For the Love of My Community

An iconic queer Santa Fean reflects on the last 22 years

(Shelby Criswell)

Let me start by saying Happy Pride, everyone.

This is a very interesting year to be celebrating Pride and justice for ALL. We started 2020 by welcoming COVID-19 into our lives, followed by the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, George Floyd in Minnesota and then Rayshard Brooks, also in Georgia—all Black men killed by white people, some police officers. Now we are dealing not only with protecting our citizens from the virus, but protecting the people taking to the streets for Black Lives Matter.

I am a proud Black man, but I am a queer, crossdressing Black woman who wants everyone to know that my life matters on so many levels and to so many people. I am not a figment of your imagination, nor are my Black brothers who are constantly harassed and murdered at the hands of rogue police. We all have to live here on this planet and we must learn to respect one another. We are not our ancestors, and we should be able to evolve into a loving, caring society.

I moved to Santa Fe in August of 1997 and have never looked back. Growing up in Virginia, my life was completely different, and I always felt like I was missing something. I needed to be a better person and I had to live my truth without regrets. When I got off the plane that Friday over 22 years ago, I swore I was going to start my new chapter with open eyes, mind and soul; this was going to be my chance to be all I knew I could be.

Santa Fe, I quickly realized, was opening me up. The stars were aligning for me. I was about to embark on my new life, and the love I had been searching for was staring me in the face—all I had to do was open up my heart. I quickly got involved with the local community and found my way to the LGBTQ community that changed my world for the better.

My first-ever Pride event was in Santa Fe in 1998, and I was just so touched by how the LGBTQ world celebrated life, love and togetherness. That was also the year the AIDS Quilt came to town, which was a memorable and life-changing event. I saw so many people come together to celebrate the lives of family, friends and loved ones. It made me want to do more.

As the years went on, I started working with the organization Aid & Comfort, which helps raise funds to fight HIV and AIDS at its annual gala. I've worked with many other wonderful organizations in Santa Fe, as well, and some might say I've become a poster child for helping nonprofits in some way or another. Really, it's a way for me to give back to a community I call home and that I love beyond words.

My love for Santa Fe is real and diverse. We have a community unlike any other, and we've gone through so many changes over the years—especially when it comes to Pride. I remember when we'd start the celebrations with DJ Oona's Trash Disco party at the sadly closed Paramount nightclub, followed by Drag Bingo with Brandi (and a guest). We'd get up the next day to watch the parade travel from the Roundhouse to the Plaza, and there we'd dance and play before regrouping for the EPIC DJs booked by promoter Van Roy. Yes, those were some amazing times—and thank you to the Paramount's founder Donalee Goodbrod for all the memories.

I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the wonderful Pride parties at gone-but-not-forgotten clubs like Swig, the block parties at Rouge Cat/Blue Rooster and the convention center courtyard. Yes, Santa Fe had a pulse back in the day.

We still have a pulse but we need to reenergize it; our community is strong and alive, but we need to get out again and let our voices be heard, especially those within the LGBTQ community and people of color. We need to make sure everyone knows we are here, and that our lives matter.

If you know me, be it in the flesh or from out and about, you probably know I'm a genuine person who will do whatever I can to make others feel appreciated and loved. During this Pride season, please remember to take a moment to tell your own LGBTQ family and friends that you love and support them. It means so much to know you have people in your corner. I love you all and will raise you up to celebrate all you do for our community.

Kudos to the Supreme Court for upholding the laws and making it -illegal to discriminate against our LGBTQ brothers and -sisters in the workplace. We -offer so much and our value is worth as much as anyone else's. Let us remember that as we celebrate PRIDE 2020 virtually because we want to practice social distancing properly.


>> READ THE COVER STORIES: PRIDE—Hope for the Future

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