s definitely a kid-driven idea,” Takarabe said.

One of the members of the Basalt GSA is Mauricio Sosa. AspenOUT has helped with funds for Sosa’s “peace garden” - an escape he created from judgment and bullying.

“I started realizing that more people had gone through what I had gone through, or have been bullied, or feel like they don't fit in at school or they feel like they are worthless. And I realized that maybe by creating a space like the Peace Garden that maybe other people would feel more secure being at school,” said Sosa.

It’s those kind of small community projects that are most important now, said AspenOUT board member Natalyn Cumings. Throughout the country people of different nationalities, religions and sexual orientation are feeling discriminated against. But here in the valley there is an opportunity to show that all are created equal.

“Tolerance can always be shown more,” she said. “If you see someone hurting you help them. Instead of looking back and just saying, ‘Well, I donated to the ACLU.’ It’s like yea, but we also need to continue the community and local effort.”

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