City officials meet with members of marginalized groups to discuss concerns, areas for improvement
Being an Asian woman in Routt County felt like an extremely isolating experience for Cho Tin Tun Kirkpatrick for her first several years of living here.
Now, after 20 years of residing in South Routt County, Tin Tun Kirkpatrick walks down the street and sees more and more people who look like her — something she said makes her feel like she fits in and belongs to the community.
“I used to be the only one,” Tin Tun Kirkpatrick said. “Now, it’s a little bit more representative, and I certainly hope we can do more.”
Tin Tun Kirkpatrick was one of about 20 community members representing various marginalized groups who attended a roundtable with the city of Steamboat Springs’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, which is comprised of city council members Sonja Macys and Lisel Petis, City Manager Gary Suiter and Human Resources and Risk Manager Wendy Ecklund. The group met to discuss issues facing the various communities, which included representatives from Integrated Community, Steamboat Springs High School, Horizons Northwest Colorado, Yampa Valley Pride and The Health Partnership.
Committee representatives shared different ideas for what specific goals they believed the group should work toward, but they agree on one underlying purpose: to lift up marginalized groups and ensure Steamboat is a safe place for all people to live and work.
“You want to see people that represent you on boards, when you go to the store, when you go to the bank, when you go to the doctor’s office,” said Andres Cladera, Opera Steamboat’s general and artistic director who is also a member of Steamboat’s gay community. “We want to send a message to diverse communities that people are welcome here.”
In an effort to send a message of welcome and inclusion, Cladera suggested a joint marketing campaign launched by the DEI Committee, the city, the Steamboat Springs Chamber and Main Street Steamboat and featuring members of underrepresented communities sharing information about themselves and signaling that other members of their communities are also welcome in town.
“If I see my face and my community represented in that campaign, I must be welcome,” Cladera said. “The message says, ‘I’m a part of your community, and you’re a part of mine.’”
Cladera said Steamboat is a predominately white community, and leadership positions are mostly held by white community members.
“For me, it’s extremely important that when I interact with the Hispanic community, they understand the connection,“ said Manuel Fajardo, a Steamboat Springs Police Department officer. ”It’s such an educational opportunity.“
Renzo Walton, Integrated Community immigration services specialist who said he was representing both the Latinx and LGBTQ communities, emphasized the need for events that provide a safe space for marginalized groups to gather. He said these events also need to be accessible to those who may not have cars or live in more rural parts of Routt County.
“For a lot of people, if the bus route does not go to where they live, they can’t get themselves around town, so maybe going to them might be a better option,” Walton said.
Irene Avitia, early childhood education specialist with Integrated Community, said language barriers also can be a deterrent for non-English speakers to attend events or seek out leadership positions.
“Meeting people where they are just makes them more welcome to the environment,” Avitia said. “If you want to really target a specific population, they have to trust that person that they’re talking to.”
Chelsie Holmes, chair of the Yampa Valley Pride committee, echoed Walton and Avitia’s ideas and said the LGBTQ community specifically needs events where community members feel they will be accepted and treated fairly.
“With the LGBTQ community, I think there’s a fear of a lack of acceptance,” Holmes said. “If we put people in spaces where they know they’ll find acceptance and find people who are like them, that, in itself, is a motivator.”
Petis and Macys, who will both be leaving City Council in November, said they hope to work with council and Routt County commissioners to make both groups of elected officials more accessible and approachable.
“We have to make sure we’re electing people who represent these values, or we’re never going to get anywhere,” Macys said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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