By learning about Colorado Springs’ anti-LGBTQ+ history, the UCCS community can strengthen its allyship and advocacy to protect the rights of queer people today — particularly when it comes to the protection of LGBTQ+ content and topics in student publications all around Colorado Springs.
In 1996, Palmer High School’s student newspaper, the Lever, published two articles in their Oct. 24 edition related to LGBTQ+ issues and opinions that raised a great deal of uproar in the Colorado Springs community, especially from the Christian publishing industry Focus on the Family and local conservative organization Colorado for Family Values.
The front-page article, which detailed the various issues and obstacles faced by gay teens in the ’90s, became the object of controversy among conservative Christians who claimed that mentions of same-sex attraction violated the proposed student conduct policy drafted by CVF.
Based on the events that followed, homophobic individuals and institutions — including Focus on the Family and CVF — had an astoundingly negative impact on the freedom and protection of student journalistic rights in Colorado Springs, especially when it came to the promotion of LGBTQ+ issues and beliefs.
In 1997, the Gay and Lesbian Times wrote, “Colorado for Family Values wants the Colorado Springs school board to adopt a policy promoting abstinence, affirming traditional marriage and discouraging sex outside marriage in ‘every aspect of student life.’”
“Will Perkins, the head of CVF, said the group has printed 130,000 postcards calling on the school board to pass the student conduct policy. He said about 100 local churches are behind the effort,” the article said.
In addition to sparking controversy from Focus on the Family and CVF in the late ’90s, Palmer High School was also reintroduced to the public eye following a yearbook-related incident in 2012.
The adviser of the yearbook team, Angie Selman, encouraged the censorship of an LGBTQ+ couple at the school by instructing yearbook editor Coco Toribio to exclude photos of them in the yearbook. “Cut the gay couple, or I’ll cut the page,” she said to Toribio.
The incident, which was excused by Selman as an issue of PDA, reached a wider audience following an article released by the Student Press Law Center detailing the situation. This provided a platform for Toribio and another yearbook editor, Anna Carmichael, to speak on their negative experiences with Selman’s leadership.
According to Carmichael, anytime she or Toribio questioned Selman’s authority, especially when it came to promoting student diversity in the yearbook, they were kicked out of class. Their individual work on the yearbook was also cut out entirely due to Selman’s bias against the queer community and determination to take control of the yearbook team despite being an adviser, not a student.
The incident marked Palmer High School as a hotspot for LGBTQ+ discourse in Colorado Springs.
According to the Colorado student free expression law, student journalism in Colorado — which was legally protected before and during the Palmer High School yearbook incident — states that “students of the public schools shall have the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press, and no expression contained in a student publication, whether printed, broadcast, or online, and whether or not such publication is school-sponsored, is subject to prior restraint.”
It continues that “an advisor may encourage expression consistent with high standards of English and journalism.”
Moving forward, Palmer High School added a gender-inclusive bathroom in 2016, becoming the first high school to do so in southern Colorado according to KRDO. The Springs still has room to grow, but increasing awareness of queer history can help enact change in the future.
Photo caption: Palmer High School is located in District 11. Photo courtesy of gazette.com.