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Colorado Seeks to Stave Off Tourism Boycott by Gays

November 10, 1992|LOUIS SAHAGUN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — Gov. Roy Romer met with business, religious and gay and lesbian leaders on Monday hoping to stave off a threatened national boycott of Colorado's tourism industry in protest of a new state law banning protected status for homosexuals.

Also on Monday, Denver City Atty. Dan Muse said he intends to challenge Amendment 2 on the grounds it violates equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Following the 90-minute, closed-door meeting with community leaders, Romer, who campaigned against Amendment 2, called for an all-out effort to correct what he called a statewide misunderstanding about the "meaning of diversity."

"Amendment 2 passed, it's law and it is my obligation to uphold it and enforce it until it is challenged or interpreted in the courts," Romer said. "Meanwhile, we need this group talking about what steps we can take to better understand diversity."

Amendment 2, which passed by a 53% majority in last Tuesday's election, prohibits Colorado and local governments from passing gay-rights laws, and repeals existing anti-bias ordinances in Denver, Boulder and Aspen. The Denver appeal will be filed on behalf of those three cities, the city attorney said.

Passage of the amendment sparked an angry outcry from homosexuals and community leaders in Colorado and across the nation who argue the law permits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"Amendment 2 is not acceptable, it's reprehensible and we do not want to let it stand," said Susan Anderson, director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Denver and one of six community leaders who met with Romer on Monday.

"The people of Colorado did not understand," Anderson said, "that without civil rights protection we can be ejected from our homes and the places we work simply for being gay or lesbian."

Kevin Tebedo, executive director of Colorado for Family Values, which sponsored the amendment, disagreed saying: "The voters of Colorado said they believe that people who have sex with members of the same gender already have equal rights. They don't believe homosexuals should have protected class status because of their sexual behavior."

Beyond that, Tebedo said: "We always expected a lawsuit, but the only court in the nation that can decide whether this removes civil rights is the United States Supreme Court."

Voter approval of the law, which takes effect Jan. 4, has been blamed by community leaders here for a rash of gay-bashing incidents ranging from verbal abuse to bomb threats.

Denver's Tattered Cover bookstore was evacuated on Thursday after a caller said an explosive device had been planted because gay people were employed there.

"It was very disheartening," said Sidney Jackson, a floor manager at the bookstore. "We're much more alert now and we hope we don't get any more calls like that."

Bars catering to gay customers have reported an increase in hostile telephone calls, verbal confrontations and graffiti.

"Personally," said Sean Murphy, a bartender at Garbo's bar in Denver, "I'm going to buy pepper Mace and a stun gun for taking out the trash and escorting the pianist to her car after midnight."

There was no immediate comment from police on the incidents.

Calls are now being issued for a national boycott of Colorado's important tourism industry.

"Fear and hatred raised by the campaign (for the law) has permeated the state," said Martin Hiraga, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington. "Clearly, gay and lesbian people are not going to a place they do not feel safe in."

As of Monday, groups including the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund of Washington and the American Assn. of Physicians for Human Rights, a San Francisco-based advocacy group for lesbian and gay physicians in the United States and Canada, had canceled yearlong plans to hold annual conventions in Denver in 1993.

"We cannot in good conscience bring our members and our dollars to a state that would so willingly deny basic civil rights to gay and lesbian people," said Larry Prater, an Oklahoma psychiatrist and president of the physicians association.

Joy Burns, chairwoman-elect of the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Monday she had received numerous calls over the past week from groups "saying they will not hold conventions in Denver."

"This is a very serious concern to us," she said. "We think the issue is especially serious in terms of the image it gives of this state."

She said she could not estimate the amount of convention business the state might lose over reaction to Amendment 2.

In Los Angeles, a spokesman for The Advocate, a biweekly magazine with a paid circulation of 120,000, said its Nov. 17 issue will include a letter from the editor calling for a general boycott against Colorado businesses.

Separately, Coloradans and Californians for Fairness in the Nation, a new group dedicated to undoing Amendment 2 through economic pressure, plans to unleash a nationwide advertising campaign featuring celebrities and movie stars that will question whether "Hollywood should go play in Colorado resorts," a spokesman said.

That rattles business owners in Aspen, a glitzy mecca for the wealthy and show business personalities which hopes to draw 4,000 people to its 14th annual Aspen Gay Ski Week in January.

"A boycott would definitely have an economic impact here," said Aspen City Manager Amy Margerum. "But we're more concerned about the perception that we are not welcoming these people than about losing sales tax--Aspen has always been open to all groups."

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