Over the past year, America has undergone a transformation.
In June, same-sex marriage became the law of the land, and a bill was introduced recently in Congress to protect LGBT people across the country from discrimination. Queer people are going mainstream — not just legally, but in popular opinion. Consider, by the time Caitlyn Jenner announced her transition to womanhood, America was already in love with Laverne Cox.
But as LGBT acceptance has grown, the network of advocacy groups that engineered that change is starting to wither, as you can witness in Colorado Springs. In 2011, the Gill Foundation closed the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado's local office, saying the movement had come so far that it wasn't needed. Then, in January, the 37-year-old Colorado Springs Pride Center closed, citing financial strain.
Pride centers were vibrant places in the 1990s, when marching in a Pride parade was still a political statement and a foosball table was enough to draw a youthful crowd. These days, political activism often takes place on smartphones.
But local LGBT rights supporters haven't abandoned the services the Pride Center once offered. Nic Grzecka, owner of Club Q and V Bar, announced in January that he was starting a nonprofit to put on the annual Pride Parade, which took place in July. The Colorado Springs Queer Collective also formed after the closure, providing an online list of LGBT resources and a calendar of events. The group wants to expand and offer more services.
In January, Springs Equality also began to organize, with the goal of cultivating a cyber LGBT community center (the Equality Center) and chamber of commerce.
"We really want to focus on the professional and personal development of individuals as well as companies," says Laura Marjamaa, the group's CEO. "As far as why the chamber's important ... we really want to make that equality awareness in the community, and part of that is by showcasing these businesses that promote that."
Springs Equality, run entirely by volunteers who work part- or full-time as needed, is hearing from job-hunting locals who feel discriminated against, particularly transgender people. It plans to start a "Ready to Work" seminar that offers classes on interviewing, resumé writing and other skills, followed by a job fair.
Springs Equality also offers networking events, including a monthly after-hours gathering, a monthly morning coffee and a quarterly luncheon. An awards event, the Road to Equality Gala, is being planned for the first quarter of 2016 to honor its chamber members. Springs Equality has applied for 501(c)3 status for the Equality Center and 501(c)6 status for the chamber. The chamber, which has about 15 members who have filled out paperwork, has also applied to be the local affiliate for the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
At a recent meeting over coffee, Lauren Showcross, board president of Springs Equality and an LGBT ally, gathered with Marjamaa, who is a lesbian, and treasurer Shari Zabel, who is transgender.
"This is not just LGBT-oriented," Showcross says. "We focus on our allies. We focus on all different facets of our orientation and gender identity and creed. So I just want it to be known that we are very much an inclusive organization."
Showcross says Springs Equality hopes to work with existing groups and complement them. Upcoming events, including an after-hours gathering on Aug. 25, will all be announced on springsequality.org, and — naturally — on the group's two Facebook pages.