A Rainbow Over Taos
One activist dreamed of bringing gay pride to his town. In spite of his death, the festival must go on.
Friends and colleagues describe Robert Quintana as a master organizer with a talent for inspiring people. "He wanted to make everything bigger, better and more fun and more delightful," says friend Janie Corinne. She worked alongside Quintana for months to bring about the city’s first ever gay pride festival.
On Monday, Aug. 9, Quintana died unexpectedly at age 29, just weeks before his event. Police say there is no sign of foul play, and as of press time, a cause of death had not been determined. Hours after his death, friends, family and colleagues decided the show must go on; the rainbow flag will fly high in Quintana's honor this weekend.
It's been, in part, Corinne's job to piece together the details. "He kept a lot of stuff in his head, and he could multitask like crazy." A group of 20 planners is meeting daily in preparation, and they've heard people are coming to the celebration from Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Denver and California.
Taos is LGBT friendly, according to Corinne. Quintana was able to work with businesses, local media and politicians easily. The mayor will sign a proclamation honoring the pride festival, she says, and the Don Fernando de Taos hotel is providing a cheap room rate for visitors. The hotel also allowed the pride committee to hold a dog and car wash fund-raiser on its property. "A drag queen in front of the hotel was waving a sign saying ‘car wash,’ ” Corinne laughs. "This is not usual for Taos."
"People called him the gay mayor of Taos. He was extremely charismatic.”
Though residents of this small, art-centric town are open-minded, the LGBT community has not been very visible in Taos in the past, she explains—a handful of events, a couple of dances, but it's a hard place to meet other people. "There's now a way to find the queers," she says.
That's what Quintana was good at, she says—connecting people. Tino Romero, director of nonprofit Ancianos Senior Centers, remembers Quintana for his work with the elderly. Quintana organized a large Cinco de Mayo festival that brought together 400 elementary school students and senior citizens. "His energy, his enthusiasm," Romero marvels. "He was able to get people involved, and wherever he went, he brought smiles to people's faces." Corinne recalls Quintana also assembled an Academy Awards night this year with a red carpet at a local nursing home. He worked tirelessly on all of his community events, she notes, but he had an incredible passion for gay pride.
Though LGBT events are few and far between, there's been hardly any negative feedback about Gay Pride Taos, Corinne says. "This is about really discovering that Taos is ready." And that could be, in large part, due to Quintana's energy and personality. PJ Sedillo, who organized Albuquerque Pride for 21 years, has been advising Quintana about the event for months. "People called him the gay mayor of Taos," Sedillo says. "He was extremely charismatic. I think the community of Taos is coming together on behalf of Robert. I think it's going to be larger than expected because of all the people that are showing up to honor Robert."
Corinne concurs; the crowd will be large and lively. "It's going to be a screaming big party. When gay people put on events, their creativity rolls."