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Navigating the Challenges of LGBTQ+ Dating in Boulder County

Navigating the Challenges of LGBTQ+ Dating in Boulder County


Dating is hard. 

In the best of circumstances, it takes emotional energy and motivation. Fostering new relationships demands strength of will, consistency, and a pioneer-like exploration that puts Christopher Columbus to shame. What’s the old adage? Fall down seven times, let the dogs eat your heart eight? Or something like that. LGBTQ+ dating in Boulder is no different, but it does come with its own unique set of challenges.

The Boulder Scene

Three Brodsky (she/her), 46, the mastermind behind BConnected Colorado, began fostering a bisexual and queer community about eight years ago after she realized she didn’t want the bar to be the only place where she could meet queer folks. Brodsky wanted to find varied spaces where it was widely accepted to be exactly as she was. “I realized there were a lot of bi people. They’re 70% closeted. You’ll find bisexuals in sexy spaces — that’s where they can exist. That’s fine, and I don’t want that to be the only place to be where we’re allowed to exist.”

Today, under the umbrella of her Meetup group, she organizes everything from game nights to brunch, arts and crafts, and outdoor adventures. But Boulder isn’t usually a go-to location on her list. 

She said, “In Longmont, we meet at my place. In Denver, we’re at Recess Beer Garden. I might be wrong, but I don’t see a lot of queer people in Boulder. I see a lot in Longmont and Denver. The last time I went out with my girlfriend in Boulder, I remember saying, “Are we the only two queer people in this city?” It’s wealthy, and it’s also a little straight-laced.”

In some ways, Boulder appears to be supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, but when it comes down to organized gatherings, the city can be hit or miss. “I don’t know if there’s a lot of room in Boulder for artists, movers, and kinky people and people who are living non-traditional lives,” Brodsky shared.

Even so, Brodsky’s efforts through BConnected have contributed to long-term community development. “BConnected events are relaxed. Brunch lasts all day. You chat. You chat about being bi. You meet other people. There are all kinds of relationship styles and gender expressions. There are people who are coming out and people who have been out for decades. Sure you might meet someone. But if you hang out and stay for a few months, you’ll meet your partner here,” she stated.

While it can be difficult to find large, bustling LGBTQ+-friendly events in Boulder, Brodsky intends to grow BConnected to be even more inclusive in places that are receptive to the growth. She hopes that one day she’ll even find a clubhouse. “I am expanding the community this year. I stepped back to part-time at my job, so I can really commit to the group,” she told us.

When asked if there were any resources that she could share with the queer community, Brodsky stated,” Me. I’m it. It’s BConnected. That is the place to come and make friends and meet people.”

Popular LGBTQ+ Social Venues

It’s easy to assume that Boulder is mega LGBTQ+ friendly. After all, it was the first county in the nation to grant a same-sex marriage license in 1975. Wouldn’t that culture persist 50 years later? Well, not exactly. The city of Denver is known for its generous collection of gay bars, but by many accounts, Boulder is a bit of an outlier. However, there are still spaces to be found. Here are businesses that are either queer-owned or have gone above and beyond in supporting the LGBTQ+ community. 

DV8 Distillery is Boulder’s only gay club. Samuel Gunnels and Johnathan Tilley co-founded the business in 2015. Gunnels dedicated himself to event planning and cocktail making, while Tilley took on the roles of operations manager and distiller. Fully embracing the queer community like none other, DV8 is a self-proclaimed safe space for “friends, freaks, and lusty libations.” A quick search of the distillery’s website flashes quotes like: “Because normal is over.” It’s known for throwing themed parties, competitions, and unique tastings.  

In addition to DV8 Distillery, there are a number of queer-owned businesses throughout Boulder including Lindsay’s Boulder Deli, South Side Walnut Cafe, and Jungle Tiki Bar. Lindsay’s Boulder Deli is a lesbian-owned operation. Lindsay Shaw purchased Pearl Street’s Häagen-Dazs after losing her teaching job for being queer. South Side Walnut Cafe serves both breakfast and lunch and fully embraces its roots as a queer-owned business. The Jungle Tiki bar frequently hosts LGBTQ+-friendly events like Drag Night bingo and trivia as well as live music, bringing unforgettable nights to Boulder. 

