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Cold shoulder

Councilman's diversity board leaves some groups out


Nancy-Jo Morris chided City Council at their Tuesday - meeting for not including members of the GLBT - community on the new Cultural Diversity Board. - 2006 LAURA MONTGOMERY RUTT
  • 2006 LAura Montgomery Rutt
  • Nancy-Jo Morris chided City Council at their Tuesday meeting for not including members of the GLBT community on the new Cultural Diversity Board.

The creation of a new diversity board in Colorado Springs caused a ruckus this week after several women's and minority groups, including members of thegay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered and the disabled communities, were intentionally excluded.

"The buck stops here," City Councilman Darryl Glenn told those who expressed their disappointment Tuesday during a council meeting. "Send the hate mail to me."

Despite pleas from the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Community Center, Citizens Project and others to make the board more inclusive, the council voted unanimously to create a Strategic Plan and Cultural Diversity Advisory Board as proposed. Some had hoped the board would revive the city's Human Relations Commission, which was disbanded amid controversy in 1997 after pushing an ordinance to ban discrimination in the city.

Glenn said the 13-member board will be limited to discussing "strategic issues," while fostering a greater dialogue between the business interests that dominate City Hall and minority groups that tend not to be involved in city issues such as naming streets and recruiting minority police and fire officers.

But that was little solace to Nancy-Jo Morris, a local civil designer who said she was recently fired from her job because she is transgendered.

"I believe this city needs to change its reputation," she told the council, chiding it for leaving the GLBT community off the board.

The entirely Republican council decided the diversity board will be made up of representatives from the following organizations: The Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce; the Housing and Building Association; the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors; the Council of Neighbors and Organizations; the Black Leadership Forum; the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; the Asian and Pacific Islander Leadership Forum; and the Native American Leadership Forum.

The board will also include a representative from an unspecified educational institution and four at-large members.

Drawing lines

Councilman Randy Purvis was happy with the makeup of the board.

"Quite frankly, you've got to draw the line somewhere," he said.

But Barbara Van Hoy, interim director of Citizens Project, said a board charged with informing the council about diversity should include representatives for the disabled, women's groups, people of faith, and the GLBT community.

After the vote, she said Citizens Project would work within the process to improve the board.

Glenn said he hopes to see a diverse crowd apply to the board's at-large seats in coming weeks.

"You could be a homosexual on the Chamber of Commerce and placed on this board," he said after the meeting. "We won't ask. That's inappropriate."

Both Glenn and Councilman Larry Small were clear during the meeting that they would act to abolish the board if it becomes too divisive or is viewed as disruptive.

"If you want to have a political cause, fight the cause in a political forum," Small said prior to the vote.

The GLBT community in Colorado Springs long has fought for recognition and rights, such as access to health benefits and equal treatment for the spouses of city employees with same-sex partners.

These ongoing battles illustrate that the GLBT community deserve to be part of the city's strategic conversations, according to Ryan Acker, director of Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Acker noted that Tuesday's vote came just one week after Mayor Lionel Rivera decided for the second consecutive year not to issue a proclamation welcoming PrideFest.

Asked prior to the meeting why the GLBT community was not included, Glenn said, "That's an extremely polarizing issue with the community. I'm trying to stay with the legally recognized cultural classes. I'm trying not to derail this board from the get-go. It would create a firestorm."

Rosemary Harris, president of the Colorado Springs chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the Independent last week that the board might be improved with representation from community religious groups, such as black churches, and other activist organizations, such as those that lobby for affordable housing.

Without such groups, "How can it really represent true cultural diversity?" Harris asked.

Looking back

Alexander Soifer, a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs mathematics professor, served on City Council's now-defunct Human Relations Commission in the 1990s. He is critical of the new board's heavy tilt toward business interests.

"It's a guarantee of pro-business, conservative votes," he said.

In contrast, he added, the 15-member HRC, which operated for about three decades, was a good, rough representation of the city's diversity.

In the 1990s, the HRC generated controversy among conservative Christians after attempting to pass a "human relations" ordinance that would have outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation in employment, medical, business and other areas. The shake-up resulted in the disbanding of the HRC in 1997.

Lawrence Martinez, a local businessman who is Hispanic and Indian, intends to apply for a position on the board. Racism, he said, is seething beneath the surface of daily life in Colorado Springs.

"In this town, I can tell you it is the color of your skin that matters if they do business with you," he said.

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