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Reading Gay Love Letters at Breckenridge’s Old Masonic Hall

Reading Gay Love Letters at Breckenridge’s Old Masonic Hall


Photos by Joe Kusumoto

Close Friends Collective, Breck Create tell meaningful stories of queer love across the centuries

Like all lonely singles, I dread Valentine’s Day. But despite my profoundly unsuccessful love life, I remain a romantic. And so, naturally, I was drawn to the Gay Love Letters and Artist Talk at the Old Masonic Hall this February 14, 2024. It was the first of its kind in Breckenridge, though the Close Friends Collective, who collaborated with Breck Create to make the event happen, has hosted several — with different content — in New York City, where they’re based.

The event was a celebration, remembrance, and proclamation of gay love. Artists and community members came together to share queer writings made up of both poetry and prose, dating as far back as the eleventh century. Though thankful to be able to read and access such potent stories and affirmations of gay love, the speakers pointed out how a considerable amount of queer history is lost to us because of historical homophobia, persecution, and oppression.

Until 1973, homosexuality was listed as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. To this day, same-sex marriage is only legal in 36 of 195 countries worldwide.

And so, in addition to commemorating gay love, this event served as a much-needed platform to share these marginalized voices and experiences that are so often overlooked.

Gay Love Letters. Photo by Joe Kusumoto

Two artists, Janie Stamm and Ben Cuevas, opened the night as they talked about their art, which decorated the walls of the space, and its relationship to queerness. They referenced pieces around the room as the audience took it in and asked questions about their experience and the art itself.

After, the Gay Love Letters reading began.

The speakers read the stories and scripts in turns and created a dramatized flare that carried on all night. They first delved into letters by the famous poet Emily Dickinson, written to her editor, muse, and lover, Susan Gilbert. Dickinson’s enigmatic, reclusive poet stereotype persists because historians erased Susan’s name from much of these writings. There’s a book, “Open Me Carefully,” that properly portrays their relationship, as these letters and poems appear uncensored, in their original form.

Next came selected excerpts from Bram Stoker’s remarkably long love letter to Walt Whitman, and then the speakers focused on RFD magazine. The reader-written quarterly has been around since 1974, a time when gay sex was illegal in nearly every state. The magazine was designed specifically for gay folks in rural areas to foster a sense of community and understanding that they are not singular in their struggles. The magazine still publishes today.

Events like this are a welcome reminder to question what we’re told and to consider other truths. Readers spoke about Barbara Cameron and Linda Boyd, for instance, who were two women in love. But when Barbara died, her obituary read that she was survived by her “special friend, Linda Boyd”. History is, unfortunately, written by the victors, and they’ll censor it how they please. We must hold space for real queer histories and actively legitimize queer experiences if we are ever to realize progress.


Cameryn Cass is a freelance writer and recent graduate from Michigan State University. She moved to Colorado in November and is enjoying finding her place in the colorful state.

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