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As Colorado LGBTQ+ people face a mental health crisis and hurtful rhetoric, voices rise above the hate

As Pride month wraps, there’s one statistic that weaves through the fabric of the LGBTQ+ community year round in Colorado. More than half said they experienced poor mental health.
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Posted at 11:28 AM, Jun 30, 2024

DENVER — As Pride month celebrations wrap, there’s one statistic that weaves through the fabric of the LGBTQ+ community year round in Colorado.

More than half said they experienced poor mental health.

That number is drastically higher than that of 28% straight and cisgender adults in the state who reported poor mental health in the one month. The most recent 2023 data from Colorado Health Access Survey showed 54% of LGBTQ+ Colorado adults said they struggled with depression, stress or other emotional problems for eight or more days over a one-month period.

“That's a big story because that's huge to know that — that's twice as likely to experience poor mental health issues as an LGBTQ+ Coloradan,” said Lindsey Whittington, program manager with Colorado Health Institute, a nonprofit which conducts the survey every couple of years.

“It gets so internalized and then perpetuates into some other health issue downstream. If an individual in an area doesn’t have support – doesn’t feel like they belong – I think it has such a big impact on how someone moves through their life,” said Whittington, who identifies with they/them pronouns.

Struggling to find a place to belong is a root cause of mental health challenges for many in the LGBTQ+ community, as is equal access to mental health care.

“We also know that LGBTQ+ Coloradans are much more likely to report that they are unable to get needed mental health care services when they're trying to seek them,” they said. “Another issue could be that they're unable to do it, because they're more likely to be uninsured, which makes it more difficult to access the care that you need.”

Colorado Health Access Survey data revealed 10% of LGBTQ+ people were uninsured compared to only 4.7% of straight and cisgender adults in the state.

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Pride

New platform launches to help connect LGBTQ+ community with affirming providers

Danielle Kreutter
9:40 PM, May 19, 2024

The cost of care and issues getting an appointment are hurdles facing all communities, but for LGBTQ+ Coloradans, once inside the therapist office, it can be daunting finding an affirming environment.

“I know that for me, for my personal self, it felt very affirming to actually find a provider who also identified as queer, and she understood what I was going through and that was such a wonderful experience for me personally and I know others definitely feel that as well,” added Whittington.

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Lindsey Whittington, program manager with Colorado Health Institute.

It’s all about feeling seen

“You know that in itself, they can help you not only figure out how you feel and deal with a lot of the mental health issues that you might be struggling with, but also it's just a sense of feeling very valued by the individual that you're interacting with,” added Whittington. “There’s just so many factors impacting LGBTQ+ Coloradans all at the same time.”

Compounding the mental health challenges and finding a place to belong are the charged political messages targeting the LGBTQ+ community seen blasted across the headlines.

At the start of Pride month, the leader of the Colorado Republican Party called for all Pride flags to be burned in an email to supporters.

“God Hates Pride,” the email subject line began. Party Chairman Dave Williams, who has himself been widely criticized by Colorado Republicans, accused Pride supporters of being “godless groomers” intent on harming children.

The email led with a video entitled: “God hates flags,” an obvious play on an anti-LGBTQ+ word Westboro Baptist Church members used on signs when protesting at places such as the funerals of fallen U.S. service members killed in action.

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Politics

Fallout from CO GOP’s anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric continues, Williams asked to resign

Óscar Contreras
7:35 AM, Jun 07, 2024

Over the month, Williams faced backlash and condemnation. Curtis Gardner, an Aurora Councilperson, quit the Colorado GOP and is unaffiliated.

“To be clear, God hates no one — not those in the LGBTQ+ community and not Dave Williams. These hateful comments are despicable,” Gardner told Denver7. “The Republican Party, and specifically the Colorado GOP, no longer stands for the issues that I care about: individual rights, fiscal responsibility, restraint of government, limited foreign intervention, and encouraging economic mobility.”

In the wake of the controversy, party leaders have called for Williams to resign and have submitted a petition, signed by 25% of the Republican State Central Committee, requesting a special meeting to vote on Williams’ removal.

As the state Republican chairman, Williams’ was also officially endorsed by the party in his own race for Congress in Colorado’s Fifth Congressional District.

On Tuesday, primary voters rejected Williams in favor of Jeff Crank.

Republican officials across Colorado seek to oust state party chair

Throughout the controversy, Williams has refused to back down, telling Denver7 earlier this month:

“We make no apologies for saying God hates pride or pride flags as it’s an agenda that harms children and undermines parental authority, and the only backlash we see is coming from radical Democrats, the fake news media, and weak Republicans who bow down at the feet of leftist cancel culture."

Despite whatever happens to Williams’ position, anti-LGBTQ+ messages like these are likely to continue through a highly charged political season ahead of November’s election. And for many in the community, a few minutes scrolling through social media feeds make it clear that people are emboldened to attack their LGBTQ+ neighbors that they don’t even know.

