Here are two things I know to be true: I have the right to be unapologetically queer, and I should not need to live in a big city to be happy.
After a few months away in cosmopolitan Minneapolis, I returned to Colorado Springs with excitement and apprehension — excitement at the prospect of returning to the town I know and love with its comparatively cheap rent and proximity to nature, and dread at losing the comforting, ubiquitous presence of queer I'd grown accustomed to in Minneapolis.
Soon after my return, I was invited to perform poetry at a community event but asked to avoid sharing any poems about identity, so as to not offend anyone. This was not the first time, but the request had a particular sting following the euphoria I'd felt in a prevalent queer culture.
I stumbled into Mountain Fold Books shortly after, which in the time I was away, had popped up as an essential third space (a place of community and congregation) for the local queer community. It was a place to run into friendly faces, familiar or otherwise, and feel a sense of home.
I spoke to Han Sayles, my former classmate and then-manager of Mountain Fold, and in the process of catching up, we returned to a conversation we'd had in the past: Despite the city's reputation, we loved it and firmly believed in the right to live here while being happily queer.
That was when we sparked the idea of a local queer open mic. Within the hour, we made a Facebook event and invited every queer person we knew to attend and perform. It worked. Poets, singers, comedians and audience members packed Mountain Fold.
It still strikes me how easy it was. How all it took then — and how all it has continued to take — was Facebook, word-of-mouth, and the occasional shout-out from the Indy. It had a do-it-yourself nature, but really it was less about what we did to organize the event and more about the community showing up for each other.
A lot has changed, both with the open mic and the city as a whole, in the last year. Following the closure of Mountain Fold in the fall, the open mic sought a new home. Thankfully, Rooted Studio's executive director, Meredith Ann, a member of the Keep Colorado Springs Queer collective, offered the Westside art gallery as a venue. We worried that we would lose audience with the change, but from the first event at the new location last November, we realized that members of the collective sought that communal space just as much as before, if not more, and each event has held the same spirit.
Rooted Studio recently disclosed that it is facing closure in the coming weeks, a similar fate to Mountain Fold, the Flux Capacitor and other DIY spaces across the country. The reasons for their closures are different, but the effect is similar: an inevitable torrent of confusion, reconfiguration, and eventual resettlement.
In recent months, Keep Colorado Springs Queer hosted an event at Inside/Out Youth Services as a part of their Indy Give! campaign. We also hosted the release of the book Inauguration, written by Idris Goodwin and myself, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Both of these spaces allowed us to reach new listeners, foster new energies, and grow as artists and audiences.
The closure of our DIY spaces speaks to the nature of a society that does not prioritize the arts, to Colorado Springs' rapid changes, and to the lessons that we are learning as young organizers. However, the beauty of DIY is that it is not based in space, but in ideas and people. As long as those people do not lose traction, our spaces can't die. In the face of a world that does not always support the creation and maintenance of such spaces, it can be easy to burn out. However, for the sake of our communities, our friends and the people we love, we continue to work. We adapt. We evolve.
Do-it-yourself is a deceptive term for what we do. It's really about creating something with the love and support of others. It is for this reason that the way we refer to Keep Colorado Springs Queer has evolved — from "event" or "open mic" to "collective." That is what it has always been. An effort not based in a regular time or place, but in people who show up at their most vulnerable, hilarious and genuine. People who Keep Colorado Springs Queer.