The Bohemian Biergarten and The Attic Bar and Bistro are also popular queer hangouts. 

BIPOC LGBTQ+ Community in and Around Boulder

Dating as a queer person in Boulder comes with challenges. Many of those challenges are further magnified as a person of color. Chris Castaneda (They/Them/Elle), 25, grew up in Denver, but they moved to Boulder for school and have been in the area ever since. Today, they work as a Youth Program Manager for Out Boulder County, where they build and support inclusive programming efforts.

While Boulder is not the first place Castaneda chooses for a date night, they state that a queer culture does exist within the city, “It’s very well ingrained. I think we see a lot of trans and queer visibility. You’re more hard-pressed to find a place that’s homophobic from a place that’s not from a business standpoint. Our pride is fab. We have lots of support. We have lots of gender and sexuality alliances within schools.” However, the BIPOC community in Boulder is still suffering. “I think the biggest [disparity] is when brown, queer, and trans people come to this town.”

Even before they moved to Boulder for school, Castaneda felt like an outlier within the city. “I think it was a cultural difference on my end. I grew up in a first-generation Latino household. So, most of my community was made of BIPOC people. And then coming up to Boulder was not really it. It was very white-centric, very affluent. And I found that in a lot of spaces, I just couldn’t connect with people, or they just didn’t understand.” Whether due to the affluence or the cultural disparities, Castaneda found it difficult to create a community within Boulder. 

They even explored dating apps to maintain a more focused approach to connecting. “Here I am, a queer, brown person, first-generation college student, trying to navigate these spaces. It was hard to connect not just on a romantic level but also with my peers. Especially with dating apps.”

One of the most shocking things that Castaneda encountered while using dating apps was overt racism. “I got lots of death threats. People were threatening violence. People felt comfortable criticizing me. This was 2016 through 2019. Right before the pandemic. That was the culture we were getting. You could still filter by race.” Castaneda started fighting back by placing snippets in their profile, stating that they weren’t interested in racist folks. “My accounts got banned. They were reported for hate speech and violence in a liberal, progressive town like Boulder.”

A 2022 national crime victimization survey that was conducted by PLOS One found that between 2017 and 2019, LGBTQ+ community members experienced hate crimes at a rate of 6.6 per 1,000 people compared to non-LGBTQ+ members who experienced them at a rate of 0.6 per 1,000 people. Colorado isn’t immune to hate crimes. According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, LGBTQ+ hate crimes grew by 475% across the state between 2017 and 2021. 

The city of Boulder is working to make reporting hate crimes safer for LGBTQ+ members. In many ways, the region is ahead of other major cities in terms of policy and infrastructure, but it’s still not exactly a haven for BIPOC LGBTQ+ daters. 

> According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation:

Today, Castaneda is in a committed relationship and is free of dating apps. However, during that chapter in their life, they would take trips to Denver for a refresh. “That’s actually where I ended up making most of my connections,” they said.

However, they note that Denver is simply a bigger place and is not immune to many of the issues that Boulder faces. “Denver has had its own fair share of issues. What we’re seeing is erasure through mass gentrification. You can see the history being erased from a lot of these neighborhoods through these up-and-coming towns like RiNo and Upper Highland, which used to be brown and black neighborhoods.”

Boulder was segregated as well. “The city of Boulder has incredibly racist roots. It was segregating its Mexican community that worked in the agricultural field for decades. You had the train tracks. You had the white community over here and the brown community over here. There was a lot of pricing people out. I don’t think a lot of people realize the whiteness of Boulder was very intentional.” Today, the Boulder population is 78.1% white, while 10.7% identifies as Hispanic, and 5.9% as Asian. Dating as a queer or trans person of color remains complicated within the region.

