The Gay Nineties
Frank Whitworth went down to the local gay bar. It was the usual Hide & Seek drinking crowd, and Whitworth knew everyone. A couple of men, still in suits and ties from their work day, teased the bartender boisterously. One guy, his name stitched on the patch of his blue mechanic's jacket, smoked and nursed a beer in the corner. On the TV over the cash register, the election returns looked good. Everyone was ready to celebrate.
Except for Whitworth. He hadn't worked on this campaign, but he'd been politically active in the past, and he knew how to read the numbers. The early returns were out of Denver, and the margin wasn't big enough to overcome El Paso County, whose votes had yet to be counted. As the results began to change, the mood went dark. The men in the bar began to argue about what had gone wrong.
"Well," Whitworth finally asked, "who here voted?" Out of a dozen men, only two had gone to the polls. Only four were even registered.
It was Tuesday, November 3, 1992. Bill Clinton slid easily into office, overwhelmingly supported by a bloc of gay voters who were more mobilized than ever before; he'd courted them with a pledge to repeal the ban on gays in the military. But the promise of the country's first gay-friendly president -- soon enough, that would be just another lie -- became a footnote to the nauseating news: Colorado for Family Values, a small organization of hardcore Christians in Whitworth's own town, had succeeded in passing Amendment 2, which banned all of Colorado's local governments from passing laws to protect gay people from discrimination.
In the weeks after the election, as gays and their supporters tried to figure out how to respond to the disaster, Whitworth's anger at the results turned to more rational thought -- toward strategizing. He was between jobs, so he volunteered to sit in the office of a new organization called Ground Zero -- so named because Colorado Springs was obviously now dead center in a cultural war (especially since Oregon voters had rejected a similar, though more extremely worded, referendum). Gay people across the nation -- already physically, emotionally and financially exhausted by AIDS -- felt as if they were under siege. Whitworth became Ground Zero's executive director.
Five months later, in April 1993, he was parading down Pennsylvania Avenue at the National March on Washington for gay rights. Colorado had a place of honor, leading off the states, and Whitworth was right up front.
The National Park Service estimated a crowd of only 300,000, but marchers knew there were many, many more gays and gay supporters in D.C. that day. Hundreds of thousands of people lined the route. The AIDS organizations went first; then, when the crowd saw Colorado's "Ground Zero" banners, Whitworth heard a roar all the way down the street. Gay people from across the country screamed encouragement to their counterparts living in Colorado Springs. "We came to the Mall and they announced us, and then the roar was 500,000 people all at once," Whitworth remembers.
The threat of Colorado for Family Values had helped rally hundreds of thousands of gays to Washington. Whatever political and social gains they'd made throughout the red-ribbon Eighties were in serious danger after the passage of Amendment 2.
Over the next few years, gays would spend millions of dollars and hours forming political organizations, monitoring threats, electing sympathetic candidates, publishing books, newspapers and magazines, begging for acceptance from churches, fighting to be included on prime-time TV shows, educating whoever would listen, trying to win allies and making whatever private gestures might help them recover from the trauma of being told by voters -- their neighbors -- that they didn't deserve equal protection under the law. Then in 1996, ruling in Romer vs. Evans, the Supreme Court overturned Amendment 2.
"I often say at fundraisers and different events, 'Can we have a big round of applause and thanks to Colorado for Family Values!'" says Sue Anderson, who recently left the state after directing the gay-rights organization Equality Colorado for six years. "The silver lining to the whole Amendment 2 cloud is that there's a queer organizational infrastructure in this state." Anderson remembers the days of Amendment 2 as "an amazing time -- having gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues in the news for 94 days nonstop. We don't get that kind of coverage, or hadn't until that time. The American public didn't want to talk about those things -- that was brought on by Amendment 2. It changed history in many ways."
Colorado for Family Values may have changed history, but by this past August, it couldn't get a dozen protesters out for Colorado Springs' annual gay pride parade.
Frank Whitworth moved to Colorado Springs from Virginia in 1971, left for most of the Eighties and then came back in 1990 -- just in time to welcome James Dobson's Focus on the Family, which moved into town from Pomona, California, in 1991.
