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A sad sign on I-25 

Southbound travelers into Colorado Springs are seeing an ugly sign of intolerance.

The Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado has adopted a stretch of Interstate 25 near Exit 156B through the state Department of Transportation's "Clean Colorado" program, and for the second time in six months, its "Adopt-a-Highway" sign has been defaced with paint.

"It doesn't just seem to be a random act," says Mary Lou Makepeace, the vice president of the fund. "And that's very disheartening, that people will destroy something just because they don't like what is on the sign.

"Why would people take issue with our name? Obviously, that is a rhetorical question, because the name is 'Gay and Lesbian.'"

The fund has been in the community for 15 years, she points out, and has donated about $7 million to a variety of nonprofits. Makepeace says its downtown site has been vandalized occasionally over the years, with eggs thrown at the building and rocks hurled through the windows.

And while she doesn't believe that they persuade people to homophobia, she says "there are messages, occasionally in this community, that could be described as homophobic."

From a civic standpoint, it's been a bad stretch for local gay-rights advocates. At the end of June, new Mayor Steve Bach declined to sign a proclamation welcoming PrideFest. Most of City Council would follow his lead. Then, in early July, a small group of people was attacked due, its members say, to a couple of them being gay. Despite pleas from citizens, Councilors and Bach declined to issue a proclamation that hate crimes would not be tolerated.

Charles Irwin, executive director of the Colorado Springs Pride Center, has seen his building vandalized on occasion, with windows smashed that cost hundreds of dollars to replace. He feels there could be a link between those kinds of actions and long-standing inaction in city leadership. The way he sees it, "Hate is a learned trait, just like equality is a learned trait. If you don't have leadership in the civic leaders' sector saying that equality is important, then it definitely sends a message."

Bach's office did not return a call for comment.

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