Reveling in Local Pride

By on May 30, 2018

Jackson will see its first ever gay dance party during LGBTQ Pride Month

One man is set on ensuring these colors don’t run.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – When Andrew Munz was 11 and living in Jackson, Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten and murdered a few hundred miles away in Laramie.

“I was just understanding what it meant to be gay and things were starting to click into place at a very basic level,” Munz said. “When that happened, it drove a stake through me. Suddenly I realized I was not just different, but that difference could get me killed. This thing that was a part of me, I could get murdered for. I could be killed for being myself.”

That hate crime shook Munz. He didn’t come out to anyone until he was 21—and at first he only told a few people.

Today, 20 years after Shepard’s murder, Wyoming does not have a hate crime law on the books even though his killing spurred national legislation. Nor does Wyoming have a gay bar or nightlife scene for LGBTQ folks, even in seemingly liberal Jackson.

But Munz wants to change that with a new annual event.

He has organized the inaugural JH Pride Dance Party Saturday, June 9, at the Pink Garter Theatre. LGBTQ-identifying individuals and allies are invited to celebrate Pride Month while dancing to pop music by DJ Londo. There will be an opportunity to show off more than your moves, too. During the evening, Luke Zender donned in his drag persona “Ranch” will host the Ultimate Lip Sync Battle for the title of Lip Sync Qween 2018.

“We get to transform Jackson’s biggest party house into a gay party house for a night and that’s a feat in itself,” Munz said.

The event is meant to offer a safe space for people in Jackson’s LGBTQ community to let loose and enjoy the type of night out straight people take for granted.

“I can’t even just walk up to someone at the Wort and ask them to dance,” Munz said. “That’s not possible here. We don’t know who is going to be accepting and who is not going to be. I don’t see that as safe from a gay perspective. That gamble is so big and it kind of infests everything you do.”

Munz wanted to create a party-scene similar to what he finds in cities like Denver and Chicago. He wanted it to be a place for adult members of the LGTBQ community to meet each other and let loose.

The thespian, writer and PJH columnist has lived in Jackson since he was seven years old and doesn’t know many other people in town who are gay. People travel in their own social circles and there aren’t places where they all gather. It makes it difficult to date.

When Munz’s straight friends lament Jackson’s dating scene, he can’t help but think they at least aren’t in physical danger if they flirt with or hit on the wrong person.

“Yes, Jackson is a liberal town, but the LGTBQ community is trying to find their footing in a place where gay is definitely not the norm,” he said.

Anne Marie Wells, who happens to identify as queer, helped Munz with some of the party organizing. She immediately wanted to get involved when she heard about the party.

“There’s not just a lack of serious resources like support, but a lack of places where you feel welcome and safe to be your true self” in Jackson, she said. “There is no place that is for queer people where they feel safe and normal.”

Wells moved to Jackson about four years ago. She has lived around the world in places like France, England, Portugal and also Detroit, Michigan, and Boulder, Colorado. In urban areas it never felt that unusual to be queer, she said. There were gay night clubs, but also gay book clubs and bridge clubs, she said.

People in her social circle when she moved to Jackson still used the word gay as a pejorative. She had a boss ask her if she found men attractive, why not just date them to make life easier. Walking around town square and holding hands with a woman, she heard a man yell, “please kiss, please kiss.”

Most of the comments and conversations Wells had—and still has—are not malicious, but it’s hard to not have people she can talk to who understand what it’s like to be anything other than straight in Jackson.

“I’m constantly educating the cis-gender straight world about queer issues in Jackson,” she said. “I’m happy to be that person, but it’s also just exhausting when it happens all the time.”

She wants to connect with people who know what it’s like to come out to family or co-workers, or who understand dating someone in the closet or who can relate to the fear that just being out with someone you love can offend someone else. She knows of other queer people in town, but she hasn’t met many.

 

We don’t know who is going to be accepting and who is not going to be. I don’t see that as safe from a gay perspective. That gamble is so big and it kind of infests everything you do.”

 

Munz wants the dance party to foster a stronger sense of community. He wants to make sure people, including himself, don’t feel alone, and have a network of friends. Even five years ago Munz would not have been comfortable putting together an event like this; he might not have even attended if someone else planned it.

“I have never felt good enough in my own skin to be that open and present and be that LGBTQ voice in this community,” he said. “The fear does still exist. But because I am more comfortable in my skin, I am ready for backlash. If someone wants to try to stifle this expression of love, I welcome it. That will add to the discussion and bring more people out in support.”

If even one person who feels like Munz once felt, alone and like he didn’t always belong, comes and has a good time, it’s worth it.

“We’ve been scared for such a long time, and still are, because Wyoming does not have a solid reputation when it comes to acceptance,” he said.

Wells shared Munz’s hopes for the event, but also has a more tangible goal for the night. “I would love to get a date out of it,” she said. “That’d be awesome.”

Munz hopes to make the party an annual soiree. “But this four-hour event is for us,” Munz said. “If you want to come support us, be there and dance with us.”

Straight allies need to understand that every bar in Jackson is a straight person venue that queer people enter, Wells said. “This is going to be a queer club that straight people can enter.”

JH Pride Dance Party, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday, June 9 at Pink Garter Theatre, $10 at the Rose or pinkgartertheatre.com; 21 years and older. Ticket proceeds will benefit PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Its annual pride picnic is schedule for June 23. Munz’s event is separate and in addition to the picnic.

To reserve a spot in the lip sync battle, contact Andrew Munz at 307-220-1815 or [email protected]


About Kelsey Dayton

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