Focus joined more than fifty other religious organizations that already called Colorado Springs home, lured there by the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation, which was courting the nonprofits as a way to diversify the local economy after the defense industry began to tank at the end of the Eighties. Since World War II, Colorado Springs had been home to Fort Carson Air Force Base, the Air Force Academy and the North American Air Defense Command, along with other military installations -- that made for a conservative climate perfectly suited to churches, religious publishing companies, missionary groups and, in the case of Focus on the Family, an international media conglomerate. When Focus moved to town, it added 1,200 employees and immediately poured $30 million into the local economy through construction of its campus north of town.
At the same time, the city's Human Relations Commission was calling on the Colorado Springs City Council to pass a gay-rights ordinance. Car dealer Will Perkins tried to go to a couple of public hearings on the topic, but he found the rooms so crowded that he couldn't get in. He did hear talk, however, of forming an organization to oppose the proposed ordinance, so he went to one of those meetings. "I came out chairman without really knowing what I was involved in," he says now. What he was involved in was Colorado for Family Values. That group spent the next year working to get Amendment 2 passed; Perkins, along with CFV co-founder Kevin Tebedo, would go on to become a highly visible and oft-quoted spokesman for an entire movement. CFV started out with a mailing list of 91,000 names -- all of the people who signed the petition that put Amendment 2 on the ballot -- and had close to 10,000 active supporters, according to Tebedo.
And as recently as July 1998, CFV was joining other religious organizations to sponsor national advertisements featuring Green Bay Packer Reggie White -- in his uniform -- calling homosexuality sinful. "I thought we'd have an election, somebody'd win and somebody'd lose, and that would be the end of it," Perkins says. "Here we are nine years later, and it still isn't over."
But if the events of the last year are any indication, the glory days of Colorado for Family Values could be over.
Take, for example, one of CFV's recent efforts. This past summer the group tried to censor the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. Because Comedy Central's South Park is set in Colorado -- it was created by Coloradans Trey Parker and Matt Stone -- CFV argued that "Colorado citizens should feel a keener sense of outrage and more responsibility to speak out louder against this movie than anyone else."
So CFV put out a South Park Action Kit, a notebook filled with tips on how to keep the movie from playing in local theaters. The kit also contained a Christian Family Network analysis of the TV show's content, sample transcripts, and reviews from the Webmaster of a South Park fan site. "Use extreme caution with this material and do not leave it where children may see or read it!" the kit warns. "Thousands of people, young and old, will have their minds poisoned by this atrociously cute and sinister movie unless we take action to stop it."
The kit's content analysis provided titillating reading for anyone who sent eight bucks to CFV for a copy. The "Language Issue Analysis" of the TV show reported that a single episode contained "dialogue with 13 sexual innuendoes, 10 incidents of violence, 7 depictions of passing gas, 5 vomiting scenes, and 3 graphically bloody scenes." Its "Violence Issue Analysis" noted that character Kenny had been "shot, run over, decapitated, mangled, eaten, crushed, impaled, nuked, cut in half with a chainsaw, dismembered, bludgeoned, etc."
The "Sexual Content Issue Analysis" revealed that the character Chef "is portrayed as a person who tries to help and relate to the children's problems. However, he is also portrayed as obsessed with sex and sings suggestive rhythm and blues songs to them." This section included several exchanges of dialogue: "Grandpa: Your mom was here earlier and I humped her like a little bitch. Cartman: What?! Grandpa: That's right. Stan: Grandpa! Grandpa: And then, I dug up your Great Grandma's skeleton and had my way with her."
And then there was the kit's "Homosexual Issue Analysis," which focused on a South Park episode in which "children are taught tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality through the perverse idea that Stan's dog, Sparky, is a homosexual dog." After Sparky runs away and "finds acceptance at Big Gay Al's Big Gay Animal Sanctuary," Stan has a hard time believing that Sparky is really happy. "Big Gay Al decides to lovingly teach Stan about 'gayness' by taking him on Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride 'to see the world of gayness through time.'...The scene moves to a shot of Hitler, a priest, and a guy beating up a homosexual. 'Uh oh, look out,' exclaims Al, 'It's the oppressors -- Christians and Republicans and...my!!'...'OK, let's steer our big gay boat out of danger and into a place where gays are allowed to live freely.' At this point, singers pop out à la 'It's a Small World' style singing, 'We're all gay and it's ok 'cause gay means happy and happy means gay.'" Later, "Stan and Sparky return to South Park where Stan tells all his friends and his community that being gay is o.k.'"
