How LGBTQ-Friendly Are Eight Colorado Cities?

An image from John Cameron Mitchell's 2006 film Shortbus. Additional images and more below.
An image from John Cameron Mitchell's 2006 film Shortbus. Additional images and more below. File photo

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An image from the film Tongues Untied.
File photo
Here are the scores for the eight Colorado communities, ordered from highest to lowest.

Number 1: Denver — 82

Number 2 (tie): Boulder — 74

Number 2 (tie): Fort Collins — 74

Number 4: Aspen — 62

Number 5: Lakewood — 60

Number 6: Aurora — 59

Number 7: Colorado Springs — 53

Number 8: Littleton — 48

Even the least impressive of these totals aren't Mississippi-sad, because, as Oakley points out, "Colorado has a statewide non-discrimination law that includes gender identity — and we take that into account. A city might have a good reason not to pass an ordinance or a law that does the same thing the state law already does. So in Colorado, there's a floor: Because of the state law, you basically start with 36 points."

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Human Rights Campaign
That means Littleton only notched twelve more points — all of them coming from the city's policy of reporting hate-crime statistics to the FBI.

"I will say in their defense that it's possible some places have additional laws and policies they didn't share with us," Oakley allows. "We compile a draft scorecard for every city — research everything we can find publicly available, put together a scorecard and then show them to the city and ask if there's anything we might have missed. We want to make sure every city has the opportunity to review what we've done; we ask for their feedback and then make adjustments. So it's possible they didn't share additional information with us and we weren't able to find it on our own."

Other Colorado cities did marginally better on the index for a variety of reasons, Oakley maintains. Lakewood "had a better non-discrimination policy for city employees than either Aurora or Littleton," while Aurora "received six points for having a non-discrimination employment policy."

Denver, for its part, "received full credit in the non-discrimination category," Oakley says. "The city has both a local ordinance and state-level protection. And they also have a non-discrimination policy for city employees on the basis of gender identity and are offering transgender-inclusive health benefits to city employees, which is something we've really been working on educating cities about. Unfortunately, there's been a pattern for many years of insurance companies refusing to cover transition-related care, among other things, for people undergoing transition who have medical needs — and that medically necessary care is not covered because a person is transgender. We've been working to let cities know about how affordable it is to offer this care and what a difference it can make to a transgender employee."

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Human Rights Campaign
On the debit side of the column, Denver lacks an LGBTQ liaison for the police department, as well as a separate person fulfilling this role for the mayor's office — items that contributed to the city topping out at 82 points rather than joining the 100 club.

Oakley hopes that by pointing out these shortfalls, the Municipal Equality Index has helped to nudge communities to make positive changes over its five-year run.

"It's hard to claim causation," she admits. "As author, I would love to personally take credit for changes for the better. But we've certainly seen cities that are doing things now that they weren't doing five years ago and are continuing to push the envelope. Our first year, only five cities had transgender-inclusive health care. This year, there were 86."

She's also proud that the report "highlights cities that are doing really hard work in places that folks might consider to be unlikely, whether it's Jackson or Cleveland, Ohio, or Juneau, Alaska. These are all places that have taken major steps forward over the past year — and it hasn't been a terribly easy year for LGBTQ people, with more than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills having been introduced in state legislatures. The vast majority of them didn't become law, but some of them did, including HB2 in North Carolina [which mandates that trans people use the public restroom that corresponds to their gender at birth]. Even with that as a backdrop, though, we're still seeing cities charging forward and doing the right thing by LGBTQ people."

We'll have to wait until next year to see if Colorado cities make such strides. Here's the latest Municipal Equality Index.

Municipal Equality Index 2016

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts