Half a dozen rainbow flags danced high in the breeze, a bright and cheerful invitation to all to join in the relaxed and laughter-filled picnic below. One of Jackson Hole’s many town parks was bustling with smiles, laughter and plates heaped high with homemade treats. Some people sported tie-dye shirts with brilliant colors, others draped their shoulders with rainbow scarves or flags. As a beautiful Saturday drew to a close, this diverse and enthusiastic group proudly celebrated our LGBTQ community members, friends, family and neighbors, as well as the many who visit our beautiful home in the mountains.
Teton Pride had this annual picnic on the calendar months ago, but it suddenly and tragically took on new meaning in the wake of the recent violence in Orlando, Florida. “This year’s picnic was especially important so individuals could gather to honor the victims and families of the Orlando shooting,” reflected Mark Houser, the coordinator of Jackson PFLAG. “But beyond this, our Teton Pride Picnic allows the LGBTQ community and allies to gather and celebrate the diversity that enhances the Jackson community.”
At five o’clock, Mark turned down the music, and the cheerful chatter faded away. After sharing quotes and reflections on the heartbreak felt by those in Orlando and beyond, local high school students slowly and thoughtfully read each victim’s name and age aloud. The crowd stood silent. Some held hands; tears streaked faces. Each name represented so much more than a face; it stood for families, friends, dreams, loves, hopes and futures. Each represented a life stolen, a loss that has sent pain and sadness radiating like ripples after a stone dropped in a still pond.
Wyoming bears its own scars in terms of violence against LGBTQ individuals, with the murder of Matthew Shepard as one of the most widely remembered incidents. However, many communities and individuals have been inspired by this legacy, and strive to cultivate cultures of compassion and support and celebrate their diversity. Jackson Hole is certainly among them, if not leading the charge.
“Support for the LGBTQ community in Teton County continues to grow. We now have vibrant Gay Straight Alliances at two local high schools,” observes Mark. “Unfortunately, prejudice still exists in Wyoming, but it is also present across the rest of the country. That being said, overall I believe the greater Jackson area holds a welcoming and affirming energy who all who want to share the opportunities of our region!”
Jackson Hole is proud of the diversity of its residents as well as its visitors. We dream of a valley, a state, a nation and a world that can be less prejudiced and violent, and more like a Saturday afternoon picnic in the park: filled with sunshine, laughter, music and love.