In June 1974, around 50 people armed with posters and balloons met in Cheesman Park for a “gay-in.” A half-century later, that humble gathering has transformed into Denver PrideFest (June 22 and 23), and it’s kind of a big deal. More than 550,000 people attended last year. With numbers like that, it’s no surprise that the Center on Colfax, the LGBTQ+ nonprofit that runs the festivities, has experienced a trend that belies the event’s DIY origins: a rise in corporate sponsorships. “You know the saying that goes ‘Keep Boulder weird?’ ” asks the nonprofit’s CEO, Rex Fuller. “Recently, we’ve been talking about keeping Pride queer.” To that end, while companies such as Nissan and Molson Coors Beverage Company will still pay PrideFest’s bills, Fuller and his team turned to three local creatives to help preserve Pride’s independent spirit.

In 2021, friends Sophie Gilbert and Elle Billman launched a small monthly event where LGBTQ+ creators could share their art, including Gilbert’s embroidery and Billman’s line drawings. Within a few months, the gathering became so popular it could no longer fit in the breweries and parks that had hosted it. So Gilbert and Billman partnered with Jessica Rose to launch a massive annual queer bazaar, the Rainbow Market, at the Wolf Den, the Colfax tattoo shop Rose co-owns. “It was abundantly clear right away that this was needed in Denver,” Rose says. Its success caught the eye of the Center on Colfax, which asked the trio for help planning a similar event at this year’s Denver PrideFest in honor of its 50th anniversary.

Their first task? Narrow the applicant pool down to around 45 vendors to fill out the inaugural Gayborhood Market being held at Lincoln Veterans Memorial Park. To ensure only small, queer-owned local businesses landed stalls, they selected merchants who had annual budgets of less than $250,000 and put a special emphasis on underrepresented communities. And while Rose, Gilbert, and Billman didn’t award themselves spots (in order to make room for others), shoppers can buy their wares when the Rainbow Market returns for its third year on June 9. Just don’t head to the Wolf Den. Having already outgrown the tattoo shop, the event is relocating to Highland’s 8,000-plus-square-foot BRDG Project Gallery. “At their core, these markets are about giving a platform to small creators,” Billman says, “especially during a month when there’s a lot of rainbow capitalism.”

3 Vendors at PrideFest’s first Gayborhood Market

Yolia Creations

Need a boost? Miranda Encina’s handmade leather earrings and metal wrist cuffs are emblazoned with powerful affirmations such as “resist” and “I am my ancestors wildest dreams.”

Big Bee Energy

Pick up some wildflower honey from this Littleton apiary and you might get the chance to meet the local drag queens who act as its queen bee ambassadors.

Celestial Candle Company

This family-owned Denver chandler has created a line just for Pride Month called Love Wins, which features different Pride flag designs, including the classic rainbow, of course

This article was originally published in 5280 June 2024.
Barbara O'Neil
Barbara O'Neil
Barbara is one of 5280's assistant editors and writes stories for 5280 and