One Colorado presents its 'Ally Awards'

The Colorado Statesman

A dazzling crowd of gay and straight allies, including both of Colorado’s U.S. senators and an array of elected officials from throughout the state, turned out on a crystal-clear evening Saturday at the Denver Botanic Gardens to celebrate progress and honor individuals who have advanced the cause of gay civil rights.

State Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden, left, and the former lawmaker she replaced, her husband, Al, who took over the Colorado Tourism Office, visit with state Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, at One Colorado’s Ally Awards reception on Aug. 20 at the Denver Botanic Gardens. The two women gave impassioned speeches in support of Colorado’s civil unions bill earlier this year before the legislation passed the Senate, but a House committee later killed it by a single vote.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Following a sumptuous reception in the late-summer splendor of the Gardens, One Colorado handed out four “Ally Awards” to straight friends of the GLBT community. It was the inaugural round of awards and the signature annual fundraising event for the relatively new political advocacy organization, only formed at the beginning of last year but already making a splash on key state-level legislation and organizing for equality.
Awards went to former state Rep. and former First Lady of Denver Wilma Webb, founding organizer of the Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians and Gays advocacy group Jean Hodges, past regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s regional office Bruce DeBoskey and the president of the Westside community development agency NEWSED, Veronica Barela.

Newly elected Denver City Councilwoman at-large Robin Kniech, left, greets state Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, near the Monet Deck at the Denver Botanic Gardens on Aug. 20 as the crowd gathers for One Colorado’s Ally Awards.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet handed the award to Webb, who spoke movingly about her late gay son’s struggles to foster community and live openly during years when the state wasn’t as welcoming as it is now. Webb was honored for pioneering civil rights work stretching back decades, from leading the fight to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a state holiday to introducing a hate crimes bill that included protection based on sexual orientation in the Legislature.

Her bill didn’t pass — Colorado didn’t adopt a comprehensive hate crimes law until 2005 — but Webb made sure to point out that it was her husband, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, who first introduced similar hate crimes legislation far ahead of its time, when he was a state representative in the late 1970s.

Colorado’s two U.S. senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, share a laugh as they prepare to present the first two Ally Awards at the Denver Botanic Gardens on Aug. 20. The awards, sponsored by One Colorado, an 18-month-old political advocacy group, went to “straight allies” for gay rights in the state.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The next award was presented by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall to longtime activist Hodges, who founded the Boulder branch of PFLAG and currently serves as vice president of the national organization. She also founded the Boulder Valley Safe Schools Coalition.

Before presenting the award, Udall spoke at length about his efforts at the end of last year leading toward the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which bans gay soldiers from serving openly in the military. During contentious committee testimony, Udall said he felt the tide turn when members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asked gay soldiers who had been thrown out of the military what they would do if the policy were repealed.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, left, poses for a snapshot with Brad Clark executive director of One Colorado Education Fund and former state Rep. Wilma Webb, D-Denver, after Bennet presented her an Ally Award on Aug. 20 at the Denver Botanic Gardens at an event sponsored by One Colorado. The former first lady of Denver was honored for her pioneering civil rights work, including legislation to list sexual orientation in the state’s hate crimes law. Webb pointed out that her husband, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, who sat in the audience, sponsored the first bill to protect gay and lesbian Coloradans when he was a state representative in the 1970s.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“The repeal was in doubt up until the last minute,” Udall said. “Their country had rejected them, but they said they would re-enlist, reapply for their officer commissions.” That display of unabashed patriotism was enough to sway the final votes, he said.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, left, stands with Boulder resident Jean Hodges after presenting her an Ally Award and One Colorado executive director Brad Clark, whose organization sponsored the awards, on Aug. 20 at the Denver Botanic Gardens. The awards went to “straight allies” identified by the LGBT advocacy organization, including Hedges, who founded the Boulder chapter of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays and now serves as the national organization’s vice president.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

An award also went to Bruce DeBoskey of the DeBoskey Group, who made sure to include protection for the LGBT community during his years as director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Mountain States Region. Organizers praised his more than three-decade fight against bigotry in numerous areas, including immigration reform, and hate crimes legislation.

The final award went to Barela, whose work leading the NEWSED Community Development Corporation has always included attention to the LGBT community, from involving and recognizing gay community leaders to serving clients.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, runs into Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Kelly Brough in the lobby outside the Ally Awards at the Denver Botanic Gardens on Aug. 20.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“These four individuals embody what it means to be an ally to the LGBT community,” said One Colorado Education Fund executive director Brad Clark. “Because of their tireless work and the work of allies like them, LGBT Coloradans have been given a fair chance to earn a living, serve our country, and feel safe in our schools and our communities.”

After the awards ceremony, Udall told local freelancer Sunnivie Brydum that he supports full marriage equality for gay couples, as opposed to stopping at civil unions or a state-by-state approach. In the Senate, Udall is a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would end prohibitions in place since the Clinton administration on federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and his wife, Dr. Claire Garcia, an English professor at Colorado College, enjoy the outdoor reception at One Colorado’s inaugural Ally Awards on Aug. 20 at the Denver Botanic Gardens. The awards went to “straight allies” of the gay community.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

An estimated 375 supporters showed up for the gala, including Lt. Governor Joe Garcia, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, former Colorado Springs Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, Senate President Brandon Shaffer, state Sens. Jean White and Lucia Guzman, and state Reps. Mark Ferrandino and Sue Schafer.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com