John-Michael sweats. A lot. Profusely. He is not heat tolerant.
When we pulled into Crossroads Park on a blistering Saturday morning, booths were already being set up, a sound check was underway, flags were flying, and there was a feeling of excitement in the air. Located in Casper, Wyoming, a city of only 56,000 residents (which in Wyoming, the least populated state in the U.S., is enough to be its second largest city), the park is nestled along the North Platte River, dotted with huge cottonwood trees which provide a much needed shade oasis in a town surrounded by open prairie.
The shade would prove to be insufficient for John-Michael. Before we even found Gage, the chair and founder of Out In Wyoming, and then Betsy, the coordinator of the Casper Pride Weekend festivities, he was covered in sweat.
Mercifully, we were assigned the task of helping decorate the shelter, which would serve as a stage and a dance floor at various times throughout the day.
The Casper Pride in the Park event officially kicked-off in the late morning, with live music, a variety show, and a Vogue-off dance contest. There was food, face-painting, hula-hooping, and artwork. It was a celebration of love, and the LGBTQ+ community in Wyoming.
There was also a serious side to the festivities. Out In Wyoming, Casper Pride, and PFLAG Casper all had booths with vital information meant to increase awareness and support. Additionally, there were resources that addressed mental and physical health including suicide prevention hotlines. A sobering reminder that while the Pride weekend is a celebration that supports and encourages people to be who they are, it is also a way to reach out to those who are struggling. Part of Out in Wyoming’s mission is a commitment "to providing education, safe places, suicide prevention and a friendly face to the younger LGBTQ+ community in Wyoming. Working with other organizations to make sure that no one has to be afraid of who they are.”
Can you imagine how cruel some people can be to make someone afraid or ashamed of who they are or who they love? It's preposterous. Love is good. We should never be ashamed of it. No one should be ostracized for it. It's to be celebrated. It makes us all better.
A nice breeze moved in as the afternoon gave way to evening. The sun was beginning its decent toward the horizon, while we started taking down some of the tents and moving chairs and tables in preparation of a Sparkle Dance which was scheduled to take place that night.
As the music started, and the dancing began, we decided to call it a night and said goodbye to our new friends. "Thank you so much!" Betsy exclaimed. "Let me give you guys a hug."
"You don't want to hug me. I'm covered in sweat," John-Michael answered wiping his forehead with a shirt that was soaked and covered in salt stains.
Betsy rolled her eyes and gave him, and me, a strong, earnest, loving hug. After all, love should have no boundaries. Not even someone's disgusting sweat.
The next day, we walked in the Pride March, surrounded by flags, cheering, the local LGBTQ+ community, and its allies. As we paraded through downtown Casper, car horns blared as people showed their support. We found out later from Gage, that around 700 people attended the weekend's festivities. What once was a small picnic gathering had grown into this amazing weekend in just a few short years. A collection of events that give an ever growing voice to so many, and a reason to be proud of who they are.
We all should have the right to love and to be loved. Yet some still try to control love; to limit it. They put up barriers. They attempt to shame others for who they love. It's sickening. It's wrong. It causes harm and pain for so many.
Love is love.