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'We will not hide in the shadows' Long-running LGBTQ group forges ahead with annual gala despite recent violence

'Gender illusion technician' Mrs. Eda Bagel and her husband Mr. Smokey Lox entertained the 22nd Annual Lavender Gala with music, dance and comedy. It was the first in-person gala for Boulder County’s older LGBTQ residents after 2 virtual galas during the pandemic.
Eric Patzer
'Gender illusion technician' Mrs. Eda Bagel and her husband Mr. Smokey Lox entertained the 22nd Annual Lavender Gala with music, dance and comedy. It was the first in-person gala for Boulder County’s older LGBTQ residents after 2 virtual galas during the pandemic.

A group of older LGBTQ residents held their 22nd Annual Lavender Gala on Sunday at Nissi’s in Lafayette. After the shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, organizers had some concerns about going forward with the event. But they decided to go ahead, adopting the mantra, 'We will not hide in the shadows.'

For 22 years, lesbian, gay, bi, queer, and trans seniors have come together in Boulder County for the event, hosted by the Rainbow Elders of Boulder County’s Area Agency on Aging.

This year's holiday party wasn't much different from years past. Mrs. Eda Bagel – a self-described 'gender illusion technician' – was the entertainment again, and they lip-synced musical number after number. Guests ate a salmon and tofu lunch and reconnected with old friends while dancing the afternoon away.

After two years of virtual galas during the pandemic, Michael Chifalo, the event's lead organizer, has been looking forward to this day for a long time. But when he heard about the shooting at Club Q, he says he was worried about hosting a large LGBTQ gathering.

"I think my first reaction when I heard that was just that, gosh, I don't want to do the event in this kind of environment. I don't want that to be something that's hanging over us. And then I started hearing from the community, 'We need to get out there. We need to have our events. We need to celebrate, so that hate’s not winning.'"
Michael Chifalo, the event's lead organizer

Organizers worked with the Boulder County Sheriff’s office for security purposes, which included having an officer on hand.

"I think it's the only time I've seen a police car, and I was glad to see a police car," said Marc Killinger, a member of the Area Agency on Aging's LGBTQ advisory board.

Killinger says he began wearing a button with the word 'QUEER' in all caps on his shirt everyday since the shooting in Colorado Springs.

"I don't know why exactly, you know, I don't wanna be targeted, but I just really, really wanted to say we're out there. We're not gonna hide just because we were attacked. I wanted to go around Boulder saying that."

The gala’s attendees were mostly older residents, including Killinger, who is 67 and says he’s lived through major historical transformations for the queer community. Killinger first came out as queer in 1977.

"I feel like I was part of the people who opened up that space, and I'm really, really glad about that," Killinger said. "I get upset when I think that's gonna be taken away from us."

Killinger says the best way to deal with the pain is to stay engaged with the community.

"I'm involved with stuff—sticking to it and being in organizations together and activities together because no, we can't just be alone," he said.

Teresa DeAnni has been with the Lavender Gala since its beginning, and says it first began as an opportunity for LGBTQ seniors to have a place to connect during a sometimes complex holiday season.

"Holidays can be really hard for people who've either been rejected by their family, or don't feel comfortable going back in the closet if they have to visit a family member," DeAnni said.

DeAnni says that during the first year of the gala, a Lesbian couple drove for hours from Nebraska to join the celebrations. "It just kind of blew my mind a little bit. That’s a long way to drive," she said.

After 22 years, DeAnni still doesn’t get tired of seeing an old friend at the Gala. "You get just, um, like this warm shiver, you know. You haven't seen this person in so long. It's really good to see them," DeAnni said.

Mickey Capper is a freelance reporter for KUNC.