Where Diversity Doesn’t Include Gays

Colorado Springs is the state’s second largest city. It has a longtime and widespread reputation of being, to put it delicately, diversity-challenged. And two members of the city council have once again cranked up the anti-gay rhetoric.

The debate came during a discussion about whether the city would sponsor a festival designed to celebrate the city’s diverse population – as in, veterans, the handicapped, rich and poor people, African-Americans, Hispanics, Caucasians, Korean-Americans, and so on. The entire reason for this festival, as well as the organization that is sponsoring it, is to demonstrate to the community and the world that Colorado Springs is not an intolerant place.

This was Councilwoman Margaret Radford’s opinion about the city waiving fees for police and city facilities that will be used at the Aug. 18 festival: “When a large portion of this community does not support gay and lesbian viewpoints, I don’t see us putting tax dollars into supporting that direction.”

As detailed in the Colorado Springs Gazette, Radford, along with another member of council, Darryl Glenn, expressed concern during this week’s council meeting that gay and lesbians might potentially mar the festival with political messages if they were allowed to participate.

Their comments infuriated a third member of the City Council, Jerry Heimlicher. But they didn’t surprise him.

“This is just nonsense,” Heimlicher told Colorado Confidential. “Margaret [Radford] was saying, in effect, ‘How dare we spend tax money on gays and lesbians?’ Well, we don’t have a policy that when people call 911 we ask them ‘are you gay, because if you are we won’t come out.’ I mean, this is how ridiculous this has become.”

Further, the sponsoring organization, the Colorado Springs Diversity Forum is not some fringe group, Heimlicher noted. Established in 2005, the forum is a broad coalition whose members includes the local Economic Development Corporation, Chamber of Commerce, Colorado College and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, local TV and radio stations, – even the city government, city-owned hospital and utility company, and the 5th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Doug Lamborn, are members of the festival’s organizing committee.

And so is the Gay and Lesbian Fund, a philanthropic arm of the Gill Foundation. Led by former Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, the Gay and Lesbian Fund has poured money into local causes like the Latin American Education Foundation, Care and Share Food Bank and the Pikes Peak Library District. The organization will likely sponsor a booth at the festival, and hand out pamphlets of some sort, Heimlicher said.

“My attitude is, if this is the community celebrating ourselves and how we get along, what better than to have the city sponsor it?” the councilman said. “This is an attempt to show ourselves and the rest of the world that we do welcome everybody – that we’re all different but we all love this community.”

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential, and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at cdegette@coloradoconfidential.com

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