This is a crucial time for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. He's running a dead heat against Republican Ken Buck in a Senate race that has attracted the largest investment of outside money in the nation. In these last few days before Nov. 2, Bennet's got to attract moderates while rallying his base.
It's also a crucial time for Colorado's LGBT community. Carolyn Cathey, former president of the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Community Center, jokes before a few dozen people at the Underground on Monday evening, saying that as much progress as this county and country have made in gay rights, "Today, I tell you, when the conservatives start talking about outlawing being gay in Montana, I don't know where the hell I'll go hunting."
On this night, activists within the Colorado Springs progressive and LGBT communities have come together to talk about bullying and teen suicide with Bennet's wife, Susan Daggett. It is an event hosted by the Equality Initiative, an organ of the El Paso County Democratic Party. As Cathey tells the Independent, "One of the reasons that we're doing the event is that no one has come to the GLBT community and asked to meet. The reason that we want to put them in front of Susan Daggett is that sometimes they forget about us when they go to Washington."
The September suicide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who jumped to his death after being humiliated online by his roommate and another student, has been "a wake-up call," Cathey says.
"The gay community has to be engaged, we have to stand up for ourselves, and we have to say, 'No more.' And it's not just the gay community; it's the allied community. Our children, no matter if they are straight or gay or questioning, we have to let them know that we love them and that we will not stand for them to be bullied in school."
"Can you imagine Buck trying to push legislation for anti-bullying?" she asks. "I don't think that that is going to happen."
As Cathey notes, Buck has made plays to the state's most socially conservative ideologues with his claim that homosexuality is akin to alcoholism, among other statements.
Daggett is welcomed warmly, and she mingles for a half-hour. While here, ostensibly, to listen to the LGBT community's concerns, when she gets to the microphone she basically sends a more standard-issue warning: The ability of the Obama administration to continue with a progressive agenda could be severely limited if Republicans unseat her husband. It is why, as she says, outside interests have spent more on this race than any other race in the country — $28.7 million at last count.
"Karl Rove has spent millions and millions of dollars attacking Michael Bennet in this race," she says. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told the National Journal that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
"Really? Really?" Daggett asks. "Shouldn't his number one priority be creating jobs in this country? Shouldn't his number one priority be improving the health care bill that we passed? Shouldn't his number one priority be solving the difficult problems that we face?
"If you think back to where we were two years ago, we were losing 700,000 jobs a month. GM was in bankruptcy. Lehman Brothers had failed," she says. "That's how serious it was. And so when people are frustrated that we haven't come far enough over the last 22 months ... when people are feeling angry that we are still in this horrible economy, I try to remind people of where we were. And how much different it looks now than it did then."
On Tuesday, Shawna Kemppainen, the executive director of Inside/Out Youth Services, talks about coming out to listen to Daggett. She wasn't representing her organization, she says, and notes that her vote isn't yet committed to Bennet.
"If I am invited somewhere," she says, "I am listening."
Inside/Out (which rents office space in the Independent's basement) isn't a lobbying organization, she says; its goal is to educate, to empower LGBT youth and their allies and to raise the awareness of the issues they face.
"Schools that have policies that include sexual orientation and gender expression in their anti-bullying and discrimination policies are safer schools on whole, have higher graduation rates and less incidents of bullying — because they call it out, they address it and they aren't going to let it go," she says. She points to a piece of anti-bullying legislation, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, that could advance the cause of protecting youth based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
And while the senator is hoping for her vote, and the vote of the LGBT community, Kemppainen is hoping he will support the bill. So far, Bennet is not one of its 12 co-sponsors.
"I don't know if it's that he is not supportive, I just don't know if anyone has asked them yet," she says. "When I brought this up to Susan Daggett ... when I asked where the senator is on this legislation, she said that it might be that they don't know about it. But I don't know why.
"In the light of what has happened, I think that this could be something relevant in timing. I think that it is relevant all the time, but if you are someone who is looking for support right now, this is a good statement about what you believe and the character of our country."