That includes LGBTQ+ people who are also people of faith and followers of God.

“I would want to ask them to consider how much damage those phrases are doing to fellow human beings – in particular the mental, emotional and spiritual health of LGBTQ+ persons,” said Dr. Reverend Jenny Morgan, co-pastor of Highlands Church.

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God and religion have been foundational in Jenny Morgan’s life as she worked through coming to terms with her own sexuality.

Morgan, who leads this fully inclusive, welcoming congregation in Denver, knows how deep hurtful rhetoric can cut because she’s lived it.

“My faith did save me,” she said.

God and religion have been foundational in Morgan’s life as she worked through coming to terms with her own sexuality.

“I was hiding... and in the closet. I even look back on those times, and say, I was lying to myself, I was lying to God,” she said. “There was a conflict. I wanted to follow Christ, I wanted to be a Christian, and also had a calling on my life to serve.”

Early on, she was in and out of relationships she said were unhealthy until Morgan met her partner.

“And when we first met, we fell in love really fast, as lesbians often do. But she had been out and proud to be gay for a long time. And so when we were falling in love, she said, ‘I won't hide in the closet with you,’” Morgan said. “She was sure in her faith already, Christian faith, and she said, ‘You’ve got to figure this out with the Bible. You’ve got to figure this out with God, and then we'll decide if we can make a commitment to each other.’”

At the time, Morgan was working through her Doctorate of Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary in Colorado Springs.

“They're very heels-dug-in – one man, one woman marriages, etc., but they're thoroughly open to women. So I could be there as a woman and grow in my leadership, but my theological work — I had to hide,” she said.

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Highlands Church in Denver is a welcoming, affirming place for the LGBTQ+ community looking to grow their faith.

A turning point came when she was introduced to professors who were affirming of gay people and persons of all identities, which then began the journey of bridging the gap between her spirituality and sexuality.

“So, I kind of clung to them, and found a new way. I had done all of the sort of reparative therapy work and all of that — what I now consider sort of crap. But I hadn't read anything on the other side,” Morgan said. “I had no idea there were Christian people — evangelical and otherwise — doing theological work on what we now call the clobber passages, basically seven sentences in the Bible that are much larger than seven sentences.”

Those sentences include the often recited Leviticus verses in the Old Testament.

“I figured out the clobber passages and I figured out that God had actually made me this way, that God was not mad at me or hateful toward me, but God had been loving me through all of my lying,” she said. “And now that I was realizing I had read the scriptures wrong.”

How LGBTQ+ Coloradans are finding hope amid constant assaults on mental health

It was a painful, but necessary journey that formed the foundation of Morgan’s spiritual and personal life that has created hope for others today.

“Well, of course, I'm super motivated because I want to be in this relationship with this woman, but I also needed to settle my own relationship with God and my understanding of the Bible,” she added. “So, those couple of years before my partner and I were together were very, very important for me.”

Morgan, who has worked in ministry for 40 years, has now been with her partner for 19 years and her calling to become Highlands Church co-pastor began with her love of playing the drums. She picked up the sticks and started playing in the church’s worship band in 2010.

Every Sunday, Morgan’s message of hope for the LGBTQ+ community and all marginalized people resonates in the sanctuary because it is rooted in the life of Christ.

“I think Jesus adores us exactly the way we are, even when we're lying. So many of us have had to do that, either for religious reasons or otherwise,” she said.

“Jesus never said a word. Not one word, not even an insinuation about gay people. So, the folks who are putting so much emphasis on these seven clobber passages have ignored the fact that the person they see as their savior and Lord and friend never said a word. So, I don't know how to say that more strongly. Jesus would say to each and every one of us, ‘I adore you just the way you are and I want you to belong in this world. You belong in this world, I belong in this world, just as I am.’”

She wants the LGBTQ+ community of Denver to know that Highlands Church is a beacon of hope and refuge from the political rhetoric, even for those who don’t believe in God but are wanting to find healing from the damage that can come from living in a world that doesn’t understand the struggles of being different or othered.

“We want you to belong first. We want you to find a spiritual home that can nourish you so that your mind and your heart can heal,” she said. “We do believe that faith in God helps people's mental health, emotional health, their sexual health — not because God is looking at us going, ‘Don't do that.’ But because God is saying, ‘I want you to embody the full expression of your sexuality because I made you that way.’”

While It’s an affirming message that lifts up her congregation to live full lives, Morgan is ever aware of the hateful rhetoric her flock faces outside the walls of the church from people who have not walked in the shoes of an LGBTQ+ person.

“I just want people to consider the damage they are doing to 10-year-olds, teens — that’s the part that hurts most,” she said. “Trans people are petrified about their future and I think we should love those people without any conditions because that’s what Jesus did.”