But it was not okay with CFV.
CFV's campaign against South Park might have made the group look ridiculous -- had anyone noticed its efforts. But Frank Whitworth believes CFV's descent into irrelevance began many years earlier.
"In '92 they were almost omnipotent -- they were unbeatable in this community," he remembers. "One attorney who supported us told us, 'There are a lot of people in this community who would support you, but they're afraid of what CFV would do to their businesses or lives.' They had a grip of fear on this community -- and because of the vilification they'd done of gays and lesbians, to support us was to support people who abused kids and drank urine. That's what was gripping us in '92, '93, '94...Up until that time, they'd won everything here and statewide."
But gay people in Colorado Springs had one secret weapon: CFV's own executive director, Kevin Tebedo. "We used to say that if there was one pile of dung in a field," Whitworth says, "he'd find it and step in it."
According to Whitworth, the biggest turning point was in August 1994, when the city of Manitou Springs was debating its Rainbow Vision Plan, a document that addressed traffic, transportation, land use, public services, parks and recreation, economic development, environmental resources, education and health needs.
Tipped off by the nefarious word "rainbow," which had appeared in New York City's gay-inclusive "rainbow curriculum" and by the fact that the rainbow flag was a symbol of gay liberation, Tebedo embarked on a loud campaign to thwart Manitou Springs's attempts to plan for its future.
"Although we knew the word 'rainbow'...did not automatically confirm that a homosexual special-rights ordinance was in the works, we felt the context suggested the possibility," CFV declared in its October 1994 newsletter.
"Colorado for Family Values charged into Manitou Springs looking for fairies in every sidewalk crack, and people thought they were crazy," Whitworth says. "Kevin just wouldn't back down. He kept writing letters to the editor about the homosexual agenda."
In response, Manitou Springs City Council members showed up for their meeting dressed in rainbow-colored clothes.
"It was very innocuous -- at least we thought it was -- to use the word 'rainbow.' There was no message there," says Manitou mayor Bill Koerner, who was on the council at the time. "But Kevin took it and ran with it, and it turned into this huge hoot, because he was deadly serious." (Here Koerner begins cracking up.) "The mayor at the time, Bill Ford, was a real Deadhead, and he wore a rainbow-colored Grateful Dead T-shirt. Those of us who didn't have Grateful Dead T-shirts had colorful ties." (Koerner can't stop laughing.) "It was just a reaction to the publicity that Kevin was treating us to, and we said, 'Hey, we're happy to be rainbow -- we're going to play it for all it's worth.' I think Kevin ended up with a huge black eye."
The CFV newsletter blamed Tebedo's humiliation on "a print-bashing of Colorado for Family Values, Executive Director Kevin Tebedo in particular," consisting of "tirade after vicious tirade [that] appeared in the papers from the self-appointed guardians of tolerance and acceptance. They accused CFV of 'paranoia,' of engaging in a 'witch-hunt,' of 'attacking' an innocent community, of the usual 'bigotry' and 'hatred.'"
"It made a laughingstock of Colorado for Family Values," Whitworth says. "This was the crack in the shell. They haven't really won any issue they've promoted since."
And it certainly didn't help their cause when, a year later, Tebedo was championing Colin Cook as an example of how God could change a person from gay to straight. Cook had been a Seventh-Day Adventist minister and founder of Homosexuals Anonymous, which claimed it could convert gays through a twelve-step program; he was an unlicensed "counselor" whose conversion technique included ten-minute hugs and mutual masturbation with the men who sought help from him. After the church pulled its funding from his counseling center in Pennsylvania, Cook moved to Colorado in 1993 and opened FaithQuest Counseling Center, Inc., in Arvada. He soon became a poster boy for CFV. Despite the public release of transcripts from Cook's Colorado counseling sessions that showed he was having phone sex with his male clients, Tebedo fervently defended him: "I've talked to seven of Colin's clients who think he does great work!" Tebedo told a Westword reporter ("Come to Jesus," November 22, 1995).
