Benjamin Broadbent, pastor at First Congregational Church, grew up in Massachusetts, Connecticut and California and has been a local leader in LGBTQ issues for years.
Broadbent supports freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples because, as he has explained, "as a Christian, I believe in the power of covenanted, loving relationships, no less for same-sex couples."
In an interview, he says, "I think a huge theme of the gospel is radical inclusion. I believe Jesus was radically inclusive in his time. He was always paying attention and directing his ministry and compassion toward those on the margins, specifically those who were differentiated by gender, by sexual difference, as well as by things like disease, impurity. The call of the church is to embody the call of Jesus to advocate on the part of the marginalized, including those who are sexually different."
Broadbent noted in a column that appeared in the Independent in 2013, after same-sex unions were legalized, that "it is only a matter of time before even conservative Christians in Colorado Springs embrace gay marriage as a healthy and holy institution."
Meantime, he added, "I feel privileged to have been a part of weddings at which two people of the same gender ask the blessings of their family and friends, their church and their God upon their relationship."
Broadbent's humanity extends to many disenfranchised populations. He's spoken out on behalf of prison inmates and publicly objected to the city's so-called, sit-lie ordinance, which some view as discriminating against the poor and homeless.
In a video message, he tells what it means to "go with God."
"Each week people come into this place to remember who they are, to catch a glimpse of the vision for a just world and to be nourished at this table ... which we call Holy Communion. But this feast is not something we enjoy privately. ... This feast is a movable feast, a thanksgiving table with wheels. This feast must go out the door with us. The God of this movable feast beckons us to share life ... wherever we live, go to school, or work or play. That is the meaning of communion ... so that through us God might change the world."
When the Supreme Court handed down its ruling this time last year sanctioning same-sex marriage nationwide, Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Jill Gaebler coincidentally was visiting the nation's capital with her family. They'd just left a White House tour and encountered a gay men's choir singing outside. She checked the news on her phone, then rushed to the Supreme Court building to be part of history.
"Someone took a picture of us and I put it on Facebook," she recalls. "I had no idea how that would impact our community. The gay community said, 'My city councilperson is there — we are represented.'"
Gaebler's involvement with the LGBTQ community began while she was running for City Council in 2013 and received an invite to speak at the Pride Center. "That first meeting was so eye-opening for me about the bigotry and issues they deal with day-to-day," she says. "They became friends. It became a priority for me to try to be a voice for them."
The former Air Force officer, now 49, works full-time on City Council matters despite the meager annual stipend of $6,250. "I know we don't earn much. But I take it seriously as far as having these four years that have been given to me to do what I can to affect policy and promote the things I care about in our community."
Encouraging more local food production has been one of her main initiatives, along with infill and logistical connectivity issues. Regarding LBGTQ matters, she says, "I haven't done anything crazy or gotten any policy changed, but I've been there hand-in-hand with this community. I've spoken at Transgender Day of Remembrance several times. I've been a voice for inclusion, for everybody to have the same rights as I do."
To her, that doesn't seem like anything "extraordinary." It just seems like the right thing to do. "I'm just supporting all of my community."
In the late 1990s, a developer named Bob Willard began planning a project on a hill of mine tailings now known as Gold Hill Mesa.
South of U.S. 24 between Eighth and 21st streets, the property was once home to Golden Cycle Mill, which processed an estimated 14.5 million tons of ore over 50 years, extracting gold and leaving a hill of tailings behind. It closed in 1949, and the property had been a brownfield afterward — the tailings contain arsenic.
Willard saw promise in this discarded property, and in the mid-2000s, following a long process to ensure development would be safe, a plan took shape for 600-plus homes and commercial development. By 2008, about 50 homes were built, the recession was hitting hard and people had doubts, despite the research that had gone into the project.
Fast-forward eight years. More than 300 homes have been built, and Stephanie Edwards, vice president of the development, says if current demand continues, all the planned homes should be built in two to three years, with the commercial portion getting underway perhaps in that same time frame. Edwards says despite the downturn, Gold Hill Mesa has performed well with buyers due to smart, strategic moves. In the hard years, she says, the development went from being owned by a hedge fund to being owned outright by an ownership team including Robert Hadley and Monte McKeehan, both of Seattle, and Willard.
Something else happened: Gold Hill Mesa became really popular with the LGBT community. It's even known as Gay Hill Mesa. Edwards says whatever the reason, she's thrilled that the neighborhood has turned out to be diverse, accepting and community-oriented.
"We think it's a symbol of strength, having a community that's inclusive of everybody," she says.
John Singleton, owner of Design Works, has lived in Gold Hill Mesa with his partner for two years and says he was overjoyed to find a neighborhood where he feels completely welcomed as a gay man. He enjoys the stylish homes, up-to-date amenities, urban location and sense of community. He notes that he's constantly going to Gold Hill concerts or wine tastings, he knows all his neighbors, and everyone — whatever their politics — has been kind to him. After the Orlando shooting, he says he noticed rainbow flags on the porches of his neighbors, many of whom he knew were straight. Even talking about it now moves him to tears.
"It's like its own little Twilight Zone, because it's so wonderful," he says.
Although he's been active in the Colorado Springs LGBTQ community for well over a decade, Nic Grzecka's profile has risen dramatically in recent years.
He became co-owner three years ago of the LGBTQ-friendly Club Q at 3430 N. Academy Blvd., and he stepped up to save the Colorado Springs PrideFest after the city's Pride Center closed its doors in early 2015.
"Nobody else was willing to take it on," says Grzecka of the annual event, which went on to maintain its prominence and celebrated its 25th anniversary last summer.
The Colorado Springs native was also among the organizers of the spontaneous candlelight vigil that took place in the wake of last month's Orlando shooting atrocity, a tragedy that called attention to the intolerance that had seemed to be receding with the acceptance of gays in the military and the legalization of same-sex marriage.
"A lot of people thought, 'Well, we've won our battles,'" says Grzecka.
"But realistically, there are still no protections, in many states, from being fired for being gay. And there are LGBT subcommunities — people of color, people of gender identity — who are still hated and discriminated against. That never went away for them."
"So we weren't past it, but socially it seemed like we were. And then, when that [Orlando] attack happened, I think it was a wake-up call."
Even so, Grzecka still sees cause for optimism, particularly in a city once considered an epicenter of anti-gay hatred that led to national notoriety.
"Over the last two decades, the social acceptance for the LGBT community in Colorado Springs has changed drastically," he says, "and in a good way."
Twenty-five years after its inception, Inside/Out Youth Services continues to provide a safe haven that no other organization in El Paso County does, a place for young LGBTQ people to learn and grow safely.
Founder Regina DiPadova says, "I am really proud, and pretty overwhelmed, with the ripple effect that it's had."
She says many of the young people who attended Inside/Out's first meetings in the early 1990s have grown into successful community leaders, though they faced challenges as youths.
Despite growing awareness of LGBTQ issues, youths today face the same difficulties. In some ways, the conditions are even worse.
"Kids are coming out earlier and earlier," says Inside/Out's current executive director Mary Malia, who took the organization's reins last year. "They're coming out in middle school and high school, when it used to be that people would come out in college. So the possibility of kids getting thrown out or living in families that aren't accepting dramatically increases suicide rates."
The environment that Inside/Out provides, between weekly support groups and recreational outings, creates a feeling of belonging, which is a strong step in suicide prevention. Students find friendship, support and healthy role models through Inside/Out's programs.
"People my age, we all came out in the bars," DiPadova recalls. "We came out with really unhealthy images of gay people, really unhealthy relationships. But I wanted the kids to have the support of each other, to create a healthy community."
In addition to supporting students on an individual level, Inside/Out takes training to schools, helping administrative staff understand Colorado's anti-discrimination laws and how to implement them.
