The Rev. Wes Mullins doesn't think much of Doug Lamborn's title — representative — because he doesn't think the third-term congressman is living up to it.
He's basing the opinion on personal experience. While in Washington, D.C., in late May, the pastor disclosed his affiliation with a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group and asked to see Lamborn or his staff to talk about teen bullying. He was denied. But when Mullins pulled a bait-and-switch, seeking a meeting on the negatives of Obamacare, one of Lamborn's favorite subjects, he got right in.
Which goes to show, Mullins says, that Lamborn listens only when constituents share his conservative ideology.
"My opinion is, if you are a representative, you represent everyone," Mullins says. "We're not going to let him play political games with teenagers' lives."
A spokeswoman for Lamborn said "time constraints" prevent some constituent meetings, but declined to address Mullins' specific allegations.
When Mullins was a teenager in Tennessee, he was taunted for being gay, even by fellow church members. He thought about how he might kill himself, but never tried to take his life. He just refused to buckle his seatbelt when driving the winding mountain roads, "to make dying easier."
Three years ago, Mullins, now 31, became pastor of Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church, which ministers to many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. More recently, he's spent time with Inside/Out Youth Services, a support group for LGBT teens searching for their sexual identity. (Disclosure: Inside/Out meets in the basement of the Indy building.)
When the Human Rights Campaign, whose million members advocate for LGBT civil rights, headed for Washington on May 24 and 25 to lobby Congress, Mullins joined two others from Colorado. The group was urging passage of the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit schools that receive federal funding from discriminating against or harassing public-school students on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The act would open the door for an aggrieved person to sue. Federal laws already bar discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender and disability.
Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, introduced the bill in the House, and Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, introduced a companion bill in the Senate. Their efforts came just months after well-publicized suicides of young men who were bullied for being gay (or for being perceived as gay).
Mullins went to the nation's capital armed with a stack of letters from teens and young adults who had pondered suicide. One wrote that he was repeatedly bullied at a local high school years ago. In response, Mullins says, school officials told him to "man up."
Turning the tables
In Washington, the Colorado threesome met personally with Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Diana DeGette, Democrats who support the bill. They met with staff members of Sen. Mark Udall, Polis and Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican. The meetings were arranged two weeks in advance by a consultant who lines up such congressional visits.
"Tipton's staff accepted the meeting without difficulty," Mullins says, noting he was told that any time would work. "That's a Republican I can't be angry with. We may disagree, but he's listening."
The consultant tried but failed to line up a time with Lamborn's office, Mullins says. The pastor himself then followed up several times, but heard that no one was available — even for five minutes. "Everyone is too busy," he says he was told.
So Mullins put a parishioner up to calling Lamborn's office and asking to talk in person about the negatives of Obamacare. That woman was granted a meeting with a staffer the very next day.
Mullins showed up instead. He arrived a half-hour early — plenty of time, he says, to observe Lamborn's busy staffers as they spent time fiddling with their personal Facebook pages and getting the TVs tuned to a presidential speech about Israel.
When he met Lamborn's staffer face-to-face, the pastor says, the staffer was confused by Mullins' emphasis on bullying. Mullins says he just kept talking, and hopes Lamborn gets the thrust of his message on an issue he says has broad support.
In fact, an anti-bullying bill adopted by the state Legislature and signed into law May 13 by Gov. John Hickenlooper drew yes votes even from some El Paso County GOP lawmakers. The bill sets up a grant program for schools to provide education on and prevention of bullying.
"I'm saddened that I'm not sure Lamborn will hear that message or do anything about it," Mullins says. "One thing I accidentally proved along the way is Lamborn doesn't want to meet with you if you're a Democrat, or if he disagrees with your outlook.
"I don't hate all Republicans," adds Mullins, who says he voted for George W. Bush in 2000. "I want the representative I support to represent the entire district, not just a portion of the district."
Asked to react to Mullins' page-long written statement about his experience with Lamborn's office, Lamborn's press secretary, Catherine Mortensen, replied in an e-mail, "Congressman Lamborn and his staff make every effort to meet with constituents, especially those who have travelled from Colorado to Washington. Regrettably, given time constraints it is not possible to accommodate every request."
She also said Lamborn "is still studying this bill."