Tebedo left Colorado for Family Values shortly thereafter, ostensibly because his "personal desire and motivations have expanded beyond the scope of CFV's mission." (He reportedly joined the Patriot movement; his mother, state senator MaryAnne Tebedo, continues to represent Colorado Springs at the State Capitol, where she's been a legislator since 1982.) When Tebedo stepped aside, Perkins issued this statement from CFV: "We applaud Kevin's expanding concerns; however, we must, above all, keep this organization faithful to its roots."
CFV immediately launched a campaign urging local Colorado governments to pass "Community Standards" resolutions stating, among other things, that "It is understood that all citizens of America have equal rights by virtue of their American citizenship; the rights and privileges accorded citizenship do not extend to the behavior of homosexuality. Our community must unconditionally advocate heterosexuality only, through our institutions and policies."
"They couldn't get one government in the state to pass it," Whitworth says.
In May 1997, the Colorado Springs City Council unanimously resolved that "the council will have zero tolerance for any form of discrimination of a racial, ethnic, sexual or religious nature." Fearing that "sexual" might be construed to mean "sexual orientation," CFV wanted to add the parenthetical phrase "(meaning male and female)" to the resolution's wording -- but last December, the organization wasn't able to collect enough signatures to force the issue to a ballot.
The group "ran out of time," Perkins says. "We had some procedural problems that we didn't handle well. It looked like a failure, but that was due to poor administration rather than lack of interest in the issue."
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."
"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."
There was no organized campaign against Perkins, Whitworth says, just buttons with "Will" behind a red circle with a slash through it. "The truth is, we estimate between 10,000 and 13,000 gay voters came out in that campaign," he says. "It was successful! On the night that Mary Lou won and he lost so badly, people were coming up and offering us money for our buttons!"
That's a long way from the pathetic voter turnout Whitworth had noticed at the Hide & Seek back in 1992. Once again, Colorado for Family Values could take credit for significant political gains in Colorado Springs -- although this round went to the gays.
Ten days after the April election, CFV Executive Director Paul Jessen left the organization; he had held the position for a year and a half. (Jessen said his only plans were to tackle his wife's list of "honey do" projects.) Board president Nancy Sutton, who at one time had served as director of the Massachusetts-based Families First, took over as acting executive director, saying publicly that "the loss of Will Perkins and Paul Jessen has sorely taxed our ability to do things right at the moment."
Sutton did not return Westword's phone calls. In CFV's July newsletter, however, she admitted that "right now is a particularly tough time for us." She blamed this partly on the fact that during the summer, "people tend to get out of their regular routines and often forget to respond to our newsletters." Still, she wrote, "anything extra you could send would enable us to continue many of the projects we have slated for the fall. CFV is moving ahead, and we have some very important projects in the works."
But CFV was conspicuously absent again in August, during the fire and brimstone that erupted after Makepeace signed a proclamation recognizing August 21-29 as "Pridefest Week" in honor of the annual gay pride celebration. "There was a story in the newspaper. Dr. Dobson had a whole half an hour of his national show devoted to it," says councilman Skorman. "Local radio talk-show host Chuck Baker spent hours and hours talking about it, and during the pride parade, there were about eight people protesting. We on council maybe got a dozen or so letters and phone calls not appreciating our action, but there were very few letters to the editor.
"The fact is, the mayor signs all kinds of proclamations," Skorman adds. "She signed Shirley Dobson's National Prayer Week proclamation and [American Family Association] Tom Pedigo's proclamation against pornography. If she hadn't signed it, that would have sent a very wrong message to the gay and lesbian community. She just did it without hesitation."
When Colorado for Family Values finally sent out another newsletter this month, the publication consisted almost entirely of its August 26 press release regarding the Pridefest proclamation. "Colorado for Family Values responded to the Mayor's proclamation on homosexuality, but you didn't hear or read our response," wrote CFV. "This press release was not printed or spoken about in any of the news media. It's almost as if there was a concerted effort to ignore anything that might oppose what Mayor Makepeace did."
