In 1974 Karla Rikansrud was charged with criminal trespassing.
Nearly 40 years later she’s being honored with one of LGBT Denver’s most prestigious recognition: the Paul Hunter Service Award from the Human Rights Campaign.
Then a student at the University of Colorado, Rikansrud and her date, Patty Price, Patty’s younger brother Phil Price (Out Front’s founder) and his date, were out on the town dancing. When management learned the co-ed group’s sexual orientations, the four were asked to leave.
“We wanted to finish our drinks,” Rikansrud said.
It wasn’t that act of civil disobedience that earned Rikansrud the Hunter award. Nor was it the moment that sparked the decades of activism she is being recognized for.
“In those days there was repeated reminders of homophobia,” she said. Almost as often as the red and pink dyed HRC logo popping up on Facebook.
But her arrest is one example of something almost no LGBT person has to experience today because of the Rikansrud’s involvement in the advancement of equal rights.
Rikansrud will receive her award April 20 at the HRC’s Mile High Gala at the Grand Hyatt Regency Hotel.
“When I heard (I was being honored), I had to pause and look back – and I realized, wow, I did do this.”
Among Rikansrud contributions to Colorado’s LGBT community: she was a founding member of AT&T’s gay and lesbian employee resource organization – the fourth in the entire nation – worked with the City of Boulder in response to Amendment 2 passing, sat on HRC’s National Board of Directors, and has raised countless dollars for LGBT and progressive organizations.
In 2010 Rikansrud joined the Gill Foundation and serves as the director of allies and institutions. She works with organizations in the black and Latino communities. She also oversees OnBoard, a program of the Foundation that helps LGBT people and their allies on boards of nonprofits.
“There are people who just assume – and their confidence is great – they just come out and ask ‘what’s the big deal?’ – but it took a lot of hard work to make that happen,” she said.
And while the nation has come along way in the 40 years since Rikansrud’s arrest, she’ll be the first to tell, the work isn’t over.
“The gift that keeps on giving is coming out,” she said.
Carrying on Rikansrud’s tradition are fellow award recipients are A.J. Bridgewater, a Colorado Springs 20-year-old gay man, and Matara Liebow, a 17-year-old Fort Collins woman.
Bridgewater donates his time and resources to the community who helped him overcome homelessness after he was kicked out of his home for being gay. He volunteers at Inside Out Youth Services.
Inside Out was founded in 1991 in Colorado Springs. More than 500 LGBT youth and their ally peers visit the center every year.
“My new family helped me get back up when I was down,” he said. “We have to look out for our community. A lot of people in Colorado Springs still don’t understand. There’s still a lot of work to do in our schools.”
Liebow, who will attend Colorado State University in the fall became president of her high school’s Gay Straight Alliance and now leads a nationwide council of youth for the steering committee for the National Association of GSA Networks.
“GSAs are required and essential,” she said. “They create a safe place for students. It’s important to know they’re not alone. You can be going through a lot, but there are people who are going to judge you.”
The dinner will also mark HRC chief Chad Griffin’s first visit to the Mile High City since he joined the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit.
“Chad will be giving a keynote speech at the Gala sharing with attendees the most current information on the Prop 8 and DOMA cases in front of the Supreme Court,” said Hank Provost, HRC Colorado’s captain.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Patty Price as Peggy Price. Patty is Out Front founder Phil Price’s older sister. Peggy Price is his sister-in-law.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated A.J. Bridgewater founded Inside Out. He founded the Make It Better project at Inside Out. The youth center was founded in 1991.