What do you get when you mix drag queens, charity bingo games, booze, and self-described psychonauts? You get Colorado’s official welcome party for the Psychedelic Science 2023 convention.
The party was hosted by The Nowak Society, a nonprofit advocacy group, at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox on June 20. Organizers said the party was designed to introduce some of the Psychedelic Science attendees to Denver’s eclectic community. Behind the scenes, the party also illustrated the support for natural medicines in Denver following the passage of Proposition 122 in November 2022.
“We have a really vibrant community here in Denver,” Nowak Society board member Shannon Hughes told the Colorado Times Recorder. “And we’re excited to be able to share that community with all of the people who’ve come here from out of state.”
If you haven’t heard by now, Psychedelic Science is one of the world’s largest psychedelic conventions. It is expected to draw about 11,000 people to Denver and will feature keynote talks from sports figures like New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, musical artists like Melissa Ethridge, and politicians like Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and former Governor of Texas Rick Perry.
The conference is hosted by the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). MAPS founder Rick Doblin told the Denver Business Journal that the organization chose Denver for its 2023 conference because the organization “has a big footprint [in Colorado]” and because the state has been a leader in psychedelic regulation.
“Denver has been a pioneer in this whole area,” Doblin told DBJ. “We felt mainly that the political environment and the facilities were ideal.”
While it may seem like a stretch to some to put drag bingo and psychedelic enthusiasts under the same roof, Hughes said the combination is uniquely representative of the diverse community here in Denver. People in attendance ranged from relative enthusiasts to experienced hippies and even members of Colorado’s newly formed Natural Medicine Advisory Board, which is tasked with writing the state’s first set of regulations for the budding psychedelic industry.
Outside of highlighting diversity, Hughes said the party also raised money to help support LGBTQ ally organizations like Out Boulder County and psychedelic groups like Altered States Integration and BIPOC Psychedelic, an organization that seeks to highlight the voices of people of color in the psychedelic world.
Donations to these organizations came from a charity bingo game that was hosted by one of Denver’s best-known drag queens, Jessica L’Whor. Attendees purchased 4-packs of bingo cards for $25 a piece and had the chance to win prizes of up to $1,000 in cash. Between games, attendees were also entertained by performances by drag queens from the world-famous House of Labeija, Coco Bardot, and Talia Tucker L’Whor, who is one of Jessica’s three drag children.
Hughes said it was the Nowak Society’s intent to highlight queerness during the event because some studies have shown that communities commonly deal with collective trauma resulting from hate crimes, prejudice, and racism. Other studies have shown that psychedelic-assisted therapies can help transgender and gender nonconforming individuals overcome the issues stemming from traumatic experiences.
“There is a lot of healing that happens when we can celebrate, play, and recreate together,” Hughes said.
To Melanie Lewis, who leads BIPOC Psychedelic, it was also important for the event to elevate the experiences of people of color in the psychedelic realm. Research by the nonprofit group Psymposia in 2016 found that a lot of psychedelic research up to that point excluded people of color despite BIPOC communities experiencing higher rates of trauma than their white counterparts. This is something that Lewis hopes will be fixed as the psychedelic movement in Colorado continues to grow.
“As leaders in this space, we need to tap into communities of color and find out what their needs are,” Lewis said. “We can’t just speak the words of equity. We have to be equitable, and show these communities that their experience matters.”
Hughes said the party organizers also went to great lengths to provide a safe space for their queer and trans performers since there is evidence that fatal violence against these groups is on the rise. One way the organizers protected queer folks in attendance was by hosting the party at Ophelia’s, a nightclub that routinely hosts queer and drag events. Hughes added that Ophelia’s had plenty of security for the event in addition to the Nowak Society board members and volunteers who were also managing the space.
Taking these precautions was necessary because it allowed the attendees to show up and celebrate the work that the community has been doing over the last five years or so to destigmatize the use of psychedelics for medicinal purposes.
“We can’t just go into hiding,” Hughes said. “We have to show up because, in the midst of all this healing work that we’re doing, it’s important to give voice and platform to the people who have been shut out of this conversation for too long.”