Better Tomorrow announces new program for the LGTBQ community

People participate in a candlelight vigil on the lawn at the Routt County Courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs on Nov. 21 for the people who were killed and injured in a mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs. While Colorado has laws on the books protecting members of the LGBTQ community, a LGBTQ community study found approximately 85% of respondents felt unsafe to some degree in Routt County, according to Yampa Valley Pride.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

From a legislative standpoint, Colorado is considered a safe haven for the LBGTQ community by the Human Rights Campaign, as the advocacy group says the state checks all the boxes for having laws that protect people who identify as LGBTQ.

However, according to Yampa Valley Pride chair Chelsi Holmes, a 2022 LGBTQ community roundtable study found approximately 85% of respondents felt unsafe to some degree in Routt County.

Yampa Valley Pride committee said the results of the study detail an immediate need to take action and the Steamboat Springs-based Better Tomorrow wants to step up. The nonprofit announced the creation of a new program serving the LGBTQ community in the Yampa Valley that seeks to fill gaps identified in the 2022 study.

“It will make Steamboat a better place to live and visit for our queer community and sends a strong message to the larger valley about our commitment to being a catalyst for positive change,” Better Tomorrow executive director Mark Fitzgerald said in a statement.

Holmes added that the need for such a program is beyond apparent.  

“I’ve been getting a lot of referrals from school social workers, therapists and programs like Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide for LGBTQ people who are dealing with problems that no one in this county is exactly equipped to handle,” Holmes said. “It could be experiencing a hate crime. It could be accessing hormone replacement therapy. It could be feeling suicidal. We currently do not have a way to address these.”

Now that Better Tomorrow has approved the creation of the program, it will soon begin a search for a program director. Once a program director is named, this person will be tasked with designing the structure of the program and its activities.

Holmes indicated that the program is in its beginning stage and is still coming together, but will definitely take a health equity focus with the intent to develop a safe space for the LGBTQ community. 

Holmes added that the program looks to provide resources that could include aiding people who’ve experienced a hate crime, helping people find a gender-affirming health care provider or connecting people in the LGBTQ community with specialized therapists. 

“What we have observed in the last two to three years is Steamboat can be very accepting, but not every part of Routt County is accepting and not every part of Steamboat is accepting,” Yampa Valley Pride treasurer Lexi Gretzky said. “I work at the college and I’ll hear the students tell me stories where they got called slurs just walking downtown with their partner.”

Gretzky detailed the first Yampa Valley Pride event the organization put on three years ago when it was pouring rain, yet LGBTQ youth refused to leave because they said it was their first opportunity to celebrate who they were in Routt.

Gretzky said Yampa Valley Pride has faced backlash from some community members in Routt, with some of the residents threatening to make lists of people who attend Pride related events or meetings. 

Steamboat Team Against Antisemitism and Discrimination (STAND) is having an LGBTQ-focused meeting Monday, and organizer Rabbi Kolby Morris-Dahary said people have been tearing down the signs promoting the event all across town.

In addition to efforts being made by Better Tomorrow and Yampa Valley Pride, Morris-Dahary through STAND is also looking for community collaboration to brainstorm ways to make the community a more accepting place.

“I think it’s really exciting to see this program get approved because I think that it’s so needed by the community,” Gretzky said. “It also opens up great opportunities to work with the nonprofits in town.

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