Sexual Orientation and the Statehouse, February 2000

Denver Women's Commission
Sexual Orientation and the Statehouse, February 2000

February 10, 2000
Chaer Robert
Prepared for Colorado Woman News

Sexual Orientation and the Statehouse

“I think you’re Lesbian. That’s not in keeping with our company’s image. You’re fired!”

If your boss did this, would he or she be breaking the law? Probably not. Unless your company was located in Denver, Boulder or one of the other Colorado towns with laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation (or perceived sexual orientation), you could be out of luck. Perhaps your company’s personnel policies or union contracts prohibit such dismissals. Short of these specific protections, you might have no recourse.

If Rep. Gloria Leyba’s bill—HB 1331—passes, sexual orientation would be added to all existing Colorado Civil Rights Protections, including employment, public accommodations, sales of cemetery plots, jury service, consumer credit sales and dozens of others. Such laws would cover all of us, because we all have a sexual orientation.

What are the most frequent and vicious slurs against high school boys these days? A peer’s implication that they are gay. Adults do not correct this name-calling with as much consistency as racial name-calling. A targeted individual, gay or not, can be harassed to the point of withdrawal, quitting school, or retaliation. In all such cases, it can interfere with learning. Senator’s Rupert’s SB 105—Safe Schools Bill-- would have required public schools to employ measures to discourage bullying, acts of violence and name calling. The bill was killed.

For a long time after the Oklahoma City bombing, most Federal Employees were on edge. It is not only the direct victims who are more vulnerable because of a crime.

Racist graffiti may offend the whole neighborhood, but those who share the racial identification can feel targeted, even if it was not their house. Laws on hate crimes acknowledge that such crimes go beyond their direct victims and are a message to the whole group. Representative Penfield Tate’s HB 1168 adds sexual orientation, age and disability to our existing law regarding ethnic intimidation. Hating any particular group of people is not illegal. But crimes motivation by bias can carry an extra penalty because the perpetrator seeks to intimidate an entire group.

You fell in love 15 years ago, and have been living together ever since. You would have liked to have gotten married and had a little formal pageantry. It was illegal since you were both women. If fact, nowhere in the country could you get married. So you opted instead for a commitment ceremony in front of friends and family. What do you make of the State Legislature considering reinforcing the existing ban on same-sex marriage? Senator Marilyn Musgrave’s SB 45 also explicitly announces that if any other state ever legalizes same-sex marriage, Colorado wouldn’t acknowledge the marriage. On the one hand, the bill actually changes nothing for you. On the other hand,it is the state proclaiming it will never acknowledge your commitment or grant you the rights and responsibilities of marriage. “SO DON’T EVEN ASK!”

On the other hand, let’s say you and your partner actively went to the Denver County Clerk’s Office and registered as committed domestic partners. Like most people, you didn’t get around to writing a will and durable power of attorney. If your partner was seriously injured in a car accident, and was lying unconscious facing risky surgical options, who should speak for her? Should it be her mother, who talks to her three times a year? Should it be her father, who disowned her when he found out she was Lesbian? Under Sen. Pat Pascoe’s Bill SB 111, that weighty responsibility would have been yours as a “reciprocal beneficiary.” If your partner died, where would her assets and treasures go? If you were married, the spouse would inherit. Without a spouse or a will, they would likely flow back to the parents. Unfortunately, this bill was killed in committee. Best advice is to get a will and power of attorney prepared, especially if you are gay or lesbian. Don’t wait for help from the State Legislature.

Why has so little progress been made on these issues? Most legislators did not hear from constituents who self-identify as lesbian or gay. Most also don’t hear from straight constituents that these are important civil rights issues. As Rich Castro, former director of my organization—the Agency for Human Rights and Community Relations, used to say,“liberty and justice for all…no exceptions!”

For more information on the status of any bill, call the bill Room at 303-866-3055 or online at www.state.co.us/gov_dir/stateleg.html . To identify your state senator or representative, call your county clerk’s office.

To get more involved in advocacy on these and related issues, contact Equality Colorado at 303-839-5540, or Equality Colorado.

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