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Painting the town rainbow: Missoula hosts first Pride in recent history

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Missoula Pride

This weekend, expect to see Missoula painted rainbow.

For the first time in recent history, Missoula will host its own Pride event, complete with a parade, block party, drag shows and more. With Missoula having a large LGBTQ population, Missoula Pride co-director Devin Carpenter said it only makes sense that there be a large celebration here.

“It’s important for us to put our money where our mouth is,” he said.

Missoula Pride will feature over 25 events spanning from a fun run to a comedy night to a two-spirit history educational session. Hundreds of volunteers and organizations are responsible for making Pride happen. Carpenter said events have been designed to be as accessible for all people as possible. Almost every event being open to all ages and with free admission.

After attending Big Sky Pride in Helena last year, he said he was struck by how many young people were there, and he wishes he could have had that when he was their age. LGBTQ youth are more likely to face mental health challenges due to their identities not being accepted, with the Trevor Project reporting that nearly half of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide this year. For trans and non-white LGBTQ youth, numbers are even higher.

Even in Missoula, which is typically seen as a welcoming town for LGBTQ people, hate can still happen, and it’s important people know that there are resources and support available to them, Carpenter said. He hopes people feel welcome at every event, and he encourages feedback.

“I am super excited to be able to create a space where people from a wide range of identities can come together without having to worry about their age or being able to pay to be there,” Carpenter said.

The celebration is expected to make downtown come alive with large groups of people from all over the region, as far as Seattle, Salt Lake City, Spokane and more. Carpenter said organizers plan on making Missoula Pride an annual tradition, and he hopes the event becomes a hub for the region.

The last time Missoula hosted a Pride event was in 2015, when it was affiliated with Big Sky Pride. The statewide group rotated hosting Pride events in different cities across Montana every year. Now, Big Sky Pride will be a statewide event hosted toward the end of July in Helena each year, with other towns being invited to start their own Pride traditions. This year’s Big Sky Pride will take place July 17 to 23 in Helena.

According to Executive Director Andy Nelson, two most frequently asked questions at the Western Montana Community Center are: “Why Missoula doesn’t have it’s own gay bar,” and “Why doesn’t Missoula have its own Pride?” 

The center has been poised to do something about the second question, and he’s excited to start the tradition in Missoula.

“We are probably one of the most open and affirming communities in Montana, and there's a large population of LGBTQ folks in this area,” he said. “We saw the need and we’re making it happen.”

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