Boulder County Clerk and Recorder/Courtesy image
Daily Camera Collection / Carnegie Branch Library for Local History
If you go
What: Glenda Russell presents a talk, “Queer Echoes: Boulder’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Boulder History Museum, 2285 Broadway, Boulder
More info: 303-449-3464 or boulderhistory.org
Many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people point to the Stonewall riots of 1969 as the beginning of the gay-rights movement. The melee, sparked by the police raid of a New York City gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, caused a political outcry that spread in the following years.
In Boulder, the first pro-gay political group, the Gay Liberation Front — a collection of community members and University of Colorado students — was formed in 1970. That’s the year Glenda Russell moved to Boulder.
“I’ve lived through much of that history,” Russell said. “And I’ve been taking notes.”
Russell, a psychologist, has a private practice in Boulder and also works at the Counseling and Psychological Services center at CU. She’s also a writer, and she’s working on a book about Colorado’s LGBT history.
Russell will share some of her notes Thursday at the Boulder History Museum during a talk titled, “Queer Echoes: Boulder’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History.”
She believes the fact that a gay-rights political group formed a year after Stonewall — faster than similar groups sprouted in the middle of the country — speaks well of the city.
“That’s been a theme in the LGBT history of Boulder,” she said.
Boulder has been ahead of the curve when it comes to the LGBT movement. Even though some history books, Russell said, point to an effort in Dade County, Fla., in 1977 as the first time a municipality tried to legislate gay rights, the distinction belongs to Boulder.
In 1973, the Boulder City Council and Boulder Mayor Penfield Tate II adopted a human-rights ordinance that included protections for gays and lesbians. The ordinance forbade an employer, for example, from firing a person because of their sexual orientation. The next year, a backlash occurred in the form of a referendum that removed sexual orientation from the ordinance. The political stance in favor of gay rights cost Tate — the city’s first and only African-American mayor — his political career, Russell said.
In 1975, Boulder County Clerk Clela Rorex granted marriage licenses to a handful of same-sex couples, making Boulder one of the first communities in the country to allow gay marriage, before the licenses were nullified shortly after by the Colorado attorney general’s office.
Boulder voters finally restored sexual orientation to its human-rights ordinance in 1987, and its populace decisively voted against the state’s anti-LGBT Amendment 2 in 1992, an amendment that was later ruled unconstitutional by the state’s supreme court.
Still, Boulder has not been completely LGBT friendly during the past 40 years. Russell, an adjunct faculty member at CU, said she and some of her students conducted a study of letters to the editor of local newspapers in 1974, 1987 and 1992, the three years when major LGBT legislation was a possibility. The group found that letters in 1974, especially, carried a hurtful tone.
“They were vitriolic,” Russell said. “They were difficult to read. People were excoriating gay people. Many of the letters suggested that gay people were not human beings at all.”
In 1978 and ’79, same-sex couples in Boulder nightclubs were sometimes ejected for dancing together. Protests often followed.
Russell said that, in her private practice, she has seen dramatic shifts in the issues members of the LGBT community deal with through the years. In the early 1980s, when she began her practice, people were struggling with how to be safe, how to keep jobs and, for same-sex couples, how to keep custody of their children.
“There were no legal protections,” she said. “And so a lot of the concerns were about how do I survive. None of those things were a given.”
In addition to Thursday’s talk at the Boulder History Museum, and her forthcoming book, Russell hopes to eventually create a tangible record of Boulder’s LGBT history.
“I think this is a fascinating history,” she said. “When you’re in the middle of the country, what happens is often not observed because there is a tendency for history to be written about the coasts. So I really am committed to putting together an archive of LGBT Boulder so that we can hold some of that history.”