As Pride Month kicks off across America, Colorado holds a special badge of honor: The state currently ranks as the highest in America for LGBTQ+ equality, having earned 39.5 out of a possible 42.5 points according to the Movement Advancement Project last November.
It’s a significant win for a state formerly known as the “Hate State.”
Although it may be hard for some to recall — especially newer Coloradans who may not yet be acquainted with the state’s dark past — it was not all that long ago that our home had some of the worst protections for equality on the books. Heck, it wasn’t even until 2019 that Colorado finally banned gay conversion therapy for minors.
The “Hate State” moniker dates back to a 1992 statewide ballot measure called Amendment 2. The initiative was a direct response to multiple municipalities that had recently adopted anti-discrimination laws, including Denver and Boulder, and effectively stated that the state would be banned from passing any law upholding homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation as a basis for protected status from discrimination.
Despite opposition, the amendment ended up passing with 53% of the statewide vote.
The vote had a chilling effect on Colorado, with major stars including Barbara Streisand boycotting the state. Although the measure would later be found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1996, the hate cultivated by Amendment 2’s passing has lingered for years.
From here, activists have worked hard to transform the state’s hateful reputation and, more important, seek equality and protections for its LGBTQ+ residents from discrimination.
It hasn’t been easy.
In 2006, efforts to secure domestic partnerships were initially defeated. Similar efforts for civil unions were also initially killed in 2012. In the same year, a wedding cake maker infamously refused service to a gay couple, and while a Colorado state court upheld the case as unlawful discrimination, the Supreme Court later wrongly upheld the baker’s right.
In fact, even as Colorado activists and lawmakers have slowly come to right many of their early wrongs in the past few decades, it’s always been an uphill battle — and still is.
While recounting the errors of yesterday may seem like a grim way to usher in Pride Month, as basic human rights come under siege by a rogue Supreme Court — with many activists rightly expressing concern same-sex marriage could potentially be a target — it’s more important than ever to revisit and learn from history.
There’s no doubt we’ve come a long way: In addition to our top ranking, in 2018 voters elected the first openly gay governor. We have an openly gay Majority Leader in the state House. We are home to One Colorado and other LGBTQ+ rights groups that have helped lead the way on at least a dozen core equality bills since 2011. We should celebrate these successes.
Yet shrouding the state’s dark past is risky business, lest we forget the harm that can be done to our neighbors and community. It’s not long ago things were very different. As Coloradans, we therefore have a higher responsibility to recognize the state’s past harms — whether or not we were part of them.
So by all means, go enjoy the Pride Month street parades and festivals. Get donned up in colorful clothes, fly flags and celebrate. But while you take in the excitement, please also take a moment to remember why your voice and vote matter just as much as ever. Consider how else you can support the LGBTQ+ community, whether through advocacy, donations or volunteering.
These days it’s all too easy to take what we have for granted. But our rights were fought and earned by generations prior, and we must be careful to protect them.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.
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