Colorado GOP’s attack on Pride Month met with disappointment, disgust

Crowds in Denver's Civic Center Park watch a musical performance on the main PrideFest stage with a background of rainbow banners.
Kevin Beaty/Denverite
The main stage at Denver PrideFest. June 24, 2023.

Updated 10:08 a.m. June 6, 2024

Republican Valdamar Archuleta heard about the email before he even saw it.

The head of the Colorado Log Cabin Republicans and the party’s candidate for the 1st Congressional District race was getting lots of text messages about an official party email sent out by the Colorado GOP Chair Dave Williams titled, “God Hates Pride.”

“I was disappointed in the state GOP, but I wasn’t surprised because last year they kind of did the same thing,” Archuleta told CPR News.

For two years now, the party has sent what Archuleta describes as “hateful” messages targeting LGBTQ Pride Month. 

“The month of June has arrived and, once again, the godless groomers in our society want to attack what is decent, holy and righteous so they can ultimately harm our children,” Williams wrote in the email.

The term “grooming” is used to describe how child molesters entrap and abuse their victims, but in recent years has been co-opted and used by people on the right to attack the LGBTQ community.

The state GOP’s account on the social-media platform X went one step further than Williams’ email, posting: “Burn all the #pride flags this June.”

Archuleta, who is gay, said these attacks don’t just hurt LGBT Republicans, but anyone in the party who has friends or family who are gay. 

“They’re going to take it personally, and even if they don’t, it’s just a bad message to send out,” he said. “It’s (also) going to make it harder for everyone running in Colorado as a Republican because everyone’s going to have to face the question of how they feel about this email.”

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Valdamar Archuleta of Denver waves an “LGBTQ For Trump” flag among supporters of President Donald Trump gathered at University and Highlands Ranch Boulevard on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

Archuleta noted he has issues with some Pride events and feels that kids should not be at those “of an adult nature,” but he stressed, “I don’t see any good that is going to come from this email.”

He added he’s gone to different GOP events across the state and has always been warmly welcomed and felt accepted.

Last June, he had a long conversation with Williams about the anti-LGBT message and how “it was a misrepresentation of us as a party. It wasn’t helping change anyone’s mind. It wasn’t helping start a conversation,” he said. This year, he isn’t going to bother. 

Instead, Archuleta declined the state party’s endorsement in the race, saying that while he would still work with the party, run as a Republican and support other Republican candidates, “I want them to recognize that this [email] is going to have consequences.”

He’s not the only one taking this step. On Wednesday, Michael DiManna, a GOP candidate for state House District 2, also declined the party’s endorsement over Williams’s email.

Williams told CPR News in a text message that the party makes no apologies for saying God hates Pride or Pride flags, writing: “It’s an agenda that harms children and undermines parental authority.”

State Republican Parties
Colorado Republican Party chair candidate Dave Williams speaks during a debate for the state Republican Party leadership position Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in a pizza restaurant in Hudson, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Williams is also running for Congress in the 5th Congressional District. Jeff Crank, his opponent in the Republican primary, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Still, Archuleta isn’t the only party member unhappy with the email and tweet. Critics of Williams’ complained the message is another sign of how the party has lost its way under his leadership.

State Rep. Richard Holtorf of Akron, who is running in the GOP primary for the 4th Congressional District, called the message inappropriate. 

“I don’t think it’s something the state party should be doing,” Holtorf told CPR News. “We should be focused on supporting Republicans, not submitting statements against Pride Month, or promoting a slate of GOP candidates.” (In Holtorf’s race, the party endorsement went to Rep. Lauren Boebert.)

GOP state Rep. Mike Lynch of Wellington, who is also competing in the CO-4 primary, agreed, saying Williams and other party leaders are trying to “distract from their horrid performance over the years.”

“Everybody is sick of us taking this to a level of violence. You know, burning stuff is kind of a violent act,” he said, referring to the post about burning Pride flags. “Can we just be adults and fix people's problems?”

Lynch added that it’s not politicians’ job to “legislate morality.”

The email also got the attention of some national conservative figures, including radio host and Fox News contributor Guy Benson.

Benson, who is gay, tweeted, “Gross and self-destructive, in my opinion!” and mocked the state party as the “Westboro Baptist Republican Party of Colorado”

CPR reached out to Colorado’s two sitting Republican members of Congress, Reps. Lauren Boebert and Doug Lamborn, for comment on the email but have not received a response.

Democratic state Rep. David Ortiz, an Army combat veteran who is bisexual, took aim at the GOP for its messaging. 

“Y’all, under your current leadership, have more in common with the Taliban than the founding fathers,” he posted on social media. “LGBTQ folks served and serve in the military. We are cops, we are firefighters, we are your family members & neighbors.”

Williams is not backing down from his rhetoric.

“The backlash we see is coming from radical Democrats, the media and pundits, and weak Republicans who want to stick their heads in the sand,” he texted. 

Party’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric hearkens back to earlier decades

The email blast also included an image with the words “God Hates Flags,” a nod to a similar phrase that uses an anti-gay slur and was adopted as the motto of Westboro Baptist Church. That church, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is infamous for picketing the funerals of combat victims and people who died of HIV.

The message also included photos of drag performers and children at Pride events and a video of the Arizona evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll, arguing in a sermon that the Pride, or “rainbow” flag, represented a demonic message.

Pride month grew out of commemorations for the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, when a raid on a gay bar sparked protests against “centuries of abuse ... from government hostility to employment and housing discrimination, Mafia control of Gay bars, and anti-Homosexual laws," according to the Library of Congress. 

Denver PrideFest. June 25, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Denver PrideFest. June 25, 2022.

In a message marking the start of Pride Month this year, Nadine Bridges, head of the LGBTQ+ rights organization One Colorado, wrote, “Despite the progress made, the LGBTQ+ community faces ongoing challenges. Discriminatory laws, harmful rhetoric, and violence are reminders of the work still needed.”

“It is precisely in this climate that Pride becomes even more significant. Community is at the heart of Pride, and no one has the right to disrupt our collective heartbeats. So, as we navigate this complex world that can be unkind, let’s hold onto the beauty we hold and let our happiness be the true narrative which defines us.”

Gay and lesbian people are victims of violent crime at more than twice the rate of heterosexuals, and trans people are victimized at an even higher rate, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The Colorado GOP’s messaging comes just weeks after eight Republican state lawmakers voted in favor of an effort to remove a gay marriage ban from the state constitution. Other past LGBTQ+ plus measures, like a law to ban conversion therapy for minors and the authorization of civil unions in 2012 also passed with some Republican support.

Williams’ anti-LGBTQ rhetoric marks a return to the Republican Party of the early 2000s, according to Seth Masket, the director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver.

“What we're seeing is only new in a very recent sense,” he said. “If you think about where we were 20 years ago — in the 2004 election that year, the Republican Party, both in many states and nationally, really decided to make a campaign against gays and lesbians a major part of that year's campaigns.”

The anti-LGBTQ politics of the 2000s was “specifically around gay marriage, but also just more generally raising fears about what allowing gay marriage and what allowing increased rights for gays and lesbians would do to our society, how it threatens children and so forth. And in that sense, the language is fairly similar to what we see today,” he added.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with news of a second candidate declining the party's endorsement because of the email.