2019 is a strange time for the contemporary progressive liberal. We stand before an epic precipice, our communities active and engaged and staring an honest, hostile threat in the eye. We are building a bridge toward 2020 across vast gulf of uncertainty, on the remnants of messages for hope and change that we could believe in.
Our generation has borne witness to record numbers of police brutality incidents whose victims are disproportionately people of color and marginalized groups. Anti-women and anti-choice policies are being proposed, debated and passed in dozens of states, with the obvious goal of challenging the long-standing validity of Roe vs. Wade.
In Jonesboro, Arkansas, residents are fighting an uphill battle to name a road for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a common honor to the civil rights leader in urban Demcratic enclaves, but a contemporary struggle in Dixie. In the United Kingdom a lesbian couple was viciously attacked by an all-male group of white supremacists for the simple act of a public display of affection.
Right here in the supposedly liberal bastion of Denver we continue to see the spread of hate-filled messages. Identity Europa — currently attempting to rebrand as the American Identity Movement — claims its largest membership within Colorado, formerly known as the “hate state.” As we celebrated Yvie Oddly, our hometown champion of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” during Pride month, just days before the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, we came to together as a community for an all-ages drag show hosted at a local comic shop. This peaceful gathering was “protested” by violence-inciting, hate-filled people. Half a dozen neo-Nazis felt empowered enough to scream obscenities at children shopping for Spiderman comics.
Drag has been celebrated in the LGBTQIA+ community for decades as an outlet for queer and gender-fluid people struggling to find their identities. For young people questioning their sexualities and genders, a drag show can offer an accepting environment to explore and discover.
For many who have yet to find a place to feel welcome in reality, solace can be found in the panels of actual fantasy. Long an escape for many of us in the queer community, comic book culture and super heroes have been seen and celebrated as a safe space with those of us who chose costumes and secret identities. These incredible humans, often rejected by mainstream culture and society, and frequently the target of deplorable rhetoric, use their heightened abilities to advance and, ultimately, save society.
Protagonists are generally the product of difficult childhoods; their experiences fueling their heroism and these are themes easy to connect to. Batman’s Bruce Wayne was orphaned as a child, his parents murdered before his eyes. Superman’s entire species was obliterated when he was only an infant, jettisoned to an alien world and alone in the universe.
Non-mutant humans in the “X-Men” series truly hate the mutants, violently stripping them of their civil rights for fear of the unknown. 2019 is reflected in the storylines only too well. People of color, nonbinary and LGBTQIA+ playing a role similar to that of the “mutants,” battling for acceptance. Civil rights icons like Malcolm X and Dr. King are reflected in the Magneto and Professor X characters, representing two approaches to revolution, the compassionate pacifist and the radical activist literally fighting for their lives.
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Year-round, Mile High Comics is a haven and a safe space for people often rejected or outcast. The “others.” A break-in and burglary in April by a former employee felt especially personal, a crime against those of us who rally to support the world’s largest online supplier of comics, right here in our humble backyard. An alternative space, safe for all ages, that has long gone above and beyond to make their customers feel welcome.
The shop takes subtle but bold strides forward, holding live events for intersectional and diverse conversations in geek culture, partnering with pop-culture podcast Nerd AF during Denver’s Pop Culture Con year after year for annual live shows. Mile High Comics hosts a drag show every month, stepping up to work with all-ages LGBTQIA+ groups when other venues will not.
It was disheartening to see members of a Nazi-aligned white supremacist group shout their hateful, bigoted ideology at children and teens boldly being themselves.
It’s easy to feel exhausted, disenfranchised and apathetic. The turmoil of 2016 feels long in the past, and it is natural to want to conserve energy for 2020. But, collectively, we cannot. We have to remember to support and celebrate daily, not just when the calendar and Instagram insist that we do.
Find a way to participate. It can be as easy as joining us on July 7 at Mile High Comics and continuing to celebrate Pride after June. Help drown out some voices of hate before celebrating some of love. Love wins, yes, but it takes active participation.
Richard Williams is a founding host of the NerdAF podcast, a show discussing pop culture and current events through the lens of various geek subcultures (LGBTQIA+, people of color, women, etc). Comics, video games, film and more are always on the table for discussion on Twitter @storm78704.
Vince Chandler is a Denver political communications consultant and artist. He also writes about being a parent, public organizing and media critiques and is often thinking out loud on Twitter @VinnieChant.