Congressman Jared Polis quietly made history Tuesday night when Colorado voters made him the first openly gay governor to win election in America.
Polis’ sexual orientation was such a non-issue during the campaign that it would be easy to forget that in 2012 the question of whether same-sex couples could be joined by civil unions brought the Colorado General Assembly to a political meltdown. That six years later Polis, his partner Marlon Reis, and their two children are poised to become the first family of Colorado is remarkable.
We went from a state where our elected officials struggled to provide even basic rights to same-sex couples to a state where a gay man ran for governor and his sexual orientation wasn’t discussed as a political liability. Faith in humanity should be temporarily restored.
Denver Post reporter Nic Garcia documented the decades of ground work it took to get to this point in his late-September analysis: “From ‘Hate State’ to Jared Polis: How Colorado led the way for gay, transgender candidates to run for office — and win.”
The story was a remarkable retrospective on how advocates responded to the 1992 passage of Amendment 2, which was a disgusting attempt to make it illegal to protect the LGBT community from discrimination. Garcia told the story of Equality Colorado, the Gay and Lesbian Fund, and One Colorado, rising up and fighting for civil rights in Colorado. And while ultimately it was the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage across the nation, the grassroots work in Colorado was instrumental in fighting against the hardest thing of all to change: the hearts and minds of the 53 percent of voters who supported Amendment 2.
But as far as this state and this nation has come, it’s important that we take a moment to note the historic significance of a Polis victory, because there’s much left to be done on the equality front in this nation.
Just before the midterm elections, President Donald Trump’s administration proposed rolling back policies put in place under President Barack Obama that provided protections for transgender individuals across many aspects of government. The rules in place ensured that transgender individuals would not face discrimination in gender-related programs like those in health care, schools or other benefits. There’s not a single documented case of those new rules causing anyone harm, and yet the rules have been targeted for removal.
Such political maneuvers reinforce what we already know and simultaneously fear: It is popular and easy for politicians to turn their backs on minority populations who need the protection of the law the most.