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Pride and prejudice 

In Colorado Springs, at first, the incident was given mostly casual notice.

A small brief buried in the Gazette. A TV news report that was here and gone in a day. It might as well have been a car pile-up or a new baby zoo animal.

However, signs would suggest that this incident, which took place in the early morning hours of Saturday, July 2, was a hate crime — significant enough to the nation that resides outside the bubble of Colorado Springs to warrant stories in the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Daily Kos and the Advocate, among others.

As Christy Le Lait, executive director of the El Paso County Democratic Party, put it: "There was attention being paid everywhere else, except for here."

Before the attack in question, a group of friends, including two Fort Carson soldiers, went to pick up a late-night meal at a taco shop after working at a local gay club. The group was approached, apparently at random, by five men and two women who shouted homophobic slurs and then beat them savagely. The victims suffered significant injuries. One man had to have his jaw wired.

According to the police blotter: "The altercation appears to have been the result of the suspects taking exception to the way one of the victims was dressed."

Carolyn Cathey, local Realtor and county Democrats' secretary, says she heard about the attacks on the news and was quick to contact several City Council members as well as Stephannie Finley, acting head of communications for Mayor Steve Bach. Cathey wanted Council and the mayor to speak out against the attack by issuing a proclamation that hate crimes would not be tolerated in Colorado Springs.

The reaction disappointed her.

Councilor Val Snider called Cathey on behalf of City Council and said something along the lines of: It's not Council's job or role to take a stand on such issues.

Cathey says the mayor's office never called her back.

Rally cry

For the gay community, the whole incident appeared to be yet another setback in a town famous for setbacks.

Colorado Springs, after all, is the city whose last mayor refused to support PrideFest for eight years, and whose new mayor says he will follow suit with no proclamation. Bach has said that he condemns hate crimes and wants the city to be a place of tolerance, but he won't give an official endorsement to PrideFest.

With the help of local Democrats and the Colorado Springs Pride Center, the gay community held a rally Tuesday outside City Hall, pressing for action rejecting hate crimes. About 50 people showed up to hear speakers, including Chuck Bader of the Colorado Springs Area Labor Council, who said of Bach's inaction: "You are sending a message to the people of Colorado Springs that it is now open season on gay people."

The rally ended on a sour note when City Councilor Tim Leigh took the mic, only to say that while he was against hate crimes, he still would not sign a proclamation condemning them in his official capacity.

Shortly before 1 p.m. the group moved inside for the City Council meeting, where a resolution condemning hate crimes was presented to Council for consideration. Many citizens spoke emotionally about the issue.

Shawna Kemppainen, executive director of Inside/Out Youth Services, which serves LGBT youth, fought back tears as she told Council that she hears from kids every week who are attacked in school or on the street because of their sexual orientation.

"The worst thing, the scariest thing we hear them say is, 'Don't worry about it. It happens all the time.'"

Council, however, was mostly unmoved.

For many Councilors the hate crimes issue was deemed "political" and therefore inappropriate for Council to address. Council and Bach previously refused to sign a proclamation in honor of PrideFest on those grounds. The only dissenters were Council President Scott Hente and Jan Martin who later coauthored a letter of support for PrideFest.

Hente told the crowd Tuesday that Council officially condemned hate crimes eight years ago, and while a more forceful resolution might be warranted, the new Council still was conflicted about proclamations or resolutions.

Other Councilors were less diplomatic. Lisa Czelatdko turned on the group, saying, "I resent the perpetration that Colorado Springs is a city of ignorance and intolerance."

Leigh, meanwhile, said that the Council didn't want people causing "a ruckus" and distracting the Council from "real issues."

That comment caused Cathey to stand up out of her chair and yell an objection, while Hente tried to maintain order.

What next?

Needless to say, the Council won't likely sign an anti-hate crimes resolution. Nor, it appears, will the mayor, though Bach did say, "We will not tolerate discrimination and violence in our city. Period."

But the explanation for their refusal seemed awkward, at best. Most officials were emphatic that any reasonable person could see that hate crimes were wrong. And yet, they continued to insist, stating so in writing is "political."

Activists say that label is inaccurate.

"I don't know where they're getting this idea that this is a political issue," county Democratic chair Kathleen Ricker said. "This is a human rights issue."

Ricker and others fear that violence and intimidation toward the LGBT community could become more common with the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" close to being implemented. When that happens, newly "out" gay and lesbian service members are expected to be more visible in Colorado Springs.

The question activists pose: Will they be welcomed?

stanley@csindy.com

  • Following a hate crime, and on the eve of PrideFest, the gay community speaks out.

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