There’s a six-foot fence going up around the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch in Custer County. The people who live there say they need it. They say they’ve been the target of harassment since they relocated the trans-friendly ranch there in 2020.
Soon, likely within the next month, the perimeter fence will add security to the ranch, one that also has newly installed security cameras. There’s a tension here around the ranch, so much so that co-owner Penny Logue and fellow owner Bonnie Nelson, both transgender women, carry sidearm pistols at all times. One wall of the communal geodesic dome ranch house is stocked with various assault weapons.
“There’s some degree where we want that [militaristic] perspective,” Nelson said. “All we want is to be left alone.”
The 40-acre property, apart from its status as a working sheep and alpaca ranch, also serves as “a trans and queer haven” southeast of the small mountain town of Westcliffe. Nine people live on the site currently, less than half of the planned occupancy long-term. Logue and Nelson hope to build a sustainable and scalable business not only through selling their agricultural products; they also want to one day establish properties in multiple rural places where trans people can feel safe, welcome and isolated from the discrimination they face in the traditional, cisgendered world.
The Tenacious Unicorn Ranch has been the source of a cultural flashpoint since relocating to deep red Custer County last year. A number of articles from regional and national news outlets have detailed allegations of the ranchers facing severe online threats, multiple instances of local harassment and even armed trespassing on the property itself. Logue said she believes much of the local antagonism comes from conservative militia groups in the county, who she said have threatened the ranchers at Tenacious.
“Look, we get made fun of all the time,” Logue said. “That's not even interesting to us. It's when you come onto my property with firearms, after threatening to burn my house down, that’s different.”
Yet some, including readers of the unabashedly conservative Sangre de Cristo Sentinel, say the ranch is exaggerating their claims of persecution in order to bring in large amounts of cash through online fundraising efforts.
“Long before the Tenacious Unicorns came to this valley there were hard-working ranchers living humbly and quietly asking nothing from others," said a letter to the editor published in the paper under the name Lisa Frank, Rural Custer County, CO. The letter was also dismissive of concerns from the ranchers that they have been harassed.
Transgender people across the nation regularly experience harassment. A national survey from 2011 of transgender people found 53 percent of respondents reported being verbally harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation. And 90 percent of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment or discrimination on the job. Some of them also hid who they were in order to avoid such discrimination or harassment.
In Custer County, others, including county officials, say they just want the residents of their communities to get along, no matter what their background is.
“I feel saddened that anyone, I don’t care — race, color, creed, religion, lifestyle — I don’t care, would live in Custer County and feel that they are in jeopardy,” said Custer County Sheriff Shannon Byerly.
Yet, Byerly said he does think the Unicorns have made disparaging comments about county residents in some of the recent articles about the ranch.
“In my mind, that doesn’t sound like you’re wanting to be part of something or be inclusive,” Byerly said of the ranchers. “I don’t think they did themselves any favors by taking that approach.”
Byerly added that building the high fence around their property only adds to that perception.
Logue countered that the Unicorns have engaged in a number of community-focused projects in Westcliffe, from local recycling efforts to providing local handy work to starting a community garden. The Unicorns have tried to show their affection for the people of Custer County, she said, it’s just that a small group of people make life difficult for the county’s LGBTQ residents.
“This county is stuffed full of downright amazing people, and that has nothing to do with politics. We have a lot of friends who are conservatives, but we don’t have any friends that are Nazis,” Logue said.
As for the assertion that their harassment claims are a fundraising ploy, Logue called it a “straw man argument.”
“That’s classic abuser speak is to be like, ‘Oh, well, the problem is not the abuse, but it’s that they went public with the abuse,’” Logue said. She said the recent fundraising efforts have paid for their security upgrades and farming implements like their new tractor.
She said the ranch’s goods and services have always brought in more income for the organization than their fundraising. Logue said she thinks it’s entirely appropriate to ask for online support to upgrade their facilities so members there feel more secure.
She said it’s the Unicorns right to shut their front gate and leave the world behind, just like anyone else.