Colorado leaders mourn Gloria Tanner, the first Black woman to serve in state Senate

Colorado Women's Hall of Fame
Gloria Tanner was Colorado’s first Black state senator and the second Black person to hold a leadership position in Colorado’s House of Representatives.

Former state Sen. Gloria Tanner has died at the age of 86. Tanner, a Democrat, spent 17 years serving in the legislature. She began her journey in the House of Representatives before being appointed to the state Senate in 1994.

In addition to being the first Black woman elected to the state Senate, Tanner served as Minority Leader in the House, becoming the second Black person to hold a leadership position in that chamber. She also spent two years on the powerful Joint Budget Committee.

According to a profile written by her alma mater, MSU Denver, Tanner got her start in politics working for two other Black pioneers in state government, Lt. Gov. George Brown and state Sen. Regis Groff. During her time in the legislature, Tanner helped pass Colorado's safe haven law, which allows parents to anonymously surrender a newborn they can't support. She also sponsored bills on civil rights for women and people of color, worked to give a property tax break to some older homeowners, and secured funding to preserve the black homestead site of Dearfield.

Tanner was also heavily involved in trying to make Black people more politically involved in the state and nationally. Alongside Groff, she started the Colorado Black Roundtable. She also cofounded the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women. In 2002, she was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame.

“Senator Tanner was a trailblazer whose determination and commitment to Colorado improved the lives of all people in our state, and I join Coloradans in mourning her passing," said Denver Rep. Leslie Herod in a statement. Herod is head of the Colorado Black Democratic Legislative Caucus. "Gloria was a mentor to us all... she fostered an entire generation of leaders who will continue her legacy and make their mark on our state and nation– just as she would have wished."

Numerous other Colorado leaders took to Twitter to honor Tanner, describing her an inspiring mentor and advocate for their political development. Denver mayor Michael Hancock worked on one of Tanner's campaigns while he was still in college.

In an interview with Colorado Politics a decade ago, Tanner said it is important to have people in the legislature from different backgrounds and with different life experiences.

“There wasn’t a day that passed I didn’t walk through that Senate and know there were other people who laid the groundwork,” she told the publication. “I came in on the shoulders of a lot of great people... there were others before me who laid the groundwork. Our young people need to realize that, we need to give back to keep it going.”