Closet Concerns

When this year's PrideFest march takes off down East Colfax Avenue on Sunday, it will be as much a salute to the gay-rights movement's past as it is a celebration of gains to be proud of today. There'll be the usual banners and costumes, but at the forefront will march a contingent of movement elders--old-timers like Elver Barker and Donaciano Martinez.

Barker, born in 1920 and a self-proclaimed "social change person," was a member, beginning in the late '50s, of the Mattachine Society, an early gay anti-discrimination group. Though not openly gay in those seminal years, Barker kept a high profile, writing regularly--but always under a pen name--for Mattachine publications. "We were afraid we'd lose our jobs," Barker recalls. It wasn't uncommon for gays, even closeted ones, to be suddenly dismissed from employment. "I loved my work," Barker says of one lost job. "But one day, my supervisor said to me, 'We all live in glass houses around here.' And when he said that, I knew I was being discriminated against." Barker didn't come out publicly until 1972, when he opted for self-employment and opened his Timberline Art Studio in Denver.

Colorado Springs Gay Liberation Front founder Donaciano Martinez, though technically an elder, came from a younger generation of activists who became vocal in the volatile political climate of the '60s. Now 51, he came out at age fifteen. "There were no support groups in those years," he says. "You had to cling to other gay men and lesbians for your support."

Martinez entered the gay movement through other causes. A poor Mexican-American, he says poverty and racism provided his impetus toward leftism. "Like a lot of good Mexican-American Catholics, we'd just pray to God," Martinez recalls. "We never did anything to try to change. But with the inspiration of the black civil-rights movement and the blooming of the anti-war movement, a lot of us began to step forward and say, 'Hey, a lot has to change in this town.'"

Turning to the gay cause was natural for him, but it wasn't well-received on any front. He notes with a laugh that Colorado Springs was an even tougher audience for liberal--and, especially, gay--causes than it is now: "You should have seen it back then. It was a very strong military town, but it had both extremes of society: arch conservatives, military types and, at the other end, activists calling for revolution. Plus, a lot of activists in the movement were bent out of shape because we were bringing gay issues into the human-rights struggle--they thought we'd bring down the wrath of straight America on them."

In spite of the flak, the Colorado Springs GLF persisted, eventually giving way to the Lambda Services Bureau, which in the mid-'70s became involved in a legal battle with the IRS over the revocation of the group's tax-exempt status, a battle it won in time. "There we were, involved in a legal battle in the system, not out in the streets shouting for the fall of the empire," Martinez notes. "It resulted in a big change that other groups now enjoy to this day."

Martinez says he spends much of his time educating the public, in particular by counseling parents of Latino gays and lesbians. "I just keep hammering away that these are their children. They brought them into the world, they loved them before they found out, and they should continue to love them even though the Catholic Church says gay orientation is okay...as long as you don't practice it. To me, that's like having the frijoles without the green chile."

--Froyd

PrideFest '99: march, 10 a.m., Cheesman Park to the State Capitol Bldg; festival, noon-5 p.m., Civic Center Park, 303-733-7743.

 
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