Equality is enshrined within our state’s and nation’s constitutions. It is one of the fundamental values that shape our country. While we have seen some recent successes, the path to equality for all has not always been quick—nor has it been easy. Though Colorado has made tremendous progress in this area, more work remains to be done.
While many just started to pay attention during the historic protests following the murder of George Floyd, the movement or Black lives has been happening for generations. As a young child, Leslie recalls conversations between her mom and brother: “keep your hands out of your pockets, keep your arms up and don’t talk back.” No one should have to fear for their life because of the color of their skin.
During the summer of 2020, Leslie worked alongside protesters and members of the community to pass historic law enforcement reform which increased transparency and accountability for Colorado Law Enforcement officers and ended Qualified Immunity [SB20-217]. Since then she has passed additional legislation strengthening and expanding this reform [HB21-1250].
Leslie has been a bold advocate for racial equality since her time as Student Government President at the University of Colorado. In the Capitol Leslie advocated for numerous policies that promote racial equality including the continuation of the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission [HB18-1256]. Leslie also sponsored and passed the CROWN Act which explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of traits commonly associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locs, and twists. Black women are 80% more likely to change their natural hair to meet expectations at work and 1.5 times more likely to be sent home, or know someone who has been sent home, because of their hair. Black women aren’t the only ones impacted by this form of discrimination, Leslie spoke with people from many different backgrounds, Black men, Sikh men, Indigenous people, and more, that have been told to change their appearance based on ethnocentric beauty standards. This law protects everyone from hair-based discrimination.
Although we have made strides in the fight for racial equality, people of color continue to experience discrimination every single day. Leslie will continue to fight for change and ensure that it is implemented in a way that is just and fair.
Most recently, the Supreme Court of the United States recognized marriage as a fundamental right to which all Americans are entitled regardless of their sexual orientation. While this is a remarkable victory for the LGBTQ community and the entire nation there are many ways in which we can still improve.
As a Queer woman herself, Leslie advocates for policies and programs that support the LGBTQ community including Colorado’s transition to gender neutral markers for identification documents. Additionally, Leslie outlawed the use of a legal court defense called the Gay or Transgender Panic Defense [HB20-1307]. Before the removal of this discriminatory law in 2020, a perpetrator could claim that heir victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity not only explains – but excuses – their loss of self-control and subsequent assault.
A lot of progress has been made to turn Colorado from the “hate state” to being the home of one of the largest Pride parades in the US. Leslie will continue building on this work by combatting hateful anti-Queer legislation and advocating for policies that improves the lives of Queer Coloradans across the state.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was a landmark victory, but there is still so much work to be done. No parent should have to worry that their child will be humiliated instead of helped; no employee should have to fear choosing between their job and their rights. Equality for all must take this effort further, and break down barriers and end the fear that continues to stigmatize disabilities and limits conversations before they even start.
Leslie believes that Colorado should aim to be a state of openness and support. She will continue to work with those affected by disability -- including parents, caregivers, students, employees, and advocates -- to explore opportunities that bring more accessibility and support for the disability community to our state.
Unhoused populations are growing across Colorado. With almost 10,000 unhoused Coloradans in 2020, up 2.4% from the previous year, Colorado has the 11th highest rate of homelessness in the US. To make matters even worse, these numbers only count those who can be found in a shelter, transitional housing, or on the streets, it doesn’t account for thousands of Coloradans who are couch surfing or families that are forced to “double up” with one another. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the problem. Across the US, 20.8 million renter households (47.5% of all renter households) were already rental cost-burdened when the pandemic struck with 10.9 million renter households (25% of all renter households) paying over 50% of their income on rent.
Unhoused Coloradans have a variety of origins: mental illness, economic hardship or veterans returning from service to our country, and others. Criminalizing unhoused communities, or seeking to “move them along'' are “band-aid” solutions that fail to fix the underlying problems. In 2020 alone, Leslie and the Caring for Denver foundation released 24 grants to Denver organizations that provide housing and case management services to reduce homelessness, improve long-term recovery, and reduce the costly use of jails and emergency rooms for those with mental health and substance misuse needs. Leslie will continue fighting to fund policies and programs that truly address the root cause of homelessness, not ones that simply try and hide the problem.
Nearly one in eight of all Coloradan workers has immigrated from another country. Additionally, Folks who have immigrated make up one in six of all Denver business owners. As neighbors, business owners, taxpayers, and workers, immigrants are intrinsic to our communities and the Colorado way of life.
There are around 180,000 undocumented immigrants living in Colorado, about 3% of the population. Leslie has supported numerous policies to protect and support undocumented Coloradans such as criminalizing the extortion of folks based on their legal status, allowing undocumented residents to apply for housing assistance, and including undocumented workers in the state’s COVID recovery strategy. Additionally, Leslie fought to ensure that undocumented crime survivors are able to seek justice without fear of deportation [SB20-083].
Immigration reform and immigration policy is largely a federal issue, but the federal government refuses to act, leaving the lives of undocumented individuals hanging in the balance. Leslie urges congressional delegations to institute comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship.
Voting should be accessible and easy for all eligible voters. Same-day registration, mail ballots, and early voting are just a few policies that make Colorado a leader in voting access. We consistently have one of the highest voter turnouts in the nation, with 86.87% of all registered voters casting a ballot in the 2020 election.
Leslie fights for everyone’s right to vote. This includes those involved in the criminal justice system, especially those who are no longer incarcerated. In 2019, Leslie restored the right to vote for those on parole, impacting over 11,000 Coloradans.
Colorado’s success is irrefutable, yet voting rights remain under attack. Following the 2020 election, Republican lawmakers in Colorado attempted to pass flagrantly anti-democratic policy that would have reduced access to mail in voting as well as early voting. Leslie will continue working to advance voting rights for all Coloradans and combat attacks against our democracy.