Springs used to lead way in tolerance

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

Here’s what City Councilwoman Margaret Radford said last week, during the council’s discussion about a summer “multicultural festival” supported by the Colorado Springs Diversity Forum. The event organizers had asked for a relatively routine waiver of certain fees and Radford made it clear that she opposed any such waiver.
“When a large portion of this community does not support gay and lesbian viewpoints, I don’t see us putting tax dollars into supporting that direction,” Radford said.
What Radford was saying, of course, is that gays and lesbians are second-class citizens, eligible to pay taxes, but not eligible for the “special rights” that majority-approved groups qualify for by reason of their majority status.
I asked some of our city’s leading power brokers/businesspeople what they thought about Radford’s remarks.
On the record, they were carefully non-committal, saying, for example, that “I’m not sure that Councilwoman Radford really understood what we’re trying to do with the Diversity Forum.”
Off the record, they were furious. Many of them said they believe that such comments only fuel a national perception of Colorado Springs as the “Hate Capital of the West,” as a community solely populated by anti-gay religious hypocrites. As one of them told me strictly off the record, “This kind of crap makes news nationally, just because it happens in Colorado Springs. And don’t think that companies who might want to relocate or people who might want to move here and start a company don’t hear about it. I mean, what’s the matter with Radford? Doesn’t she know anything? Can’t she, and (Darryl) Glenn, and (Mayor Lionel) Rivera keep their mouths shut? I don’t care whether they waive fees or not, but they don’t have make it a gay issue.”
A business owner who moved her company here a year ago said: “I have to apologize for Colorado Springs every day, we have such an awful national image.”
The “gay issue.” It has defined our community, for good or for ill, for many years.
Eleven years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down, by a vote of 6-3, Colorado’s Amendment 2, which 53 percent of Colorado voters approved on Nov. 3, 1992.
Here’s the text of the amendment: “Neither the state of Colorado, through any of its branches or departments, nor any of its agencies, political subdivisions, municipalities or school districts, shall enact, adopt or enforce any statute, regulation, ordinance or policy whereby homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships shall constitute or otherwise be the basis of, or entitle any person or class of persons to have or claim any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination. This Section of the Constitution shall be in all respects self-executing.”
And here’s a sentence from the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “… nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
And here are excerpts from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision striking down the amendment.
Rejecting the state’s argument that Amendment 2 merely blocked gays from receiving “special rights,” Kennedy wrote: “To the contrary, the amendment imposes a special disability upon those persons alone. Homosexuals are forbidden the safeguards that others enjoy or may seek without constraint. Its sheer breadth is so discontinuous with the reasons offered for it that the amendment seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects; it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests. The resulting disqualification of a class of persons from the right to seek specific protection from the law is unprecedented in our jurisprudence.”
And this is the opening paragraph of Kennedy’s opinion: “One century ago, the first Justice Harlan admonished this Court that the Constitution ‘neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.’ Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 559 (1896) (dissenting opinion). Unheeded then, those words now are understood to state a commitment to the law’s neutrality where the rights of persons are at stake. The Equal Protection Clause enforces this principle and today requires us to hold invalid a provision of Colorado’s Constitution.”
So why, a dozen years after the court’s decision, do our politicians cling to gay-bashing? I wondered myself, until I spent an evening drinking margaritas with some of our city’s canniest political operatives. Here’s what I was told.
Radford’s Council term expires in 2009, when term limits kick in. She’d like to move to the El Paso County Board of Commissioners in 2008, and take Doug Bruce’s seat. The Dougster, in turn, yearns for the wider world, a larger audience, and he’d like to run for the term-limited Bill Cadman’s seat in the state House. And Cadman, in turn, would like to run for the term-limited Ron May’s seat in the state Senate.
That leaves Radford’s council seat, and rather than run against Margaret for the county commission, former councilmember Bernie Herpin will go for council.
“The deal’s been cut,” said Madamoiselle Z, “but Radford still has to appeal to Republican primary voters, who think she might be too liberal — and gay-bashing definitely appeals to that particular group.”
So it’s politics as usual. Just as Southern pols used to bash blacks, and California pols once demonized Asians, Springs pols bash gays. Every racial and ethnic group in America has served time at the bottom of the national pecking order, so you’d think that most of us would know how it feels.
You’d think that we’d listen to Justice Kennedy and Justice Harlan, who so eloquently defended the bedrock principle of American democracy: equal justice under the law.
That means equal. Not almost equal, not sort of equal, not equal with a couple of disclaimers and qualifiers, but equal with a capital E.
Eighty years ago, The Ku Klux Klan seized control of the Colorado governor’s office and of much of the legislature. It was a dark and disgraceful time in the history of our state.
One city in Colorado refused to tolerate the Klan. One newspaper in Colorado openly opposed the Klan. The city was Colorado Springs. The newspaper was the Gazette-Telegraph.
It was a proud moment in our city’s history and the men and women who refused to kowtow to the vicious prejudice that the Klan embodied deserve to be remembered with honor and gratitude.
Who, among current council members, will be so remembered?
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the Nations!” Isaiah 14:12
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.