The home is a contested space in Denver—a city whose rents, according to the Denver Business Journal, rose more than any other U.S. city between 2005-2015. Denverites so badly need places to live that no one batted an eye last month when both the Broncos and Elitch Gardens announced their plans to get into the neighborhood business.
For LGBTQ people, whose families are more often chosen than given, Denver’s housing crisis has heightened vulnerability and inspired many of us to think creatively. Denver developers aren’t building a city for queer people (our elders, youth, queer PoC, and trans family are being displaced more than most). Our bio-families aren’t going to save us (some of them don’t even speak to us). We’re all we’ve got, and we must be actively involved in imagining and creating domestic spaces in our city if we are going to have a place in it.
Though homes are many things to many people, I want to focus on the home as a site of care, a place where queer bodies support and nurture each other. Care is what got us through the AIDS crisis, and the Pulse nightclub shootings, and it’s what makes us feel that we belong. If our identities set us apart from hetero society, then expressions of care are what bring us into a new community.
From Queer Communes to Queer Housing Networks
The idea of a queer community was integral to the 70s queer liberation movement. Though we might associate it with protest and revolt, historian Stephen Vider reminds us that radical LGBTQ politics rallied queer people to both “come out” and come together.
While plenty of straight people organized communes during this time, LGBTQ people organized gay and lesbian communes for themselves as well. Boston’s Fort Hill Faggots boasted a twenty-person home, while the NYC chapter of the Gay Liberation Front established five communes throughout Manhattan.
Few of these urban communes lasted into the 80s, but some of them transmogrified into rural communes—many of which continue today as Radical Faery communities and womyn’s lands. These, in turn, created a loose network that continues to provide temporary housing to LGBTQ people.
One gay man in Denver, Dave*, described how the Radical Faery community supported him when he was waiting on a Visa.
“I was put up during a jobless-almost-deported period by Faerie friends in Atlanta for about a month or more in the house of a cis-trans couple I met at a faerie gathering in Tennessee,” he explained.
“[Hosting each other] is absolutely part of faerie culture, faerie networks, and faerie houses around the country. One big result of attending faerie events is access to that kind of thing. It’s a vote of confidence and a certain understood commitment ethos.”
Dave, who has lived with other radical faeries and currently lives in a queer-majority house, extended this practice of hospitality into his home.
These supportive networks, emerging in part from the radical politics and experimental communes of 1970s, are still providing LGBTQ people with places to live, and being a part of these communities gives people all the benefits typically afforded to family.
The Tri-Parent Household
Far from the temporary status of travelers and passersby, tri-parent households are another way queer people are living together and supporting each other.
Fawn had been roommates with Jeff, her gay best friend, for years, and they had long planned for Jeff to donate sperm to Fawn and her wife Casey. When the lesbian couple learned they were infertile, they decided to foster and adopt two children. Just months after legal process was complete, they asked Jeff if he would be their kids’ father. The kids (four and six years old at the time) were thrilled to have a third parent, and Jeff was eager to commit to them as well.
While Casey and Fawn remain legally and financially responsible for the children, Jeff shares responsibility for raising the kids.
“I actually feel bad for people who don’t have [tri-parents],” Fawn said. “Parenting is a struggle no matter what. We already had monthly meetings and a chore lists, so we just added parenting into that. It’s wonderful. My wife and I can easily go on a date.”
Having a constellation of parents provides the kids a healthy support system.
“What I love is that even though we are a gay couple, they have a consistent male figure in their life. If anything, they have more [than a typical kid].” Fawn said. “[Jeff is their] forever their dad. He does not need to live here forever. Lots of people do not live with their dads, so you can still be a dad and not be here.”
Tri-parenting doesn’t replicate the nuclear family model, and it doesn’t rely on reproduction. By validating queer people’s ability to be caregivers and loving parents, it opens up new possibilities for family and for belonging. As it emerges as a legal concept, we may see more Denver LGBTQ families adopt it.
“We’ve always had a commune of sorts,” Fawn said. “When we had children it didn’t really change. They just paid less and ate more food than our other roommates.”
Owning It Together: Queer Cooperatives
Another way that Denver LGBTQ people are organizing their households is through cooperatives. You might think of New York City’s famous market-rate cooperatives—yes, Madonna lives in one of those, so they are definitely queer AF—but most of Denver’s co-ops are less formal rental arrangements among friends. In other cases, a cooperative house may be owned by its residents or by a nonprofit. In all cases, co-ops bring people together around shared economic interests, so they tend to be more intentional than a traditional roommate situation.
At Queen City Cooperative, a queer-majority house where I live, we have a shared food budget, we manage an Airbnb together to pay for house maintenance, and we also keep a mutual aid fund to support residents during tough times. Creating a home economics system with total strangers may sound bizarre in a society and economy that favors heteronormative households, but for LGBTQ people, it’s a matter of building a world that supports us and meets our needs.
In addition to economic support, housing co-ops also offer emotional and social support.
“Life with a partner is just watching TV and having cats,” my housemate Sara said. “This life is more rich, more fun, and more supportive.”
Sam, another roommate, elaborated on that.
“Working around straight people all day is exhausting, so it’s nice to come home to a place that’s full of queer people who get me and experience the world in a similar way. There’s no part of your life that you need to defend—except maybe your messy room.”
Queen City Cooperative is part of a growing number of groups in Denver who are pooling their resources to rent or own real estate together. One of the biggest challenges to this movement scaling is currently the city zoning code, which is more restrictive than most of us would imagine: “In a single-unit dwelling, two unrelated persons per household are allowed, and with a home occupation permit, an additional unrelated person is allowed.”
Basically, if you live with two roommates without a permit, you’re living illegally. Nevermind that you can live with as many adults as you like so long as they are bio-family (wife, sister-in-law, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.)
The good news for people who chose their families is that Denver Community Planning and Development is revising the zoning code for group living, and for the first time they’re including cooperatives. This is a huge opportunity for people who identify as LGBTQ to make the case for housing that meets our needs, even if we happen to be unrelated.
In all of these cases, the ways that LGBTQ people organize their homes and define their families creates new opportunities for human connection and support. Many of us don’t fit into heteronormative paradigms, but we don’t need to in order to live and thrive in this city. As we continue to cultivate homes centered on care, we won’t be going anywhere.
*Dave asked to be anonymous, and his name has been changed.