PrideFest highlights city’s fraught history with equality

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — LGBTQ Pride celebrations across the country this summer have honored the 50 years since the protests at the Stonewall Inn in New York City.

LGBTQ people used certain bars as a refuge from harassment in the time leading up to Stonewall.

“People were getting killed and beaten up for being gay, lesbian and transgender,” said Nic Grzecka, the organizer of Colorado Springs PrideFest.

The riots started after a series of raids and harassment by the New York City Police Department.

Pride celebrations spread to cities across the country in the years following. In 1990, Colorado Springs began one.

In 1992, Colorado earned the reputation as “The Hate State” following a vote that passed Amendment 2. The amendment outlawed discrimination protections for LGBTQ people and rescinded local laws that did so. A little more than a year after it was voted in, the United States Supreme Court struck down the amendment, ruling it violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

But the reputation stuck.

“Our city has been labeled ‘Hate City’ for 27 years,” Grzecka said.

Grzecka said because of the state’s and region’s populations in the early 1990s, Colorado Springs played a larger role in the legislation passing.

“We were at 66 percent and it helped sway the entire state,” Grzecka said.

Twenty-six years later, the Colorado electorate has experienced a drastic reversal in political priorities. In 2018, the state elected the nation’s first openly gay governor, Democrat Jared Polis.

Grzecka said the turnaround is can be attributed to acceptance, something he’s noticed across the country.

“We’ve come a long way from what we were fighting for 50 years ago to what we’re fighting for now,” he said.

He does say there is still work to be done. Murders and assaults on the basis of sexual orientation are a far cry from the problem they were in decades past, but other basic rights are still a struggle to achieve, like getting kicked out of housing because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The fight’s still real,” Grzecka said. “Just because we can get married doesn’t mean that we’re still accepted. You can still get fired in over 20 states for being LGBT. There’s a lot of trans rights we’re fighting for. We’re just normal human beings that don’t have the same equal rights, but deserve them.”

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