The Gay Nineties

Since Amendement 2 passed seven years ago, Colorado Springs has learned a lesson in Family Values.

But if there was significant "interest in the issue," it wasn't shared by the city council. This past January, it refused to put a charter amendment on the April ballot that would outlaw "protected or minority status, quota preference or other preferential treatment" for homosexuals. The action had been requested by councilman Dawson Hubert, a CFV torch-bearer who'd first been elected in 1997.

Four months later, Perkins, who had resigned his position at CFV to run against incumbent mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, lost in the April 6 election -- as did Hubert.

Perkins explains that he had decided to run for mayor after attempting -- unsuccessfully -- to recruit other candidates; by the time he decided to run himself, there was "less than a month to go against an incumbent -- that's not a politically astute move." His primary motivation, he says, was his lack of agreement with the council's fiscal policies, and he focused on privatizing Memorial Hospital as a way to increase city revenues. "It was not a particularly popular thing," he notes. "I didn't do a good job selling that. But in a short time, I had a good showing."

Cheers for queers: Frank Whitworth at the bar where he watched election returns on the night Amendment 2 passed.
Cheers for queers: Frank Whitworth at the bar where he watched election returns on the night Amendment 2 passed.
Voice of America?: Colorado for Family Values' Kevin Tebedo.
Voice of America?: Colorado for Family Values' Kevin Tebedo.


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"There's all kinds of reasons people win and lose elections," adds Hubert. "I think we won and lost on the money we raised, the places we raised money from, the subjects that we talked about, the money that the opponents had and spent. In Perkins's case, it was a three-way race, not a two-way race." (The third candidate for mayor was neighborhood activist Sallie Clark.)

But Perkins and Hubert still claim victory on the "sexual" front, since just before the election, the city attorney's office issued a four-page document finally telling everyone what the word really meant: "In the context of the resolution, 'sexual' refers to one's gender, not sexual preference or orientation."

"As soon as Perkins announced his candidacy, the mayor defined it immediately, as I had asked her to do for the past year," Hubert says. "The mayor wrote it so that she would defuse the issue during the campaign. So in essence, if you don't think Colorado for Family Values has any power, it had a hell of a lot more power than a councilman trying to get clarification to the issue."

Perkins never intended to address homosexuality in his campaign, he says, since the city attorney's memo resolved the question. "Maybe if I had made it an issue, it might have made a difference," he adds, "but I did not run on that issue."

But Perkins had name recognition among Colorado Springs voters precisely because of his long association with CFV, so many observers found it odd -- and not politically astute -- when he didn't try to capitalize on his base.

"We just knew that Will was saving something big for the last minute," says Christy Pitts, an organizer with the Colorado Springs office of Equality Colorado. "The other candidates were ready for it, and it never happened."

"In the forums, it was as if he wasn't really all there," adds Samantha Frazee, who works with Equality's anti-violence program.

Frank Whitworth has a theory about why it seemed that way. "We didn't let Perkins campaign on the gay issue. It was a purposeful strategy," he says. "They expected us to slam him, attack him, give him issues to bring up, and we didn't give him any meat. There were no demonstrations and rallies against him or letters to the editor attacking him. We didn't want to make him a victim, make him look like he was being maligned by militant homosexual activists."

Perkins's odd concentration on Memorial Hospital as a means of getting into office may be explained by a five-page internal memo outlining Colorado for Family Values' plans for 1999, which mysteriously showed up at a local coffee shop and was quickly distributed throughout the town's tight-knit community of liberal activists.

According to the memo: "Addressing politics prior to addressing issues -- when possible -- is actually key to achieving and keeping victories. To achieve and keep the 'quality of life' we all want in our communities can depend less on the actual issues themselves and more on the politics....We need to have in office officials with our ethical or moral standpoint."

According to the memo, one of CFV's primary goals for this year was to elect "our kind of candidates at local, state, and federal levels." CFV also planned on "distributing a voters' guide for the April election in [Colorado Springs] and impacting that election."

The strategy backfired.

"The voters had a real choice," says newly elected councilman Richard Skorman. "They could have elected Will Perkins as mayor, who was director of CFV, they could have elected Dawson Hubert, who really embraced their values when he was on council. They could have elected Ross Moon, who was a council at-large candidate who has ties with the Christian Coalition. All three lost. Instead, Mary Lou Makepeace won a second term -- and would have won by a much larger majority if it hadn't been a three-person race. I won, and I've certainly been outspoken against Amendment 2. [Councilmembers] Ted Eastburn and Joanne Colt all talked about their feelings openly during the election -- that everybody should be welcome in the community and that we should talk about more important things."

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