Bullying and discrimination are still very prevalent issues in the school system. When asked if LGBTQ youths are safer in schools now versus 25 years ago, DiPadova and Malia agree: "There's still a lot of work to be done."
Rosemary Lytle is used to standing next to "spotted people." That's what her grandmother taught her — find the spotted person whom no one will stand with, and go stand with them.
From reporting on marginalized communities for 10 years at the Gazette to working for groups like the Women's Resource Center, 9to5, ACLU, NAACP and Positive Impact Colorado, Lytle carries a fiercely inclusive ethos to every interconnected strand of social justice. The LGBTQ strand was always self-evident to her, as someone who grew up with two openly gay sisters. All three of her sisters did stints in the military during the Don't Ask, Don't Tell era, but, as Lytle puts it, "My youngest sister was very successful there and the other two cut it short. And what's the difference? They were gay and she was straight."
Though LGBTQ rights were always important to her, it was some time before other civil rights movements began their explicit embrace. Lytle remembers the first time it came up at an annual NAACP conference. Somebody asked how LGBTQ rights fit into the group's overall mission, and the late Julian Bond answered definitively, "Gay rights are civil rights, and it's just as simple as that."
That's when Lytle realized she could use her position as local chapter president to lend public support to the campaign for marriage equality ... and she did.
Now, at her new gig with Positive Impact Colorado — a state-funded nonprofit that helps felons navigate life after prison — Lytle sees first-hand how pervasive discrimination compounds the trauma of incarceration. "One of our first participants was a trans woman," Lytle says, noting that trans people of color are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. "And that just validated all the time we spent as a staff and as a board talking about inclusion and writing it into our materials."
That participant graduated the program and is now housed and employed — a victory, for sure.
"But we still have so, so much heart and mind work to do," Lytle says. "I may not be re-entering from incarceration, but I think we're all re-entering from something."
'Music builds bridges. It brings people together," says Guy McPherson, founder and former president of Springs' Out Loud: The Colorado Springs Men's Chorus. In any other context, such a simple sentiment would be prone to dismissal, a cliché. But it regains its deeper meaning when applied to the story of Out Loud.
The framework for the now 10-year-old choir was put together at First Congregational Church, where McPherson and his fellow founding members gathered around a piano with a few hymnals. Word quickly spread through the church, and the group soon found themselves performing for the congregation.
"We weren't deciding to start a gay men's chorus at that moment," McPherson says, "but the church went crazy for it."
The interest didn't subside, and the momentum soon proved too strong to turn back.
At the same time McPherson and the choir — some of whom were military personnel — were planning the group's public debut, "A Night on Broadway," Don't Ask, Don't Tell was making its way through the headlines. When the Gazette came calling, the choir's future was destined to go one of two ways. "[The Gazette article] almost put us in a panic mode," McPherson says. "We didn't know what the backlash was [going to be]."
The backlash came in the form of an outpouring of public support and unsolicited donations — nothing the group really expected.
"That first concert showcased that people wanted to support the gay community," McPherson says, "and this was a new way that they could do that."
Ten strong years later, McPherson is proud of what he and his fellow choir members have been able to accomplish.
"I think we've represented Colorado Springs well," he says, "I hope we continue to bring our message of tolerance and love, and justice for all — it's not just about us. ... And there are plenty of showtunes; we'll never run out."
Susan Peiffer has packed a lot of work into the four years she's lived in the Springs. Currently the Pikes Peak Poet Laureate and program director of local slam poetry organization Hear Here, her role, she says, is to "make poetry more accessible and appealing as a tool for enjoyment — and expression — to whomever is interested in exploring it."
While that is a large part of what she does, she deserves credit for much more. Peiffer's first year in Colorado Springs, 2012, was the one-year anniversary of Hear Here, back when it was just an open mic. Now it's a nonprofit with poetry workshops, youth programs and multiple events each month.
How? According to Peiffer, opportunity and ambition.
"The need and the desire from the community was here," she said. "It just needed someone to spearhead, direct and say, 'Here is where the opportunities are.'"
