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The Gay Nineties

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

The study was done for the Gill Foundation's Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado -- and its biggest lesson may be that acceptance can be bought. Started by Tim Gill, the creator and president of Quark Software Inc., the foundation set up shop in Colorado Springs in 1994. Its Gay and Lesbian Fund was established in 1997; this year alone, it will hand out more than $700,000 in grants to nonprofit organizations all over the state -- but its beneficence in Colorado Springs has been an especially effective way of winning allies. The Gay and Lesbian Fund donates money not to gay groups, but to nonprofit organizations such as Chins Up Youth and Family Services ($30,000), the Colorado Springs Symphony ($11,250), the Housing Advocacy Coalition ($10,000) and the Chicano Unity Council ($2,500) -- and the recipients are required to publicly acknowledge that the money came from the Gay and Lesbian Fund. (The Fund also makes challenge grants, promising to match money that comes in to these organizations from other sources -- a technique that automatically scores publicity.)

"We just want people to realize that the gay and lesbian community cares about the same things other people care about," says Gill Foundation Executive Director Katherine Pease.

"I think Tim Gill had a big effect on this community," says Skorman. "They've invested throughout the whole community, from the Urban League to the Children's Museum to many, many broad-based causes and always under the name of the Gay and Lesbian Fund -- I think that certainly helped with acceptance."

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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Flooding Colorado Springs with gay money was only one approach. Whitworth's Ground Zero mounted a full-scale educational campaign, sponsoring forums and a speakers' bureau, leasing time on cable TV and responding to media requests from all over the world. At its peak, Ground Zero had 1,300 people on a mailing list, 600 of them paid members, as well as two paid staffers in the office.

"We testified when we had to testify, partied when we had to party," Whitworth says. "We largely encouraged visibility by gays and lesbians in the community. You could hardly go anywhere that we weren't there." And, he says, gays and lesbians involved themselves in non-gay organizations around town, "so they could see we'd always been there."

Just prior to the Supreme Court's ruling on Amendment 2 in 1996, Ground Zero had launched its "Time to Mend" campaign -- the graphic crossed out the "A" and the "ment" in "Amendment 2," emphasizing the mend. "We published a pledge that no matter which way the decision went, we would not seek to overturn Amendment 2, either by a vote or by introducing something else that would have that effect, for three years, because people were tired of it and wanted a time to rest," Whitworth says. "Colorado for Family Values absolutely refused to take a similar pledge. A lot of people noted this and made comments and wrote articles and letters, and Ground Zero gained a great deal of credibility. It was a huge part of reducing the reach of Colorado for Family Values and greasing the reach of those who wanted a more tolerant city."

Equality Colorado's Christy Pitts credits many of the changes in Colorado Springs to all of the "straight allies" who got "incredibly involved after Amendment 2 passed. All of the liberal organizations really grew -- the Citizens Project, the Unitarian Church, which grew so much they had to add a second service."

The Citizens Project was started in May 1992 -- before Amendment 2 passed -- by Amy Divine and her huband, Doug Triggs. They were concerned about movements toward school prayer and the teaching of evolution in Colorado Springs schools. "It just seemed like the one far-right voice was becoming dominant," Divine says, "so we very naively got together with some friends and put the word out and started the Citizens Project. We expected it to be something small, and the response to it was huge. The first general meeting we had, 800 people came. It just took off. When we first started, people would call and say, 'I thought I was alone.' There was a sense of people waiting for somebody to say something."

Today the Citizens Project puts out 40,000 copies of its monthly newsletter, sponsors educational activities, publishes a voters' guide and recruits candidates for local boards and commissions. (Director Megan Day reports that this month's school-board race was "the first time we didn't have real wackos. Yes, they were conservatives, but more pro-vouchers and anti-public education than hardline, Colorado for Family Values-type candidates. They're perhaps even more dangerous because they're more articulate and don't come off as extremist. They're not talking about the same old issues that CFV was, but their impact will be just as bad -- if not worse -- because they'll get elected.")

Out of the Citizens Project grew Food for Thought, a now-independent organization that has brought together a thousand people to discuss their disagreements over dinner. "It could be faith, race, density versus suburban sprawl, gay and lesbian and multi-racial adoption, public education," explains Jan Noble, an elementary school teacher who is the organization's president. "The night of the first Broncos game, we had 56 people -- males, females, young and old, four young adults from Focus on the Family, black, white. My group has been together for five years -- and these are people I would never have invited in my home or thought I could have a civil conversation with."

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