It’s a tough time to be a trans person in this country. As of April 13, there are 90 pieces of anti-trans legislation introduced in 33 states. These bills would do everything from restricting trans people’s ability to update identification documents to criminalizing gender-affirming health care for minors and — in some states —people under 21. It is an all-out assault waged on trans people by Republican-led state legislatures and conservative policy groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Heritage Foundation.
Thankfully Colorado, which has some of the most robust LGBTQ protections in the country, is not one of the states considering such legislation. That wasn’t always the case. Just 30 years ago Colorado was known as the “hate state” and discrimination against gays and lesbians — to say nothing of trans people — was not just commonplace, it was enshrined in law. Amendment 2, or “Colorado No Protected Status for Sexual Orientation” was a ballot initiative approved in 1992 that denied LGBTQ legal protections from discrimination. Though it was overturned in the 1996 Supreme Court ruling Romer v. Evans, Amendment 2 had a profound impact on Colorado’s LGBTQ community.
Dorian Wenzel is a local author and photographer whose semi-autobiographical novel Adventures of a GWF Reborn — “GWF” is “gay white female” for those of you who have never spent time in an AOL chat room — documents life in Amendment 2-era Colorado Springs and was recently added to the Stonewall National Museum and Archives. “I came out at 30,” says Wenzel, who moved to Colorado Springs from Syracuse, New York, in 1993. “I came here and all my friends were like, ‘What the hell are you doing that for?’ I said, ‘Well, they’re going to need queer people there.’”
Wenzel took part in local campaigns to protest Amendment 2, which was a dangerous activity at the time. “We did a ‘Celebrate Diversity’ campaign,” she says. “We not only had ‘Celebrate Diversity’ bumper stickers, we made 8-by-10 signs and asked the stores to put them in the windows to recognize us and support us. It was a big battle. It was half-and-half here. I actually got screamed at while driving my car just for having that bumper sticker on my car. People would scream at you for just walking down the street with your lover, holding hands.”
Much of the support for Amendment 2 came from conservative religious groups like Focus on the Family, which had an outsized influence on local politics. “A lot of their people ran for City Council and county commissioner seats, and at that time they did have a major influence on politics. That’s how they got Amendment 2 on the ballot,” says Wenzel. “I remember one lady, Betty Beedy, and she was a bitch.”
Beedy was an El Paso County commissioner who opposed allowing same-sex couples to be foster parents and who told TV host Starr Jones that only white people are “normal.” Beedy’s rhetoric makes recent transphobic tweets by former District 5 City Councilor Jill Gaebler seem tame by comparison.
Wenzel notes that Amendment 2 had a negative economic impact on Colorado. “We gave [Focus on the Family] a lot of tax breaks, because they said, ‘We’re going to bring tourism in,’ and they cost the state $100 million with Amendment 2 because they did a boycott and nobody would bring their conventions here.”
Anti-gay bigots were brazen in their attempts to intimidate the LGBTQ community. “They were at PrideFest every year, screaming at us,” says Wenzel, “until we got the right to keep them on the corner, and it took a lot to do that.”
In addition to organized harassment, the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Community Center and Inside Out Youth Services were victims of break-ins, vandalism and arson attacks.
Such things are hard to imagine in Colorado today. “It’s amazing to see the difference,” says Wenzel.