Castaneda said, “Everyone wants to be an ally until you have to give up something of yours to share equity. The towns in Boulder are very anti-homeless. They’ll say, ‘We’ll take care of you to make sure you’re not in the city.’” 

Out Boulder County does offer emergency $800 grants for the “hard-hit LGBTQ Community” in Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer, and Weld Counties. But the gesture is a bandage solution for a much larger issue.

In fact, housing is one of the greatest infrastructure challenges that Boulder and Colorado’s LGBTQ+ community faces. “We’ve been seeing housing as one of the biggest issues for our queer community. They know [Colorado is] a queer space, and then you can’t afford rent. A room is double the rent of your previous location. Even with minimum wage trying to keep up. Even on our current minimum wage, we can’t afford it. That, by far, is the biggest issue. It’s so hard to qualify for housing, and there’s not a lot of affordable housing within Boulder, and there’s been really no leeway or progress in that area,” said Castaneda. In a city where finding housing is difficult, it’s no surprise that dating suffers as well. 

Still, Castaneda notes that there is hope for BIPOC LGBTQ+ folks. “I think there are spaces for us regardless of what may initially be present. We’ve been working on carving them out.”

Policy & Infrastructure

Boulder still has leaps and bounds to travel before exhibiting true support and equality across the region, but the city is slowly making progress. Pam Davis (she/her), the assistant city manager of the city of Boulder, became the city’s first LGBTQ+ liaison when she was brought onto the team in 2018. She identifies as queer, which is one of many reasons why she works to improve inclusion while eliminating discrimination throughout the city. 

Boulder’s most intense work supporting the LGBTQ+ community began about eight years ago. Much of the motivation for making improvements to the city’s infrastructure was to improve outcomes on the Municipal Equality Index, a measurement of 500 cities across the nation, and how laws, policies, and services reduce discrimination. In 2019, Boulder achieved a 100% on the Index for the first time and has been dedicated to maintaining it ever since. 

Davis explained, “Some of that had to do with some policy and programmatic changes, everything from changing out building codes to having gender-neutral single-stall restrooms to having an anti-bullying policy for our youth.” The city’s work has also supported LGBTQ+ visibility. 

Providing a liaison for the queer community added a layer of safety and comfort to the Boulder community. “I get a few messages per month about community members or parents of community members who are heading off to college. They ask ‘What is it like in Boulder? Should I be worried?’ I can provide that from the first point of contact.” Having a person within the city’s infrastructure that can help highlight LGBTQ+ resources and advocate on the queer community’s behalf has made a noticeable impact throughout Boulder. 

Additionally, Boulder’s police department employs officers with a similar function. “In our police department, we have specific police officers who are identified as LGBTQ+ liaison police officers. And I think that’s really exciting,” said Davis, “There are some anecdotes about people who might’ve been connected with a police liaison where they could either go and talk about an incident that happened to them or a question about an ongoing police report. But they knew they were talking to an LGBTQ+ officer who either identified as a community member or who had extra training and lived experience to support that.” Both Boulder County Sheriff’s Department and University of Colorado Boulder have enacted an LGBTQ+ liaison program to help support the queer community. 

Castaneda agreed that these programs are an important addition to the region. “I have used the LGBTQ+ police liaison program. That’s not out of the question. Also, honestly, I don’t think it’s wide knowledge. When you’re in crisis it’s really hard to ask for a liaison. And I don’t think people are as aware of it even though we try to promote it.”

Like the rest of the nation’s cities, Boulder still has work to do when it comes to supporting the LGBTQ+ community. But Davis shared a positive outlook, “I think, I would say from my own experience that we’re toward the leading edge in terms of really exploring all the intricacies of how our municipal services can be more inclusive.” 

The next step in the process could be supporting businesses with similar values and structures. “One area that we’ve talked about exploring as we contract with other businesses — we’re looking to make our city dollars support businesses that have these kinds of inclusion policies.”

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