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Denver PrideFest 2024 grand marshal applied for 1st parade permit in 1976

Christopher Sloan, also known as Christi Layne has been named grand marshal
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Posted at 11:16 AM, Jun 23, 2024

DENVER — Christopher Sloan, also known as Christi Layne, is the grand marshal for Denver's 50th anniversary Pride Parade. Sloan, a gay rights activist and drag queen, applied for the first Denver Pride Parade permit in 1976 and faced discrimination.

“There was a theatrical group in town called the Toby Foundation, so at a Toby meeting, somebody said, ‘How come we don't have a parade like they have in New York? ‘I said, ‘I don't know, but I’ll go see if we can find out’. So I wandered down to the office of the city manager and told them that we wanted to have the civil rights march or parade,” Sloan said.

Sloan said he was hesitant to call the event a gay rights parade due to discriminatory practices in place at the time.

“The discrimination that went on in the gay bars, in the social scene, our gay bars, and in the social scene was rampant,” Sloan said.

When Sloan arrived at the city manager’s office, he said he received the information he needed to apply for the permit.

“It was a very nice older woman, and she walked me through the processes,” Sloan said.

Sloan submitted the application, but just days before the parade was scheduled to happen, he said he still did not have a permit.

So, he went back to the city manager’s office.

“She (the older lady) said, ‘I'm sorry, we just decided that we're not going to allow this’. I said, ‘Well, we've got a lot of people coming, so you might just inform the police that it's going to be a rough day in the park. And come on and join us because we're going to do this. As a 22-year-old, it was kind of mouthy for me. And I called one of the local news stations and say ‘we were denied a permit to march. And we're going to march anyway. So you may want to be there to take pictures of them arresting us,’” Sloan said. “That same evening, I called a friend and asked, ‘Do we know anybody in government who could help us?’,. He said, ‘We know an admin in the governor's office. So, I call the governor’s office.”

Two days later, Sloan said he had received a call back from a governor’s office employee.

“The gentleman on the phone, and I have no idea who he was, said to me, ‘Nobody will be arrested. We're going to make sure that you won't be arrested. So you can go ahead and do your march’. I said, ‘Well, where's my permit? I want a permit before we assemble’. And they said, ‘We don't have enough time to place this in the mail.’ And they said, ‘We will deliver it,’ and they delivered our permit. Now, we had been told that we couldn't have a parade, but we could march; we'd have to walk down the sidewalk and obey all the stop signals…and the gentleman who brought the permit brought four sheriff's cars and two unmarked cars, and we were able to march in the street,” Sloan said. “So, the first which was to be a march/parade, became the first time we were able to parade down the street.”

However, the one-day parade didn’t just launch an annual event; it led to the creation of a 365-day-a-year resource.

“All of us were starting to work together to solve issues to see what we could do. And one gentleman in town, Richard Reid, threw a (drag) show and raised $35 to have somebody sit at a desk that you could call and say, ‘I need an STD test, or is there a lawyer that can help me? Or I'm having a problem with my landlord, what can we do?’ Because there was nothing for us. So that $35 turned into the Center, which is now a multi-million dollar building and little more than a dozen employees,” Sloan said.

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The Center is now officially known as the Center on Colfax.

With his first Denver Pride parade behind him, Sloan moved to California, where a life-changing discovery launched him into different advocacy work.

“When I left here in 1980 to go back to college…all of a sudden, I had AIDS. I used the same infrastructure we put together for the Center to open a San Joaquin AIDS group, which became the San Joaquin AIDS Foundation,” Sloan said.

In California, Sloan would find love.

“We were together almost 20 years and fell head over heels in love. You wouldn't know him but you would know his work. He did 150 movie musicals. He did the sets…his name was Edward Murray, and he had a flower shop in Beverly Hills,” Sloan said.

Murray passed away in the early 2000s and around the same time, Sloan’s health began to deteriorate due to complications from AIDS.

“So, I came back, and I weighed very little. Denver Health put me back together,” Sloan said.

Sloan feels much better these days and continues advocating for the LGBTQ+ community.

“I carry with me, 50 years of people's names that are no longer here that I can say. Lee Bacchus was a great guy, and he ran security for the first Pride. Vivian Solomon, a straight woman who owned three gay bars went to bat for us with the alcoholic and beverage board because of the morals clause in the ABC licenses. Homosexuals couldn't own licenses for bars. So, she went to bat and made sure that we finally could, as gay people own our own clubs and our own social businesses,” Sloan said.

Sloan said he is honored to carry those names and many more as this year’s grand marshal.

“I've been chosen for this year’s Pride as grand marshal of the parade. It's Ruby Slipper time. And why Ruby slipper time? Of course, we have Oz and all those wonderful things. But you think about the turmoil that's created, when you figure out that you're not like everybody else. And all of those emotions are going on in you. And so, it's like a tornado in Oz and all of a sudden, you have to come to the point where, are you going to be you or not? The house falls, and you either have to stand up, put on the shoes, and take care of business, or your life won't move forward.”

Sloan said that notion has kept him going after all this time, and he hopes that he’s paved the way for future generations to shape Pride into a space where everyone can be themselves.

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