No matter what the reason for the silence, CFV promised to do better in the future: "Clearly, with the major advances which homosexual activists like Mayor Makepeace have made in Colorado Springs, CFV must dramatically step up its efforts to confront this dangerous movement head on. Because the need is so great, Colorado for Family Values is undergoing radical change. We are being re-engineered, restructured, and renewed. You have not heard from us through our regular channels because we have been spending all of our time and effort over the past few months deciding upon our direction and a process for achieving what we've all decided to do...We need your constant and consistent prayer support starting right now."
And prayer alone wouldn't get the job done: "Too, we need your financial help and involvement like never before...We are reducing our expenses to the least amount possible so that the absolute maximum number of dollars can be used in the cause of protecting our families and especially our children. As you have no doubt figured out by now, our children are the real targets of the militant homosexual agenda."
But as CFV has yet to figure out, voters in Colorado Springs have already said to hell with the militant homosexual agenda. What people in Colorado Springs really care about, says Skorman, is traffic and growth.
This past July, the University of Colorado at Denver released a study concluding that gays and lesbians in Colorado Springs were feeling that their town was a much happier place to be homosexual.
Allan Wallis, director of the local government program at UCD's Graduate School of Public Affairs, spent a year asking gays in the Springs whether they generally were treated fairly and with respect; more than half of them said the city had grown more accepting since earlier in the decade.
That's partly because nearly 55,000 people have moved to Colorado Springs since Amendment 2 passed. And while the population of Colorado Springs remains "generally conservative," most of the new folks seem more tolerant.
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."
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."
Eleven new Food for Thought groups are starting this year -- seven years after the passage of Amendment 2. And clearly, the town still needs them. After an article about the Gill Foundation's study appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette, "the letters to the editor were of the tone that how dare we think of Colorado Springs as more tolerant," Pitts says.
In fact, as gays have made progress in Colorado Springs, the Christian presence has continued to grow as well -- and no one doubts the potential political power that can be raised out of a captive audience on a Sunday morning. The International Bible Society lists 79 evangelical Christian ministries headquartered in Colorado Springs, supplemented by six Christian radio stations and 31 Christian ministries with a "presence" there. Focus on the Family just spent $15.6 million adding a new, 135,000-square-foot building to its 81-acre campus; its workforce has grown to 1,396 people with a payroll of $36 million, making it one of the largest employers in town. Focus on the Family weighed in very publicly on the local gay-rights situation at the end of August, when national, gay-friendly religious leaders held a roundtable in Colorado Springs and invited Focus representatives to attend. But when they showed up with a contingent of "ex-gays," the response was less than Christian. Focus then ran a full-page ad in the Gazette, featuring a photograph of ten "ex-gays" and their children, along with this message: "Our sincerest desire is to offer the message of hope that's being silenced today: there is freedom from homosexuality through the unconditional love and grace of Jesus Christ. You can change into a new creation -- the one God intended."
In case gays don't convert quickly enough, last month Chuck Gosnell, president of the Christian Coalition of Colorado, announced that since Makepeace had "come out of the closet to promote her radical homosexual agenda," the CCC was launching a campaign to "mobilize citizens to stand against what our mayor is doing." The CCC is the state affiliate of the national Christian Coalition and is "dedicated to giving Christians a voice in government again." In his announcement, Gosnell wrote that CCC "is prepared to...create a ballot initiative for passage in 2000 to decisively stop the pro-homosexual agenda in our city. Unlike Amendment 2, the US Supreme Court has already approved the wording we will use, and close to 80% have said they would vote for such a measure."
Gosnell was referring to Issue 3, an Amendment 2-like initiative passed by Cincinnati voters in 1993. Gay activists challenged the issue in court and, after a series of reversals at the circuit and federal levels, the Supreme Court last year declined to issue a ruling -- thereby letting stand a 1997 federal appeals court's decision upholding the city's ban on "minority or protected status, quota preference or other preferential treatment" for gays. Members of Colorado for Family Values reportedly sent their brothers and sisters in Cincinnati $390,000 to help get the initiative passed.