Back at the Colorado Health Institute, it’s Whittington’s job and passion to dig deep into the data to shine light on the causes of poor mental health in the LGBTQ+ community and find ways to help them heal.

“I can speak to my personal experience on this. We all know that this is happening and this is what people are feeling,” Whittington said. “When we think of intersecting identities, we don't just have sexuality and gender identity, and how you identify with yourself. Your body is not in a vacuum. It also interplays with how you interact with your race or ethnicity, or how that interplays with other components of your identity.”

Whittington’s heart is also burdened for LGBTQ+ people who face additional hate because of the color of their skin.

“We know that in different communities, you feel more safe and more valued based on the kinds of experiences that you have, and how you interact with the community around you,” they said. “If an individual in an area that doesn't have that kind of support, doesn't feel like they belong, and that they really are the other in that community, I think that has such a big impact on how someone kind of moves through their life and how they not only feel about themselves, and what that impact is on their mental health, and other components of their health.”

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Lindsey Whittington, program manager with Colorado Health Institute.

These struggles are only compounded when LGBTQ+ people are confronted with a constant stream of hate.

“And no matter what the rhetoric is about, whatever kind of identity that is, there's no way that you can't be left with a feeling that there's something wrong with you,” they said.

The data show there are positive trends. The gay community is growing in Colorado. The Colorado Health Institute’s Access Survey, which since 2019 has captured LGBTQ+ insights, showed the community is young, educated and lives in every corner of the state, including the rural areas.

In 2023, nearly 400,000 Colorado adults said they were LGBTQ+, which amounts to 8.9% of the state’s adult population, according to the survey.

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An artist's rendering of the Center on Colfax, Colorado's largest LGBTQ+ community center.

A growing community means more resources and opportunities to find a safe space and place to thrive.

“There's so many wonderful community organizations that are doing work within the LGBTQ+ space that I think would really benefit from just if we can, you know, uplift that work that all of them are doing to make sure that young people, and LGBTQ+ members feel supported,” Whittington added.

That includes welcoming, affirming and understanding places to find mental health support including at The Center on Colfax, the largest LGBTQ+ community center in the Rocky Mountain region.
Last year, they began offering 12 free therapy sessions through the Glass Lawler Mental Health program.

“It’s a huge deal. Most places give you around three to six free therapy sessions,” said Jaylin Goodloe, Director of Mental Health Services at the Center on Colfax. “No charge, referral or insurance needed whatsoever.”

She said after the 12 therapy sessions are completed, the Center on Colfax’s referral network can help people continue their mental health journey by connecting to therapists who provide sessions through a sliding-scale fee.

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Jaylin Goodloe, Director of Mental Health Services at the Center on Colfax.

For members of the LGBTQ+ community looking for healing through past religious trauma, the Center on Colfax has a support group that meets on the first and third Wednesday of each month.

The Center on Colfax helps LGBTQ+ people connect to each other no matter where they are in their journey, including special programs for youth, seniors and the transgender community.

“I think that's what I'm left with. That there is so much negativity, but there's also so many great people doing amazing work across Colorado,” Whittington said. “It feels so valuable to get to see that happen and as a member of the community just being like yes, people care. I think that's what matters the most.”

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Jenny Morgan, co-pastor of Highlands Church in Denver.

While Whittington and Morgan work to make life in Colorado better for the LGBTQ+ community, part of that journey is to try and change hearts and minds.

“The Jesus that we follow stops people from throwing stones. The hurt they’re causing is not accomplishing what they want to accomplish because I think deep down inside many of the folks who are really good in that realm want to follow God and I think they’re being led in a way that’s so hurtful,” Morgan said.

Instead of using God and religion to divide communities, Rev. Morgan hopes to use her faith to find a common ground.

“I follow Jesus, you follow Jesus, so let’s talk about Jesus,” she said. “What would he say if he were here listening to those phrases? If he were at Pride, would he be happy that you are condemning people and damaging their mental, physical, spiritual and sexual health?”

As June wraps and LGBTQ+ celebrations come to a close, Morgan pushes back against the “God hates Pride” message.

“Pride is this beautiful, artful expression of what the world is supposed to be like and what God’s world is supposed to be like,” she ends. “All this diversity, beautiful belonging and love. Pride is an oasis.”

As Colorado LGBTQ+ people face a mental health crisis and hurtful rhetoric, voices rise above the hate


MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES FOR THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY

If you or someone you know is facing a mental health crisis, call the Trevorlifeline at 1-866-488-7386 or visit thetrevorproject.org.

YouthSeen in Denver is a nonprofit that provides mental health and wellness support to queer and transgender BIPOC youth.
To learn more about the programs and support available at YouthSeen, visit this link.

To sign up for free therapy through the Glass Lawler Mental Health Program at the Center on Colfax in Denver, click this link.

The Center on Colfax also has a resource directory where you can find affirming care and support for all areas of your life.




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