Her involvement has paid off. This is the fourth year the organization has taken an adult team to the national slam poetry competition, and the second year they've taken a youth team.
The youth program is particularly special, as it opens doors for young people to take advantage of a safe space and engage in open dialogue with others. Many of these youths are LGBTQ or otherwise in need of a place to express themselves. Peiffer explains that enabling people with the tools to talk through issues is incredibly important.
She says visitors to Hear Here events are consistently impressed with the vulnerability of the people onstage, and "that is not an accident. That happens by creating an intentional safety."
Hear Here's policy of acceptance and openness has served it well in the past few years, and Peiffer hopes to continue enriching the spoken-word community by giving folks that desperately needed platform for expression.
One dollar at a time.
That mantra drives the United Court of the Pikes Peak Empire's fundraising efforts. Now in its 40th year, the group raises between $12,000 and $15,000 per year for local charities like Inside Out Youth Services and the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region. They collect donations dollar-by-dollar — from tips at charity drag shows to auctions and other volunteer works.
"To make philanthropy a fad is my goal," says Anthony Merkle. His drag persona,Shelby G. Moorehead, holds the title Empress XL for UCPPE. His partner,Travis Henderson, serves as Emperor XL. It's unusual for an Emperor and Empress to be a couple, because the positions are elected, but it's not unheard of.
The Court is an all-inclusive organization, welcoming members who are "gay, straight, bi, lesbian, transgender; our membership comes very heavily from all of those groups," says Henderson. They have members of all ages and backgrounds.
"We have members who have been alongside fighting through the AIDS crisis, fighting for marriage equality, fighting through the most recent tragedy in Orlando," adds Merkle. "That's what the Court system does. We take any kind of negativity in our community, and we turn it into a positive way for us to stand up for what we see as right."
The money that the Court raises goes to a variety of local charities, as selected by the Emperor and Empress. Being 100 percent volunteer-run, UCPPE shares volunteers with many other local organizations. While they've always been good at raising money, Henderson and Merkle are focused on being more visible in the community, breaking down walls and teaming up with other organizations.
"There was a time that you could go out to the bars and everyone knew who the Court was," says Merkle.
They hope to make that true again.
When Wag N' Wash co-owners Dan Remus and Jef Strauss opened the original Uintah Street location in 1999, they had no plans for the type of growth they've since experienced: They now own five locations, with six franchises currently open and six more on the way.
That success has enabled the life partners of 21 years to embark on many philanthropic projects, most tied to companion-animal causes such as pet adoptions, food drives and support for groups like the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region.
"My dad always said, 'The community is good to you, so it's an obligation to be good back,'" says Strauss, whose father owned Hart's Diamond Jewelers on Tejon Street from the early '70s to late '90s. Strauss developed his own keen sense of great customer service from his work at Hart's, and Remus lent his background in corporate personnel work to Wag N' Wash.
Branching out from Colorado Springs, where they've also supported both the Colorado AIDS Project and Southern Colorado AIDS Project, the two (with the backing of several pet food brands) have raised more than $40,000 in the past three years for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Specifically via a week-long bike ride between the municipalities called AIDS/LifeCycle.
Though that money's not for their home state, "there are ancillary effects via social media that affect the entire country," says Strauss, who also served for three years on the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado's community funding panel. The GLFC would give money to other nonprofits that agreed to adjust their policy and procedure codes to be nondiscriminatory to the LGBTQ community.
Wag N' Wash has also supported the great work of Project Angel Heart, which delivers meals to those struggling with mobility issues and life-threatening illness — many who fought AIDS benefited from their services.
"I care a lot about what happens on the give-back side," says Strauss. "A lot of people don't realize how little you need to do sometimes to make such a huge benefit down the line for someone else."
Contributors: Pam Zubeck, Matthew Schniper, J. Adrian Stanley, Alissa Smith, Griffin Swartzell, Nat Stein, Bill Forman and Craig Lemley.