Brad Lee Clark, the unflappable Iowan who has led Colorado’s largest LGBT advocacy organization for three years, will leave One Colorado in early September in order to take a new job, the nonprofit’s board president announced this morning in an email to supporters.
Clark’s last day is tentatively scheduled for the week of Sept. 9. Clark declined to comment on his new role saying details will be announced in the coming weeks.
Clark told the One Colorado’s staff and board about his decision to leave the organization Monday.
“It was a really hard decision,” Clark said in an interview with Out Front Thursday night on the condition the news organization wouldn’t publish until the announcement was made this morning. “I love my job. But it is the right time to take on a new challenge.”
The announcement comes nearly five months after Colorado became the ninth state to offer civil unions to same-sex couples and just as the organization is taking the lead on developing the state’s path toward full marriage equality.
The passage of the Colorado Civil Union Act in March came after three years of intense political debate that boiled to what LGBT advocates and Colorado’s progressive coalition called a government shutdown in May 2012 by then–Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.
Clark and his team seized the shutdown and raised thousands of dollars in a series of email fundraisers which turned into seed money for a political action group, Fight Back Colorado, that targeted Republican lawmakers supporters asserted helped kill the civil union legislation.
That November, Democrats regained control of both chambers of the General Assembly and the civil union bill, sponsored by four of Colorado’s gay and lesbian lawmakers, passed with bipartisan support and went into effect May 1.
The same evening, as more than 100 couples lined up to be the first to enter into a civil union, Clark and his team began to pivot toward the organization’s ultimate goal of full marriage equality.
“You will see marriage in your lifetime,” Clark told an audience at the McNichols Event Center, just a football field’s length from the Denver County Clerk’s office that opened at midnight to begin issuing civil union licenses.
In July, One Colorado conducted an online survey of supporters and will begin a statewide listening tour in September to gauge the interest of LGBT Coloradans on the possibility of a ballot initiative. A steering committee made up of LGBT and allied Coloradans has also been established to help filter through the quantitative and qualitative data.
The tour was developed and will be executed as planned by the nonprofit’s field and communication teams, Clark said.
Colorado’s Constitution defines marriage between a man and a woman. The Constitution will either have to be amended again or Amendment 43, passed in 2006, will have to be found unconstitutional by a court in order to establish same-sex marriage here. Either path is expected to take millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours.
One Colorado’s board is now developing a transition plan at a “breakneck pace,” Clark said. “I have a huge sense of confidence in the One Colorado team. Without a doubt they are going to continue what we’ve done.”
In this morning’s email, board president Bobby Clark said, “We all owe a debt of gratitude to Brad. Under his extraordinary leadership, One Colorado has achieved phenomenal success in a very short period of time.”
The Iowan Cometh
When One Colorado’s board announced it hired Clark, then 29, board member Nita Henry didn’t point to his involvement in the successful Iowa Supreme Court decision to extend full marriage equality to its residents, but rather toward his success in building coalitions.
“It was a feather in his cap but less prominent than his coalition-building efforts,” she told The Denver Post. “He reached people that hadn’t been reached before.”
And in less than a year, Clark replicated much of that success here creating a coalition of nearly 100 organization that represented almost 1 million Coloradans who stood with the LGBT nonprofit in its lobbying efforts to pass the Colorado Civil Union Act. The coalition now includes more than 150 organizations and 1.2 million Coloradans.
Under Clark’s guidance One Colorado opened field offices across the state and grew its staff from one full-time employee in a shared office space near the Capitol to a staff of seven (not including an additional four part-time employees) that includes program directors for health care and safe schools. The nonprofit now leases its office off of Colfax and Lafayette.
Every policy initiative — including a bipartisan anti-bullying bill, the expansion of Medicaid and the inclusion of transgender individuals under health care protections — has been met, the social welfare group has a lobbying team on retainer and both a registered political action and small donor committee.
First funded almost entirely by LGBT philanthropist Tim Gill, One Colorado now has more than 100 members in it’s Centennial Club with 84 members giving at least $1,200 annually, according to the nonprofits website.
Beyond relationship recognition
Before Clark’s arrival, One Colorado commissioned an online survey, much like the survey it just completed to gauge support for a marriage initiative, to find out what LGBT Coloradans wanted for its community. The top three priorities were relationship recognition, safe schools for LGBT youth and better access to health care.
Racism and transphobia were also listed as top concerns.
And so as One Colorado and Clark garnered a fair share of headlines for its work on civil unions, the organization also went to work on the other issues.
The nonprofit helped establish more gay–straight alliances in Colorado schools and released the most comprehensive survey on LGBT health care in 2011. One Colorado supporters actively lobbied for stricter penalties for gender-biased employment discrimination and the Colorado ASSET bill that created a more affordable tuition level for undocumented students to attend Colorado colleges.
The nonprofit also hosted town halls to specifically address and understand issues impacting LGBT people of color and transgender Coloradans.
The LGBT activist — admittedly shy, a self-proclaimed road hazard with a thing for contemporary Christian rock music and practical jokester who considers April Fool’s Day among his favorite holidays — is resolute in his belief the march toward a more fair and just Colorado has only just begun.
Clark said his successor must be bold, keep an open mind for new partnerships and continue to listen to the community.
“I was surprised by all the different people who came forward to work with us,” he said, including Republican lawmakers like former state Sen. Jean White and former state Rep. B.J. Nikkel, who cast the deciding vote in 2012 to move the civil union bill out of committee and put it on a path toward the full House where it had enough votes to pass into law until GOP leadership put the House in recess killing the bill.
And despite all the advances there is still more work to be done to make schools safer, make health care more accessible to transgender Coloradans and full marriage equality, Clark said.
“Colorado families are still denied dozens of critical legal protections,” he said.