A brief but intimate perspective of Outspokin’s story from a few of our veteran members.

by Michelle Haarhues, in collaboration with Pam Zaske and Julie Tolleson

OUTspokin’s Story the Beginnings (1998-2018)

Have you ever sat around with a group of friends talking about starting something to help you work toward a goal? It is amazing where one night of drinks and conversation can lead. For us, we are lucky that the group was led by Julie Tolleson and that the discussion was about cycling.

In July 1997, Julie rode the Courage Classic for the first time and observed all the teams involved and how much fun they were having. She had been cycling for some time but was not familiar with the team concept for organized rides. She witnessed teams at the top of passes waiting for other team members and cheering them on when they reached the top and she really liked the concept. Later that fall, Julie contacted a few other cyclist friends and they got together to discuss creating a team for the 1998 Courage Classic. That was just the beginning of what was to become OUTspokin’.

They agreed to create a team that would consist of gay cyclists and allies. This was the late 1990s in Colorado and the previous year Amendment 2 had been overturned. The group wanted to show off the gay community in a positive light and believed that a cycling team would be a great way to accomplish that. They also were trying to create an outlet for gays and lesbians where they could come together with others in the community but not necessarily at a bar.

The Gill Foundation agreed to be a sponsor and provided $1,000 for team jerseys. These were very simple jerseys…nothing like we have today. They purchased white jerseys and then applied a supposedly pink triangle ironed on. It turned out to be a bit between salmon and Pepto Bismol. Not the best-looking jerseys but they were a team.

Promoting Outspokin’

The next hurdle was figuring out how to market the new cycling team. The internet was still in its infancy, so that was not yet a viable way to get the word out. The team created flyers and put them in bars, coffee shops, and anywhere else they thought they could reach their target market. The first kickoff party was held at The Grand (I miss that place). A training ride schedule was developed for this kickoff to Courage. With no website yet, the club used a phone number that members could all call to find out about upcoming rides and if rides were canceled because of the weather. The training schedule was set to help people who had not ridden before become fit enough to complete the Courage Classic.

It all came together and in July 1998 OUTspokin’ participated in its first Courage Classic. It was a great success; there were 49 people on the team. They camped outside of the chapel at Copper Mountain Ski Resort and created Rainbow Village, where a fun, relaxed atmosphere was in place and discussions of mountain climbing, steep hills, and snacks were at their best.

The group was onto something and decided to try it again the next year. They continued to put out flyers and got new bike jerseys…ones that actually said Gay and Lesbian on the sleeve. They also looked at other rides in the area to participate in as a team. For the second summer, OUTspokin’ added the Community Classic to their list of rides. This ride attracted their attention because of its focus on teams.

In the meantime, between the first and second year, Matthew Shephard was murdered in Wyoming. This event brought a lot of attention to the gay community, especially in Wyoming and Colorado. To show support, OUTspokin’ rode in the Tour de Prairie in Cheyenne in the summer of 1998 and was surprised but happy to be very well accepted. So much so that the team made the news in Cheyenne.

During their second Courage Classic, OUTspokin’ built off their inaugural year and made it even better. They kept the same format with their ride schedule, helping people prepare for the ride. In their new jerseys, the team looked great. They won an award for fundraising as one of the top 3 teams to raise money.

Things continued to grow every year. In 2000, OUTspokin’ got its first website. Pam Zaske was tasked with creating the new site because ‘she was in IT!’ Back then that was about all the credentials someone needed. The group continued distributing flyers and with the addition of the new website, they became more visible.

Riding with Pride

Each year the group grew but at the same time, Pam and Julie were looking for new ways to get new members. This was a good thing and there was a lot of potential for growth and to continue to make a positive impact for the Gay and Lesbian community. In 2001, OUTspokin’ rode in their first Denver Pride Parade. During the parade, they had to figure out how to keep riding but stay at the parade pace. That is when they started doing the figure eight…an OUTspokin’ signature that has been kept throughout the years.

This continued growth created an imbalance for OUTspokin’ because there were many members who had completed Courage Classic in the past who wanted more challenges on their bikes; at the same time, new members wanted to complete it for the first time. Creating the ride schedule became more difficult as more options were added. Pam and Julie felt it was important to offer more challenging options to the stronger riders while still focusing on preparing cyclists for the Courage Classic.


OUTspokin’ had grown but was still led by only a few people. They had taken the group to a point but needed help to keep it growing bigger and stronger. It was time to get some help navigating the group into the future. In 2007, a steering committee was formed to help with that process.

Three years after creating the Steering Committee, OUTspokin’ got some bad news. For the first 12 years of its life, OUTspokin’ was under the umbrella of The Center; this allowed us to operate with insurance and legal assistance. In 2010, the Center changed its operating model and OUTspokin’ lost the coverage. In response, we started the process of becoming a non-profit which required installing a board. It started with seven board members; the seven people at the very well-attended meeting who said they were interested in serving on the board.

A few years after creating the board of directors, OUTspokin applied for and received its 501(c)3 status, making the group an official non-profit organization. The club was able to purchase insurance, which is such an important feature for a cycling group. While everyone rides safely, there is always the potential for an accident.

Rollin’ on Down the Road

OUTspokin’s story continues to change and grow each year. It has gone from being a group that trains for the Courage Classic to a non-profit focused on Philanthropy by Bicycle, with many different ways to give to the community. Some things remain the same, some things change. One of the aspects OUTspokin’ that has not changed since those early days is the social aspect and bonds created in the group. From the beginning, OUTspokin’ has been a group where people have developed friendships. Cycling has brought us all together but when you ride with people, you can create connections much stronger. It might start with riding up Lookout Mountain with someone you don’t know but you are riding at the same pace. You start talking (at the top; there is not a lot of talking riding “up” Lookout) and realize you have other common interests. Then you realize you both drive a Subaru and you start comparing your cars. The more you ride, the more people you meet at the more friends you make.

The political environment over the past several years has changed the LGBTQ community and its role within the wider community. Twenty years ago, there was a larger need for places where gays and lesbians could get together and be safe. OUTspokin’ has been one of those places for 20 years. During the past few years, as LGBTQ rights have become more accepted, the need for these types of groups has decreased, but OUTspokin’ still fulfills many roles in peoples’ lives from a place to train for big rides, to a place to improve cycling skills, to a place to ride for social reasons. It is a place for all to enjoy cycling and create bonds with some pretty cool people.


If you like what you read, please consider Donating or joining OUTspokin’!