I’ve been working for equal rights in Colorado for over two decades. While I was attending law school at the University of Colorado I became involved in local LGBT rights campaigns. In 1991, I campaigned against a voter-initiated repeal of Denver’s recently amended civil rights ordinance. The city council added protections based on sexual orientation, but right after it took effect a petition drive was started to repeal the new protections. The equal protection ordinance survived the election.
Later that year a petition was circulated to place an anti-gay amendment to the state constitution on the ballot. Known as “Amendment 2,” the initiative was passed by voters in 1992, sparking a boycott and leading to Colorado being called the “Hate State.” I worked on the campaign opposing Amendment 2 and organized the lawsuit challenging it in court. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court and resulted in the landmark Romer v. Evans decision in 1996, the first major victory for LGBT rights in our nation’s highest court.
My involvement in LGBT rights led me to a career in politics. I spent fifteen years lobbying the General Assembly and running statewide ballot initiative campaigns. My clients included school districts, health care providers, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization and other progressive groups. In 2009, I was elected to fill the remainder of a state senate term. I’ve been twice re-elected to the seat.
I’ve watched the State of Colorado evolve its thinking on LGBT issues. The Amendment 2 litigation sparked a backlash, and when the case concluded the legislature began a prolonged debate over same-sex marriage. But the first state legislator came out, and soon openly gay candidates were getting elected. The more we talked about our issues and the more visible we became, the more progress we made. Early setbacks and legislative roadblocks gave us a reason to organize, mobilize and elect supporters. Slowly, and with perseverance, things began to change.
It took 10 years, but in 2005 we passed legislation expanding Colorado’s existing hate crimes act to include sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2007, a new governor signed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that his predecessor had twice vetoed. He went on to sign housing and public accommodations protections, second-parent adoption, equal benefits, and a new estate planning tool for unmarried persons known as a “designated beneficiary agreement.”
My predecessor in the Colorado Senate was the first openly LGBT person to serve in the legislature. Today there are eight, including the Speaker of the House. I now serve as the Chair of the Joint Budget Committee, one of the most powerful positions in our legislature. In the recently completed 2013 legislative session I was the prime sponsor of the Colorado Civil Unions Act, a law that took effect on May 1, 2013. Because of a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2006, marriage equality is prohibited in our state, and civil unions are the most the legislature can do until the constitution is amended again, or until the right lawsuit comes around. Judging from the progress we’ve made in Colorado and all across the country we’re optimistic that things will continue to get better.
Pat Steadman is a Colorado State Senator.