TRENDS Podcast: Boulder County’s LGBTQ+ Community – Progress Made, Challenges Remain

The TRENDS podcast is a collaboration between the Community Foundation of Boulder County and KGNU. It dives deep into the community’s most pressing issues and explores the changes happening throughout Boulder County through the experiences of community members, especially those often rendered invisible by commercial media, to shed light on community challenges, solutions, and pathways forward for the county and the country.

Listen to the LGBTQ+ TRENDS podcast episode below:

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June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. It is celebrated in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots, the beginning of a movement to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against the LGBTQ+ community.

One of multiple vehicles in the 2020 Longmont Pride parade supporting the LGBTQ+ community and Black Lives Matter

In June of 1969, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City staged an uprising to resist the police harassment and persecution. One of the activists at Stonewall was Marsha P. Johnson, a Black Trans woman.

Today on TRENDS we look back at the history of LGBTQ+ rights here in Boulder County — how far have we come? How far do we still need to go? We’ll look at the intersection of the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQ+ rights and highlight voices of all ages from the community here in Boulder County.

In January 2019, a ceremony took place at the Boulder County Courthouse to recognize the County for some of the first efforts in the nation that advanced rights for the LGBTQ+ community.

A plaque at the Boulder County Courthouse proclaims the spot is listed in the National Register of Historic Place in recognition of the civil rights significance of same-sex marriage licenses issued in 1975

In 1975, Boulder County Clerk Clela Rorex issued a marriage license to gay two men. Rorex later said, “in a way it was a very easy decision for me.”

Rorex went on to issue five more same-sex marriage licenses in Boulder before the Colorado Attorney General forced her to stop. What Rorex did in 1975 was seen as revolutionary.

Although it wasn’t known at the time, another important event in LGBTQ+ history taking place in 1975 was the birth of the current Governor Jared Polis at Boulder Community Hospital. Forty-three years later Polis became the first openly gay man to be elected as a governor of a U.S. state. In his election night speech, Polis said he stood on the shoulders of those who came before him.

Ollie Kampert Abajo

LGBTQ+ Pasa La Voz Show en Español:

  • Presiona aqui para escuchar la entrevista sobre identidad de genero y orientacion sexual. Leticia Abajo, trabaja para WIC dentro de Servicios de Salud en Boulder County y es una educadora de relaciones familiares y Ollie graduada de New Vista que ha participado en Justicia Restaurativa. Escucha y aprende de esta joven LGBTQAI+ usa el pronombre Elle no se identifica ni como hombre ni mujer usa Elle para mostrar su fluidez de genero!

Colorado, and indeed Boulder County, have no doubt made huge strides in LGBTQ+ equality, but problems remain.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the community. Many LGBTQ+ people report feeling isolated, the pandemic has made that even worse. Out Boulder County has conducted a series of surveys to get a sense of concerns and issues facing the community as a result of the coronavirus.

Michal Duffy, the Education Program Manager for Out Boulder says they want to be responsive to the needs of the community.

“It comes as no surprise that people are really concerned about mental health, social isolation, physical health, and as well as economic indicators, such as job security and lost wages,” says Duffy.

Mental health concerns and isolation are something the LGBTQ+ community has experienced well before the coronavirus plunged us into social isolation. It is something that young queer and trans people continue to struggle with.

LGBTQ+ youth are at increased risk of anxiety and isolation says Jenna Clinchard with the Second Wind Fund, a non-profit that serves uninsured or underinsured at-risk youth, struggling with suicide ideation.

“If they are at home with a parent or a guardian that doesn’t accept their gender fluidity, or if they are transgender or if they’re lesbians or gay or bisexual or pansexual, anything like that, if their guardian or parent does not support that, that adds so much stress and anxiety onto this child. And it exacerbates that stress because typically that child has stressed to begin with just being sometimes in the LGBTQ community can make kids feel separate and not all kids, but some, and then when they go home and they don’t have that support at home, they feel they feel it even more. And then they don’t have any place to put those feelings and those negative feelings can grow and that sadness can grow and isolation just increases depression and anxiety.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, LGBTQ+ youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth. It’s why organizations like the Second Wind Fund of Boulder County and Out Boulder are working so hard to engage young people, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

Jenna Howerton, Youth Program Coordinator with Out Boulder County at Longmont Pride

Jenna Howerton, Youth Program Coordinator with Out Boulder County, says that’s why the group works hard to provide safe spaces.

“Our groups do offer that, that sanctuary, that space. We work really hard to protect their identities.”

Safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth is vitally important for their mental health. Shannon Axe has first-hand experience of this.

“I knew at such a young age that I was always female and that my heart and my soul and my head where didn’t my body didn’t match, but everything else in me felt female. And so pronouns are really important to people because it’s a part of who they are. And it’s really painful when you assume someone’s gender. And it actually isn’t.”

Shannon eventually moved to Boulder County and found a much warmer welcome. According to Shannon, the Boulder Valley School District was a much more welcoming and supportive environment. The school arranged for special assemblies for each grade where Shannon shared her story. Now Shannon is hopeful for not just her future, but the future for other trans kids.

“I have a lot of hope for our generation. We are so invested and I think it’s really important for people to get out and vote and go to the polls and fill out those ballots and really pick candidates that share the same values.”

In the midst of a global pandemic, we may be witnessing the beginnings of a new revolution sparked by the confluence of events related to Black Lives Matter and the call for LGBTQ+ rights.

Lau Malaver, a Latinx PhD student at CU Boulder

Lau Malaver, is a Latinx student who uses they and them pronouns and is pursuing a PhD in Ethnic Studies.

“We are still seeing a disproportionate amount of Black, trans women and women of color who are getting killed and murdered in this country. So when we think about those aspects of what happened in June 28th, 1969, the Stonewall riots, what is happening today, 2020 with COVID-19 with election year and with different racial justice movements that are happening across the country and the world, we have to ask a question, what are the underlying issues that are bringing all of these things together? They’re not incidents that are separate. So when we celebrate, for example or some of us will celebrate Pride Month, we have to ask ourselves, who are we really celebrating?”

*In this panel, Michal and Lau were mistakenly referred to by the incorrect pronouns. Michal goes by they/them pronouns and Lau goes by they/them pronouns. We apologize for the mistake and appreciate being corrected.

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