In 2018, Colorado voters made history when they elected Jared Polis as the first openly gay governor. At the time, Polis referred to his gubernatorial win as an “important closure” for the LGBTQ+ community.
In many ways it was. Polis’ comment was in reference to the state’s dark past on LGBTQ+ rights, most specifically for having earned the nickname of the “Hate State” after a 1992 ballot measure effectively banned laws from providing protected status to LGBTQ+ people.
Regrettably, Polis’ statement of closure is now being tested. Almost exactly four years after he first made history, a 22-year-old gunman stormed into Club Q — a well known LGBTQ+ haven in Colorado Springs — killing five people and shooting at least 17 more before being tackled by club goers.
The hate-filled massacre marks a prominent resurgence of reported mass violence against the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado, even as the state ranks as a national leader in equality based on a review of state laws and policies.
Unfortunately, as people of any marginalized group can easily tell you, enacting laws and policies only goes so far.
According to one 2022 survey released by Hate Free Colorado, “The number of Coloradans who experienced a hate crime or bias-motivated incident in the last five years is significantly higher than official government data indicates.”
In the survey data, nearly 3 in 10 participants — or roughly 1.25 million Coloradans — stated they had been targeted at some point in the past five years with a hate crime or bias-motivated event. The participants also stated that the event had led to either property damage, verbal harassment and/or physical injury.
Only 18% of participants said they reported the incident to police, with only an additional 11% of participants saying they had reported the incident to anyone.
The majority of participants claimed race, ethnicity or ancestry as the primary source of the bias, yet the survey also revealed that an estimated one third to one half of gender-diverse and transgender Coloradans had experienced a hate crime or event.
Overall, LGBTQ+ people experience hate crimes or events at a rate 1.5 times higher than their straight counterparts, with participants who identified with multiple marginalized identities at an increased likelihood.
Reported hate crimes have been increasing nationally in recent years. In 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released its annual report showing the highest levels of events in more than 12 years. One research group on hate crimes specifically cites the rise of these events as directly correlating to Donald Trump’s rise in political circles.
These findings are a cause for concern given Trump has filed to run for president again. In Colorado, this is particularly relevant as some of Trump’s most ardent followers, including Rep. Lauren Boebert of the 3rd Congressional District, continue to openly amplify hateful speech and rhetoric — especially against LGBTQ+ people. Boebert has never been meaningfully reprimanded for her hate speech by local or national GOP colleagues.
Hate Free Colorado did offer recommended next steps toward further protecting the LGBTQ+ community. These included a non-emergency hate crime hotline, improved law enforcement training, outreach and education — actions that should certainly be pursued.
Additionally, Polis’ historic election to governor does hold a strong and meaningful impact toward achieving an inclusive society. It should not be undervalued.
However, so long as prominent figureheads, such as Boebert, are permitted to continue running their hateful mouths without consequence, none of these actions will prove enough to stop the violence. The only question left is who will hold her accountable: her colleagues, or the voters?
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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