What does Denver’s gay community really want?
“Are you the lady running on the gay agenda?” the woman on the other end of the phone asked politely. “Well, I am a lesbian, yes, but my focus is on the economy, housing and quality of life in Denver. Can I count on your vote?” I replied. “No, I’m sorry, we just can’t support anyone running on the gay agenda.” “I’m sorry you feel that way, thanks for your time.”
Back in 2010, I decided to run for a citywide seat on the Denver City Council, with more than 30,000 voters electing me to office. My volunteers and I sent mail to more than 70,000 households (sorry, trees!), and spoke to thousands of voters in person. I had the above conversation only one time. Really. Once. I had hundreds of conversations about trash, taxes, transit and traffic. But thanks to Jen Viega, Mark Ferrandino, Pat Steadman, Lucia Guzman, and decades of community leadership and advocacy, my sexual orientation really wasn’t an issue to Denver’s electorate.
But I suspected it might matter to members of the LGBT community. I didn’t run for office because I was gay, but I did feel it was past time for the LGBT community to have representation on a body that, to our knowledge, never had. I am honored to serve with many strong allies on the City Council who have served the LGBT community successfully for years. And thanks to those allies who came before, there wasn’t a lot of policy work left to do at the municipal level in Denver, where employment non-discrimination prompted Amendment 2 more than two decades ago, and a domestic partner registry and benefits for same-sex partners of employees have long been on the books. Representation isn’t just about big policy, however, it’s also about having someone who understands differing perspectives, is willing to dig into pieces of the system that aren’t working, and who can inspire and support community priorities. I also suspected that having an out Denver leader might be a conduit for even more LGBT residents to engage with their city.
And you have. At long last, I know what the “gay agenda” – long a mystery to me – is all about.
It’s about the safety of kids at risk for substance abuse, as I partnered with a gay doctor who sought to impact youth attending concerts at Red Rocks.
It’s about street maintenance and quality of life, as one of my gay constituents alerted me to semi-trucks improperly driving on residential streets in his area.
It’s about libraries, as many of my gay and lesbian neighbors fought to make sure increased library hours were a component of Denver’s recent 2A ballot measure.
It’s about the environment, as lesbian leaders educate me on alternative energy and transportation policy.
It’s about the most vulnerable among us, as LGBT community members advocated for Denver to do more to help the homeless find housing and services while City Council debated the ban on camping.
It’s about business, as several out business leaders work with me to advance manufacturing in Denver.
And it’s about kids, as my family and others meet up at Denver parks to talk about our children’s future.
Every day LGBT people contribute to making Denver a better place to live and do business for everyone. If I were to sum up what I have heard from you so far, it’s that you want a great city; a clean and safe city; one that is diverse and cares for the vulnerable; and that you’re willing to put your time and effort behind these efforts. That’s an agenda I’m proud to be a part of. Thank you.
If you haven’t yet gotten involved, there’s no time like the present. Consider serving on a Board or Commission, volunteer with your neighborhood organization, or speak at a Council committee or public hearing when we are debating a policy you care about. And stay informed and connected.
Robin Kniech is the City Council’s first openly-gay council member. Her goals include: affordable housing options, a more sustainable budget, and renewed retention and development of light industrial and manufacturing jobs. Robin and her partner of 10 years have a young son.