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Taking Pride: The Push for LGBTQ Progress in Denver

Updated: Jun 19

Celebrating Pride Month 2024

Social progress takes decades, and it’s hard to say where and when it truly begins. Was it at the Pit, Denver’s first gay bar, which opened in 1939? Was it when five men and women met in a Denver apartment in 1972 to do something for that era’s gay liberation effort? Was it when dozens of brave souls took a step in a parade in 1976? 

The answers are yes, and yes, and yes again—even as we can never truly know and recognize all the moments and people who have pushed to improve LGBTQ lives in Denver. This month, we salute them and tell the bare bones of their story, yesterday and today.

1972 was a landmark year for LGBTQ rights in Denver.

That’s when Gerald Gerash, Lynn Tamlin, Terry Mangan, Jane Dundee and Mary Sassatelli formed the Gay Coalition of Denver. Their grassroots movement went on to take various forms, opening as The Center on Colfax in 1976. Today, they represent the largest LGBTQ community center in the Rocky Mountain region, “giving voice to Colorado's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community and playing a pivotal role in statewide initiatives to reduce harassment and discrimination.”

More moments, more voices heard.

Throughout the 70's, 80’s and 90’s, progress continued, even amid setbacks.

  • 1975: Clela Rorex, Boulder County Clerk in 1975, issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, taking advantage of Colorado's gender-neutral statute at the time.

  • 1976: Denver's first Pride parade began its glittering, soul-affirming march.

  • 1980s: Director of The Center Carol Lease worked to stop police discrimination against the gay community and created DATACALL as an advocacy hotline.

  • 1992: Colorado Amendment 2 passes, barring laws that protect LGBTQ people, but is later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Romer v. Evans.

  • 1994: Tim Gill, software entrepreneur, started The Gill Foundation in 1994, one of the largest funders of LGBTQ equality efforts. The foundation helped rebuild The Center in Denver in the 1990s.

Colorado becomes one of the most progressive states for LGBTQ equality.

Ground-breaking Denver politicians continue to make a huge difference. People like:

  • Leslie Herod: The first Black LGBTQ person elected to the Colorado General Assembly, she advocates for the LGBTQ community, speaks out against anti-trans rhetoric and supports trans youth.

  • Brianna Titone: Colorado's first transgender lawmaker, working to find common ground and educate fellow lawmakers about transgender issues.

  • Dominick Moreno: Former Senate Majority Leader, who worked to grow the LGBTQ caucus in the legislature, also sponsoring Jude's Law to help transgender Coloradans update their identity documents

  • Daneya Esgar: The first LGBTQ person to run for public office in Pueblo. As a former House Majority Leader and current Pueblo County Commissioner, she pushed for greater LGBTQ representation and co-sponsored the bill banning conversion therapy for minors in Colorado.

And the work goes on.

We recognize the amazing strides made by these and other organizations in our community:

  • One Colorado: The state's leading advocacy organization dedicated to advancing equality for LGBTQ Coloradans through policy, health care, education, and civic engagement.

  • The Gill Foundation: Providing grants to organizations working to secure full equality for LGBTQ people.

  • PFLAG Denver: Local chapter of the national PFLAG organization, supporting LGBTQ people and their families since 1980.

  • Transgender Center of the Rockies: Offering holistic gender-affirming services and support for the adult Colorado trans community.



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