Updated: October 13, 2011 at 12:00 am
The Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado is closing its Colorado Springs office, a symbol of gay rights in a conservative landscape for 15 years.
The Gill Foundation announced Thursday that the office at 315 E. Costilla St. will close at the end of the year and the nine employees there will lose their jobs. The fund is a program of the Denver-based nonprofit founded by Tim Gill, the creator of Quark, a computer software program.
The Gill Foundation provides grant money for programs across the state and nation — $9.4 million in 2009 and $11.8 million last year — and Gill Foundation President and CEO Tim Sweeney said that won’t change next year.
But, he said, “The loss of the physical space of the building is significant and we understand that. That’s a tough decision.”
The office was set up in 1996, the same year the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Colorado’s Amendment 2, which barred cities from passing anti-discrimination laws to protect gay people. Much of the support for that amendment had come from El Paso County.
Gays and lesbians can now serve openly in the military, and surveys have shown tolerance for gay rights here, Sweeney said.
“Attitudes have changed remarkably and it’s a statewide consensus. We’re trying to look at those changed attitudes, those changed laws and what has the most impact going forward,” he said.
And, in a recession, it is also about money. The Gill Foundation can save $750,000 to $1 million a year by relocating the Gay & Lesbian Fund to its Denver offices, money that can be given out instead. Programs that received funding this year, such as anti-bullying, support for HIV patients and gay rights advocacy campaigns, will be funded in 2012.
Beyond that, the nonprofit plans a comprehensive look at how its funds are distributed.
Former Colorado Springs mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Fund since 2003, has been offered a job as a “senior adviser,” Sweeney said.
“This has been very gratifying work, very satisfying,” said Makepeace, who is not sure if she will take the job.
She’s proud of the organization and proud of the building, which was an old garage before the Gay and Lesbian Fund refurbished it. She says it enhanced the downtown and provided a meeting place for many other groups.
The Gill Foundation has not decided if it will keep, sell or rent the building, which 16,000 people from different organizations used as meeting space last year.
The Colorado Springs Pride Center is one of the local organizations that receives money, about $25,000 a year, from the Gill Foundation. Executive director Charles Irwin is sorry to see the Gay & Lesbian Fund go.
“Yes it’s sad they will be leaving this area but they’re going to be in Denver and we talk with them on a regular basis,” Irwin said. He understands the Gill Foundation wanting to consolidate to save money.
He said the physical presence of the building helped to shape attitudes toward gays here.
“I think visibility is really what it showed, that this organization can really show that we are everyday normal people that live in the community and do the same things that everybody else does. We’re just looking for equality,” he said.
Barry Noreen contributed to this report.
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In a prepared statement, Gill Foundation President and CEO Tim Sweeney said:
“Fifteen years ago, the Gay & Lesbian Fund first began operating with a simple goal of supporting nonprofits that are working to build a better Colorado for everyone. We hoped that in the process of supporting those worthwhile nonprofits, we could demonstrate to our friends and neighbors in Colorado that gay and lesbian people care about the same things as everyone else and that we can make even more progress for our state when we all work together. In the years since we launched, the Gay & Lesbian Fund has invested more than $27.6 million in nonprofits all across the state. During this period, Colorado has become a much more inclusive and welcoming state while the economy and needs of Colorado have changed. Given the changed landscape, we believe it is time for us to evaluate how to make the greatest impact in Colorado going forward,” Sweeney said. “People’s attitudes have changed and we need to change to keep up with the new challenges and opportunities. The organization will spend 2012 determining the best way to move forward."