Only those members of CFV who are busy secretly "restructuring" their organization know whether they'll ever be able to raise that kind of cash again. But even Kevin Tebedo concedes that as far as Colorado for Family Values goes, "they don't have the impact they used to." Colorado Springs, he tells Westword, is "much more liberal, much, much more liberal. The homosexual political lobby most definitely has a stronger foothold than it did five years ago. Colorado Springs is becoming a big liberal city, in my book. The homosexual political lobby targeted Colorado Springs as ground zero, and they moved in here. They followed Focus on the Family because Focus is the major nemesis of the homosexual political lobby. This is where they came to set up shop.
"There isn't much organized opposition," he adds. "See, that's what Colorado for Family Values was, but that's pretty much faded away. In many ways Romer vs. Evans was to the homosexual political lobby what Roe vs. Wade is to abortion. And Colorado for Family Values fought hard. We felt like giving homosexuality a protected status is wrong; we would still believe it was wrong. But it went to highest court in the land, which said it was unconstitutional. We thought that was ludicrous, but that's what they said. That took a lot of the wind out of the sails of a lot of folks.
"CFV had a hard time after that trying to get its feet back beneath it, trying to grasp a solid hold onto a cause or find something else, and they didn't make it very good," he continues. "They're not dead in the water -- they're still there, they have money and donors that are working with them. Who knows what can happen -- there's still plenty of need for good strong conservative leaders, an organization that will stand up and not let the homosexual political lobby turn this into another Seattle or Miami or Denver." (Tebedo is still politically active; a member of the state Republican Party and a precinct committeeman, he serves on a county-appointed Department of Human Services committee, and it's rumored that he plans to run for Ray Powers's Senate seat. But Tebedo says that for now, he just wants to spend some time running his roofing business and raising his kids.)
And although he is no longer involved with Colorado for Family Values, Will Perkins promises that "within the next two or three months or sooner," CFV's restructuring will make the organization "even more effective than it was in the past."
Just this month, People for the American Way released its annual report on anti-gay activity, which reported almost 300 incidents in 47 states -- more than twice as many as in last year's report (there's a lengthy section on Colorado). This past April, a bill that would have added sexual orientation to the state's anti-discrimination protections died on the floor of the Colorado House of Representatives; this month voters in Greeley defeated a local ordinance that would have protected gays. And last week, Gary Rogers, the Fort Collins-based president of the Colorado Pro-Life Alliance, announced his plans to try to get a same-sex marriage ban on a statewide ballot in 2000, which could provoke a fight as nasty as the one over Amendment 2.
But things have changed. One fall night, Frank Whitworth leaves his job as a development director for the Colorado Springs Urban League and goes down to the Hide & Seek. He's greeted affectionately by a white-haired man who is occupying the corner barstool where Whitworth watched the 1992 election returns.
Over a beer, Whitworth laughs loudly as he looks over a copy of the South Park Action Kit. "It's all they have!" he says of his former adversaries' recent cause.
The South Park kit gets passed around the bar. "That's too funny," says Jerry Morris, a local businessman. "At least they're on someone else's case!" Morris adds that he's prepared for "at least one more throe" before Colorado for Family Values really dies.
"A wounded animal, they say, is the most dangerous, and Colorado for Family Values is seriously wounded," Whitworth says. "I hope its wounds are terminal, but it's not gone yet.
"There certainly are people out there who hate us -- they're as bigoted and prejudiced against gays as they are against everybody else, and Colorado Springs has more than our share. But there's a huge community here that was sold a package by Colorado for Family Values, who have come to realize that's just what it was: a package, representative of no truth. They've come to know us, and knowing us they've come to realize that gays and lesbians are no threat to this community. When the mayor made her now infamous gay pride proclamation, she mentioned the contributions gays and lesbians made to the community. In 1993, the mayor at the time, when told he was going to meet with gay attorneys about whether the bar association was going to have its state meeting here, said, 'You mean I have to meet with the queers?' That change is a big deal."
Back in 1993, Whitworth adds, he "couldn't have imagined we'd be where we are today -- even in 2020."
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.
- Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana for Veterans
- Reader: Denver Is Full of Smokers and Beta Males Who Refuse to Grow Up
- Denver Health To Limit Patients Passively Enrolled In Its Medicaid Plan