Colorado Springs Misses the Mark in HRC’s Municipal Equality Index
Although Colorado Springs received a failing grade for LGBT inclusion in 2012, many activism- and community-oriented organizations are working to make Colorado Springs a safer and more welcoming place for LGBT individuals.
"Local leaders have taken critical steps toward improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender residents, including enacting one of the state's most inclusive and comprehensive bullying prevention policies in our region's largest school district," said Jessie Pocock, Southern Colorado Organizer at One Colorado. "But we have more work to do to promote and support the diversity that helps our businesses thrive and makes our communities stronger. For our growth and success, it's vital that leaders in Colorado Springs create a city where everyone has the same chance to pursue health and happiness, earn a living free from discrimination, and take care of the ones they love."
In November of 2012, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's leading LGBT civil rights organization, gave Colorado Springs 45 out of a possible 100 points on their Municipal Equality Index. The MEI is a study of LGBT inclusion in 137 U.S. cities based on municipal laws, including non-discrimination laws, employee benefits and LGBT-inclusive city services. According to the HRC, a score between 40 and 60 points demonstrates "good intentions on behalf of municipal governments but also opportunity for improvement," and Colorado Springs falls into this category. Denver, the only other Colorado city to be scored on the MEI, received a nearly perfect score of 97.
Despite lagging behind Denver and other larger, more left-leaning cities in terms of LGBT inclusion, Colorado Springs does include a thriving gay community, as well as a number of organizations making strides toward full-fledged acceptance and equality.
"We have a lot of work to do when it comes to building equality for LGBT families and individuals, from key legal issues such as the need for same-sex partner benefits for city employees, to the continued beating of the homophobic drum by certain religious organizations based here in Colorado Springs," said Shawna Rae Kemppainen, Executive Director of Inside Out Youth, a local organization providing support and services for LGBT youth.
Kemppainen went on, "We also see consistent progress: The largest school district passing transgender inclusive nondiscrimination policies; city council leaders at LGBT focused events; and organizations led by out LGBT and our allies. Probably the brightest spot is the number of students, teachers, school administrations, parents and other community members who are committed to LGBT student safety and equality."
Colorado Springs Pride Works to Improve Conditions for LGBTs
Colorado Springs Pride is at the forefront of this movement. Having already been a positive force in the community for 34 years, they are poised to become even more effective in the upcoming year, with a new headquarters and a new focus on connecting individuals with the resources they need.
"For two and half years, we’ve tracked every phone call and visit to our community center," said Charles Irwin, Colorado Springs Pride’s executive director. "We kept track of the reasons for their calls. What we found out is that, if someone is looking to get involved with or is a member of the LGBT community, we end up being the first place people contact. There are a lot of wonderful organizations in town, and we’ve determined that what we do best is act as the hub for the needs of this community. Our goal is to make sure that when someone leaves here, they have all the resources and contact numbers they need to start addressing their situation."
Given this new and more specific focus, Colorado Springs Pride is shutting down its Internet cafe and lending library, projects that in recent years have consumed a disproportionate amount of the organization’s budget relative to its usefulness in the community, and moving to a new, more visible headquarters downtown.
Irwin said that they have also noticed that the LGBT community have urged them to become more vocal in legislative issues. To that end, that are beginning a second branch of Colorado Springs Pride that will be a 501(c)4, or social welfare nonprofit. This will allow them to focus on lobbying for people who will make a difference to our community, and engage individuals in the city and county.
"Watch the state legislature this year, because they’re going to pass a lot of very important equality laws, and watch the City Council elections, because we’ll definitely be more involved," Irwin promised.
Irwin acknowledged that it is more difficult to be LGBT in Colorado Springs than in Denver, but he is optimistic about the social changes taking place.
"A lot of folks do not necessarily live their lives openly in Colorado Springs, because they’re aware that this is more of a conservative or red county, so they don’t get involved as much," Irwin told EDGE. "I think as we’re becoming more visible, as we deal with the mayor and City Council and state government, they’re a little more comfortable being open about who they are, but still being a normal, average, everyday individual. We’re helping folks see that LGBT folks will not accept being treated as second-class citizens any longer."