In 1993, the year of Boulder Weekly’s birth, an uproar began over Colorado voters’ passage of Amendment 2, which banned any laws protecting gays from discrimination. The cities of Boulder, Denver and Aspen had passed such laws.
Within days, Colorado would be the “Hate State,” and a national boycott followed. Many thousands of protesters marched in the Denver streets and held candlelight vigils at the state Capitol as well as city halls across the state. Gov. Roy Romer and Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, both opponents of the amendment, joined the protest.
In February, Colorado for Family Values (CFV) — the organization that led the campaign to pass Amendment 2 — held a rally in Boulder at the Bethany Baptist Church celebrating the amendment’s passage.
According to the Colorado Daily, it drew a crowd of about 500 people who were evenly divided between supporters and opponents of the amendment. They “hurled jeers and accusations at each other.”
University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney supported CFV and was the founder of Promise Keepers, which was a national group of Christian men who were reasserting their “rightful” roles as family leaders. In the summer, more than 50,000 Promise Keepers gathered in the CU football stadium.
CFV was based in Colorado Springs, which had become a mecca for the religious right. Matt Smith wrote in a 1992 National Catholic Reporter article: “Since 1980, 30 parachurch groups — evangelical groups not tied to established churches — have set up headquarters here and together generate an estimated annual income of more than $300 million with a 2,200-employee payroll.”
The leader of this new evangelical wave was psychologist James Dobson, who was the founder of Focus on the Family, the city’s largest parachurch group. It has a four-building, 47-acre complex with its own ZIP code.
Today, the Christian right is still around, but gays have become a “normal” interest group. In 1996, Amendment 2 was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Jim Daly, the current head of Focus on the Family, has said that “we’ve lost” on gay marriage. Indeed, polls since 2010 show that a majority of Americans support the legal recognition of gay marriage.
It has been a long and strange trip. In Boulder, gay rights helped establish the city’s reputation as the “People’s Republic.” It all started in 1971, when 18- to 20-year-olds got the vote. A Denver Post article about the November election was entitled, “Youth Scores Major Upset in Boulder”: “The kids of the university and the street turned Boulder politics upside down in an unprecendented city election Tuesday. Swarming to the polls by the thousands in precincts around the University of Colorado, young voters elected two of their own to the Boulder City Council — a 28-year-old bookshop owner (Tim Fuller) and a 26-year-old CU doctoral candidate (Karen Paget). Their votes pretty clearly pushed a black attorney and human relations specialist (Pen Tate) … to the top of the list.”
Tate would become the first black mayor in state history. He’d introduce a measure prohibiting employers from firing or refusing to hire gays.
A raging four-month debate ensued.
The Camera editorialized that the law was immoral and might encourage child molesting in city recreation programs.
At the final public hearings, 400 people attended. The specters of Satan and pornography were invoked, and one woman claimed that the law would transform Boulder into “Lesbian-Homoville.” The council voted 5-4 for the law, but under pressure they decided to put the measure on the ballot. It lost, 13,107 votes to 7,438.
The right-wing activists weren’t finished. They decided to recall Tate and Fuller. Tate survived by 567 votes, but Fuller was recalled. However, Tate lost a re-election bid in the following year.
In 1987, the gay rights measure was on the ballot again (with an added prohibition against discrimination in accommodations) and it won by a 3-to-1 margin.
Fuller left Boulder. He was gay, but only his closest friends knew. He would continue as a progressive activist, heading up the Missouri Democratic Party, the National Campaign to End Hunger and Homelessness and the Gray Panthers.
The successes of the gay movement should cheer up all progressives.
Just keep fighting. Respond: email@example.com This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.