Get outta town: First Unitarian building, Colorado’s first LGBT landmark

by Angelica Leicht

Sure, Denver may not be some out-of-the-way small town Colorado destination, but you should still get outta town and visit the First Unitarian building (1400 Lafayette Street) in honor of Pride, and in the name of equality. It is, after all, the first official LGBTQ historical landmark in the state.

It may seem odd that a church ANYWHERE would be a gay landmark, but if you look at the history behind First Unitarian, it’s clear why this building was deemed a historical LGBT marker.

The building was erected in the 1890s, and First Unitarian has occupied the space since the 1950s. The church has long been known for its social justice work, and their involvement in the forefront of the fight for equality can be traced all the way back to the ’50s, well before any churches, community groups, or otherwise were opening their doors to, or fighting for, the gay community.

First Unitarian first began fighting for the LGBTQ community in the 1950s by offering support to the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights groups in the United States. The Mattachine Society was started in Los Angeles by communist and labor activist Harry Hay, and other branches – including the one in Denver – followed.

The group’s main goal was to serve as “a service and welfare organization devoted to the protection and improvement of Society’s Androgynous Minority,” i.e. to protect and improve the rights of gay men, who had almost no societal protections at the time. Groups like the Mattachine Society were hardly the norm at the time, but the Denver church offered the advocates a place to organize. The group moved into one of the adjacent houses owned by First Unitarian.

First Unitarian’s fight for equal rights continued over the following decades, and in the 1970s, the building became the de facto headquarters of the Gay Coalition of Denver. In fact, the Gay and Lesbian Center (now called The Center) got its start in the church’s basement. The LGBT nonprofit is still around, and these days, it’s located on Colfax Ave., one block away from First Unitarian.

In 1975, the building made even more history when it became the site of one of the first gay weddings in Colorado. Couple Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan managed to get their hands on a marriage license, which was issued by a defiant Boulder county clerk, who deemed it legal because nothing in the law forbade it. Not only was that clerk a damn-the-Man badass, but so was First Unitarian, which welcomed the wedding with open, equality-loving arms.

For all of those reasons, the building was given historical landmark status just a couple of years ago, meaning that it will forever be recognized for its contributions to the LGBTQ community. Checking out a place so rife with history is definitely worth a road trip and a fight with the Denver traffic.

Angelica Leicht

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