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Wind River Pride’s open mic poetry night builds space for community and creativity

A table with three rainbow bracelets that say “Love is Love” and Pride-themed heart stickers and flags in the background.
Hannah Habermann
/
Wyoming Public Media
Wind River Pride’s table at the Queers with Quills event at the Lander Art Center.

Wind River Pride is hosting a series of events in Lander and Riverton this month to celebrate Pride.

They’re a group of Two-Spirit LGBTQIA+ community members and allies in Fremont County and on the Wind River Reservation. Their most recent meetup was a Queers with Quills creative writing night that took place at the Lander Art Center on June 18.

Queers with Quills is in its second year and is a version of the Literary Rug’s “Open Rug” event, a non-competitive poetry get-together that takes place every other Tuesday at the same location.

Wind River Pride member Annelise Wright organizes both Queers with Quills and the Literary Rug and kicked off the event with some instructions for the evening.

“It can be poetry, short stories, comedy, grocery lists – and it can be finished or unfinished. The theme tonight, in partnership with Wind River Pride, is to highlight stories of folks in the Two-Spirit LGBTQIA+ community, so if you have stories to share that highlight those voices, that's what's welcome up here tonight,” she said.

An older woman wearing a magenta scarf and jean jacket holds up a book titled “According to Her Contours” by Nancy Boutilier. Behind her are pieces of framed artwork hanging on the wall.
Hannah Habermann
/
Wyoming Public Media
Debra East

People put their names into a big floppy hat and then took turns standing on a colorful rug, sharing writings and reflections on identity, gender and belonging. Debra East’s name was the first to be drawn. The Wind River Pride member has short white hair that’s dyed pink and blue. She read a poem titled “The Persistence of Pink” by Nancy Boutilier.

“Pink took risks, broke every rule. Pink could be soft and round and cuddly, or angular brush blinding. I celebrated all the ways of pink that danced in people's lives. And once I loved the pink around me, I loved the pink inside,” she said as she read the poem’s ending.

A young person wearing a black t-shirt with a grumpy cat smiles at the camera, with an open doorway and framed artwork in the background.
Hannah Habermann
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Wyoming Public Media
Michael Barr

East was followed by Michael Barr, who currently lives in Chicago and was in Lander for a week visiting friends. He grew up in Alabama and shared three short original poems, the last of which was titled “Lander.”

“Welcome to Lander, we want it to stay this way. Oh, the climbers? They're okay, but be gay and your grave is that way. Don't come here, you queers, you'll realize our greatest fears: Our kids will be loved the way they are,” he read.

Tehn Forte’s name was pulled out of the hat next. Originally from Atlanta, they’re in Lander for the summer and normally live in Sheridan during the school year. Forte self-identified as “just your average Black, pansexual, polyamorous, nonbinary human.” They read an original poem about being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, titled “I'm not evil, I think.”

A black person wearing white-rimmed glasses, big silver hoop earrings, and a black and white cardigan sweater smiles at the camera with their tongue sticking out to the side. Behind them is a painting of Togwotee Pass, with tall rocky mountains and a forest of green trees.
Hannah Habermann
/
Wyoming Public Media
Tehn Forte

“I'm not evil, I think, but I'm trying my best to be the best me I can be. I'm not evil, I think, but if there's one thing I know is that my disorder isn't all that I am. I deserve love. I'm a good friend and I give love freely,” they said.

Once all the names had been drawn out of the hat, attendees took roughly ten minutes to free-write about what their perfect or ideal day would be. The floor was then opened up again, with even more people putting their names into the hat to share about their hopes for community, connection, acceptance and liberation.

After the event wrapped up, organizer Annelise Wright said that Quills with Quills creates space for people to show up and share as they are.

A person with shoulder-length black hair and rainbow beaded earrings stands in front of a Pride flag and a painting of an elk with large antlers.
Hannah Habermann
/
Wyoming Public Media
Annelise Wright

“I think it gives people the opportunity to connect with their community in a way that maybe they didn't have access to and also share their voice, share their story and hear someone else's that they might really resonate with,” she said.

Last year, the organization’s Pride drag show was protested by members of the white nationalist group the Patriot Front. So far, none of their events this June have been protested, but a Wind River Pride drag show in late March drew roughly fifty protestors.

In years past, the city of Lander has issued a proclamation for Pride Month. But in 2023, the city council put together a broader anti-discrimination proclamation that did not mention Pride. This year, Wright said Wind River Pride didn’t get a response from the city when it sent a draft proclamation. The city didn’t issue one. Wind River Pride put out its own Pride Month proclamation.

Wind River Pride’s last event for the month is a screening of two documentaries at the Riverton Library on June 26. They’ll be showing “Mama Bears,” a 90-minute film that follows a community of conservative, Christian mothers who fully accept their LGBTQ+ children, as well as “There are Things To Do,” a roughly 20-minute film that looks at the legacy of Urvashi Vaid, an outspoken immigrant, lesbian and woman of color who helped shape the modern day gay rights movement. The screenings will be followed by moderated small-group discussions.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.

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