In 1992, Colorado voters approved Amendment 2 to the state Constitution, a provision that denied LGBTQ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer — individuals legal protection against discrimination because of their sexual orientation. I was a high school junior in Colorado Springs, where I was born and raised, and within my conservative-leaning school, I was a lonely but outspoken voice against this hateful ballot measure.
I knew that it was wrong to codify anti-gay discrimination not because of my own sexual orientation (I was and am straight) or because of any personal experience with discrimination, but because of my clear-headed, brilliant social studies teacher. He had us study the issue in real time, write papers about it, and debate the issue.
Many of my peers belonged to Christian youth groups and Evangelical churches, and they pointed to their religion as justification for their opposition to equal rights for all. They were hypocrites. And they, like me circa 1992, had minimal, if any, education about and exposure to the LGBTQ community. This ignorance inevitably contributed to their sense of superiority and assurance that Amendment 2 was justified.
The 90s was a time of ignorance around LGBTQ+ issues for anyone not in that community. Back then, it was commonplace to shame and judge gay people. In schools, teachers allowed homophobic slurs to go unchallenged. Lesbian and gay people could be fired because of a homophobic employer.
The status quo dubbed homosexuality a “lifestyle,” essentially denying the inherent humanity of LGBTQ+ people. Homophobic slights large and small pervaded at every level of society, from local to national, where then-President Clinton signed into law “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This permitted gay Americans to serve in the military so long as they didn’t reveal their sexual orientation — another form of erasure and shaming.
There was a massive backlash to the passage of Amendment 2 that coincided with a galvanized gay-rights movement that continues to this day. In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Amendment 2 unconstitutional. In 2010, the federal government repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In 2015, a Supreme Court ruling established the federal right to same-sex marriage.
Every student in the state should know the role that the LGBTQ+ community has played in Colorado history. And by “every student,” I mean exactly that.
Children from kindergarten through senior year of high school should learn that Colorado was created and forged by more than cowboys, miners, and farmers. This isn’t just my opinion. It’s the law. In 2019, Colorado passed a new law requiring public schools to teach the experiences and perspectives of people in the LGBTQ, Black, Latino, and Native American communities.
To comply with the law, the state Board of Education revised Colorado’s civics and history standards to include more references to those historically marginalized communities. According to news reports, representatives from those communities generally approved of the revisions.
But conservative lawmakers and special interest groups took issue with the inclusion of LGBTQ subjects. In June, the 35-member Social Standards Review Committee released another revision of the draft standards that removed nearly all of the LGBTQ mentions, and completely eliminated LGBTQ from standards for kindergarten through third, the same grade range targeted by Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law. Specifically, the latest version removed the acronym LGBTQ nearly 30 times, according to a Denver Post review, leaving only five references to LGBTQ in the revised standards.
To deny public school students instruction on this pivotal group of people is a travesty. The LGBTQ+ history in Colorado is rich and relevant, and studying the state’s evolution from Amendment 2 to contemporary times where a gay man is our governor demands significant inclusion in the state’s social studies standards. By learning about who and what impacted Colorado’s historic blemishes (Amendment 2) and achievements (Gov. Polis) contributes to an informed public.
No student of politics can ignore the role that the LGBTQ+ community has had in turning Colorado from a red state to a blue-leaning purple one. Whether or not you agree with the politics, you should know the history behind how and why it happened. So should your kids.
This is why it is essential for everyone — and not just members of the LGBTQ+ community — to insist that the state Board of Education reverse its sanitization effort. In the 30 years since the passage of Amendment 2, our society has become more educated and aware of the fact that what constitutes “history” depends on who is narrating the historical facts.
It is long past time for those narrators to make room at the top for others who have had a different lived experience and who make up an essential part of our community and culture.
Rachel Walker lives in Boulder
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