For years, beach towns across the United States have capitalized on the gay tourism industry.
But what is the most LGBTQ-friendly mountain city to visit? Could it be Colorado Springs — once perceived as one of the least gay-friendly cities in the nation?
“The Springs has definitely become more inclusive over the years,” said Nic Grzecka, president of Colorado Springs PrideFest. “There are now several LGBTQ-owned businesses in the city and different gay-friendly events to go to.”
In the early 1990s, Colorado was labeled as an anti-LGBT “hate state” after the passage of Amendment 2, which was largely backed by Colorado Springs business owner Will Perkins. The law changed the state constitution to ban laws protecting gays from discrimination based on their sexual orientation.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned the law.
“All that really did was just rally the gay community together here and all the way to Washington,” Grzecka said. “I don’t know if the state ever deserved that nickname, but it definitely is no longer the ‘hate state’ — if it ever really was.”
A few years ago, the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau began marketing to the LGBTQ community through targeted advertisement, said Chelsy Offutt, CVB director of communications.
“We had some media placements in some very specific LGTBQ publications and digital buys,” she said. “Certainly, we know it’s a great market, and we are always just trying to show the diversity of the destination and how we are very welcoming to all walks of life.”
The CVB conducted a photo shoot with three local gay families to use for advertising the city as an LGBTQ-friendly destination, including an ad in Instinct magazine, Offutt said.
“Like with anything, we are always trying to diversify our market and make sure we are being inclusive and welcoming of everyone,” she said.
The CVB also recently worked with national freelance writer Jill Gleason on a destination feature that named Colorado Springs among three pride locations on the rise.
“The second-largest city in the Centennial State, Colorado Springs is politically conservative, yet residents have thrown their arms around the local LGBTQ community, supporting queer-owned businesses and a PrideFest that has grown over the past few years to an expected attendance of 50,000 in 2018,” Gleason wrote June 19 in an EDGE Media Network article.
In January, the CVB hosted Canada-based writer Mike Rox and his partner, which resulted in a variety of coverage in gay-centric publications, including one titled, “6 Reasons Colorado Springs is the Most Romantic Place You’ve Never Thought Of.”
“When I plan a getaway I want to pack it with come-as-you-are, in-the-wild adventure. Real Davy Crockett-like. You know — if he was gay,” Rox wrote. “Recently, my boyfriend and I traveled to Colorado Springs for what we hoped would be a fast few days of getting active, reconnecting with one another and making new memories. We did all that — and more.”
Colorado Springs was named the “No. 13 Gayest City” by Advocate magazine in 2013, which the CVB promoted at the time with a press release, Offutt said.
“We are an amazing community and that Western hospitality extends to all walks of life,” she said. “People can make their own assumptions, but it’s great for them to come and experience the openness here.”
Since moving to the area from New York City about four years ago, Jonathan Bataille, Springs Equality president and owner of The Gallery Below, says he hasn’t encountered any prejudice because he is gay.
“Granted, I am a black person and that hate I have experienced here, but as far as ‘the letters’ [LGBTQ] business, it seems to be pretty good,” he said. “I do know about the town and the conservative bent that people talk about, but I’ve found once you tap into the community … you really find there are a lot of great people here that are your people and accepting.”
Unlike in larger cities such as New York and even Dallas, with an area known for multiple gay bars and clubs, the Springs’ LGBTQ-friendly businesses are more spread out.
“I feel like if you are open to a less acute gay-centric area — because we don’t have any area like that here — then Colorado Springs can be a nice vacation spot for the LGBTQ community,” Bataille said. “Not only are there places to go like Club Q for a nightlife atmosphere, but you can come by my place for more of an art gallery and event atmosphere. There’s also the Willamette Market [and Deli], which is owned by two lesbians, and a coffee shop called the Buzzed Badger that is gay-friendly.”
Additionally, there are businesses not necessarily LGBTQ-owned that are “queer-friendly.”
“The Zodiac Venue is a straight bar that is very queer-friendly,” Bataille said. “They do a lot of burlesque events and include drag shows with that as well. It’s mostly straight people in there, but I have been there many times and always felt very welcome.”
Grzecka believes it’s smart for cities to target the LGBTQ community when marketing as a vacation destination because they typically travel and spend more.
“We normally have a more expendable income traditionally because both partners have full-time jobs and don’t have children,” he said. “We are able to travel a lot more and typically love spending more on retail items and eating out, which is what tourism is all about.”
In 2016, the combined buying power of LGBT consumers in the U.S. was predicted to exceed $917 billion, according to analysis by Witeck Communications.
That was based on an estimate that as many as 7 percent of U.S. adults identified as LGBT in addition to a calculation of the group’s disposable income.
“I would love to see more advertising for the city’s PrideFest event and other LGBTQ tourism, because this is an inclusive city,” Grzecka said. “There are plenty of beautiful and LGTBQ-friendly places to visit and eat and stay at here.”
Bataille isn’t sure if the city is becoming more LGTBQ-friendly but he feels it has a more “gay-friendly vibe” now compared to when he moved here.
“I do know that the community is realizing there are really cool things happening here, and there is a lot of great energy that definitely involves LGBTQ people,” he said. “Something we say in New York is, ‘To get a cool neighborhood, first you get the gays, then you get the hipsters and then the married couples.’ I think we have all of those here and they are just starting to connect with each other and show how inclusive our city really is.”