LAST RIGHTS

COLORADO SPRINGS' HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION SUFFERS A MELTDOWN.

"There has been little consensus on any issue," complains Councilman Bill Guman, the council's liaison to the HRC. "They seem to be more concerned about the business of doing business instead of any topic they're supposed to concentrate on. It's like the bastard child that nobody wants. The commission is an embarrassment."

When the HRC has not been honing the finer points of what it is, it has taken to debating ideology--and without much civility. In fact, the group whose duty it is to promote diversity has given the word a bad name and, in so doing, has become a sort of chessboard battleground for the political tensions that seethe through the city.

Many people--in Colorado Springs' conservative and liberal communities--thank Vincent D'Acchioli for that. A born-again Christian from California, D'Acchioli worked until last week for a missionary organization called Every Home for Christ. Currently he organizes seminars on men's issues for a company called Path Levelers.

D'Acchioli was appointed to the HRC in December 1992. It is unclear who approached whom--city officials have a 1992 letter in which D'Acchioli suggests he would be a good commissioner, while, in an interview, he says he was called to serve and did not solicit the position. Whichever, D'Acchioli fit well into an attempt by the council after the failure of the gay-rights ordinance to appoint commissioners representative of the city's increasingly influential conservatives.

The policy quickly began to produce philosophical fissures in the still largely liberal commission. Leopoldus recalls one time in early 1993 when she tried to convince the HRC to take a close look at a new zoning ordinance being proposed for Colorado Springs. The commission, she suggested, should try to ensure that the zoning did not discriminate against people in group homes for the disabled. Unfortunately, she says, the panel was unable to come to any consensus because several commissioners representing religious groups did not even agree with the concept of group homes.

Colleen Bray, a five-year member of the commission, says she understands wanting to have Colorado Springs' population better represented on the HRC. Yet she sees the appointment of people like D'Acchioli as part of an orchestrated campaign by city council to disrupt the panel. "When you appoint people to the parks and recreation board, you don't get people who want to kill trees and pollute the air," she says.

Although he had been outspoken from the beginning, D'Acchioli strode firmly between the HRC's widening camps during an April 14 commission meeting at which the panel was discussing whether individual commissioners needed permission to meet with community groups. Characteristically, he was blunt.

"If I were asked by the Ku Klux Klan to attend one of their board meetings as a representative of this commission, a number of you would probably have a difficult time with that," he said, adding that "if another person on this commission were asked to attend a board meeting where there might be groups--I'll just take one that has formed around the issue of homosexuality--I would be as offended, if not more, than anyone who might be offended by our attending a KKK meeting. In fact, in my view, the [gay-rights group] has a much more damaging effect on our country than the former--but that's my opinion."

Not surprisingly, D'Acchioli's comments caught the attention of the city's Minority Coalition, a loose conglomeration of gay, minority and human-rights groups. At the HRC's May meeting, about a dozen coalition members demanded that the other commissioners can D'Acchioli and then stood in the hallway singing "We Shall Overcome."

Two weeks later, on May 24, Minority Coalition representatives appeared at a city council meeting and demanded that D'Acchioli be removed from the HRC. If he wasn't, they vowed to purchase space in newspapers and on four billboards on the edge of the city that would say, "Warning: Colorado Springs: Intolerance Prevails."

Today, D'Acchioli insists that the whole spat is over nothing. "No one knows who the Minority Coalition is in this community, and no one cares," he says. As for Ground Zero, the local gay-rights group he compared to the KKK, "They're very supportive of homosexual rights and the promotion of the homosexual lifestyle. Personally, I have a problem with that."

Besides, he explains, the point he was trying to make by comparing Ground Zero to the Klan was that the HRC simply can't pay attention to every group that demands it.

"Two homosexuals can buy a used computer and fire it up in their garage and everybody's supposed to take notice of that?" he says. "What about a group next week that would like to have sex with 300-pound pigs? The Human Relations Commission is supposed to take care of that group, too?"

Finally, he says that after a year and a half on the commission, he has become convinced that there is no need for it. "The Human Relations Commission in Colorado Springs, in the length of time that I've been on it, has done absolutely, positively nothing," he says. "What it has become is a place for people to bring their personal agendas and hot buttons. It needs to be shut down."

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