DENVER (CBS4) – While most Coloradans were staying in, some residents were coming out. The pandemic altered or canceled many Pride events in June 2020. Much of the LGBTQ community is ready to make up for lost time in 2021, but one man is making up for the last 79 years.
Ken Felts knew he was gay at the age of 12, but he says that wasn't acceptable in the 1940s. Felts was raised in a conservative, Christian home that went to church every Sunday and Wednesday. He eventually joined the Navy, went to college and met a young woman.
"I got married in 1963 and had a child in 1972. The marriage was not a good one. I was doing my best to be as straight as I could," said Felts. "It was just constant alertness. I was being very careful and dressing very conservatively all the time because I never wanted people to know that I was gay. I didn't want to be outed because I could lose custody of my daughter."
In 2019, then 89-year-old Felts began treatment for cancer. He felt isolated, and even moreso when the pandemic struck. He began writing a memoir, jotting down memories that included Phillip, a man he had feelings for decades earlier. Felts eventually explained to his daughter who Phillip was.
"When I got married, I destroyed everything about Philip that I had, except for one picture, because I was 'straight.' I still have that picture," Felts said to his daughter, who also came out to him 25 years prior.
After coming out to his daughter, Felts worked up the courage to let his close friends know. But a posting error ended up sharing the secret he'd kept for over 70 years with the world.
"I posted it on Facebook for my friends, so I thought, but I posted it to the public! I was getting messages from people all over about my coming out," said Felts. "It was almost all positive, very positive, over and over. 'Congratulations' and 'welcome' and things like that."
Since then, Felts entered a relationship with a man he cares for dearly. He shares his newfound pride on social media. For the first time in his life, Felts can live as his true self.
"It was a huge experience of freedom. I wasn't looking over my shoulder worried about who's wondering if I'm gay or not," said Felts.
As Pride weekend gets underway, Felts has a message for those who are hesitant to come out.
"You'll be very surprised about the response. The world is full of love, and you're entitled to some of it, and people are going to give it to you if you take the chance, if you come out and say 'here I am,'" said Felts.
Felts came out in June 2020, but COVID-19 halted many Pride events.
"Being LGBTQ you already feel kind of isolated because you may not be able to be your most authentic self. The pandemic added an extra layer of isolation. I feel as though a lot of people just felt a sense of loss that year, there's something missing for them," said Joe Foster, VP of Development & Communication for the Center on Colfax.
The Center on Colfax provides programs and support services for the LGBTQ community in Colorado. Half of their operating budget is earned during Pride, but the celebration was limited in 2020 due to COVID. Support from sponsors still allowed the Center to fulfill funding obligations, preventing the Center from cutting programs.
Even though much of the city is back to normal, Pride Weekend will look different than years past. Rather than a big parade, there will be hubs set up around town for people to gather at.
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