Boulder’s discriminatory occupancy law
Updated: Sep 4
By Blake Josephine Stone. Also published as a "Guest Opinion" in the Daily Camera on September 3.
"Two months before I moved from my home state of Tennessee to Boulder in 2004, I found myself chanting: 'We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it' as I circumnavigated the Rhea County Courthouse. Rhea County commissioners were trying to ban homosexuals from living in their county.
The experience of being swarmed by hordes of irate men from pickup trucks, greasy-haired preachers, rifles and Bibles thrust in my direction as I locked arms with my girlfriend and others so none of us could be separated, etched an unforgettable feeling in my memory. Because I need magpies and mountains more than the fickle regard of humans, I have called Boulder home for the last 16 years. But very few of my LGBTQ family have found a way to stay here in Boulder. That way for me was living in an illegal co-op for eight years with three housemates I considered my chosen family. Due to Boulder’s discriminatory occupancy law, we could not buy a home together or rent a house properly without lying on our lease. For a few of those years, it was still illegal for us to marry and conversations of domestic partnerships were frequent. We might have done it too — if not for being generally unwilling to do a legally dubious thing in order to stop doing another legally dubious thing. (Besides, a 'domestic partnership' to gay friend rings domestic pet of patriarchy to this lesbian.)
It is still shocking to me that Boulder would limit the rights of its citizens in the name of anti-density in such a way that the very people who create the least children and ecological footprint are shut out. While the law does not outright ban queers, it was designed for our elimination. Its continued existence informs me that a lot of Boulderites have no idea of its impact.
Imagine this: Your father is dying of pancreatic cancer in another state and you have subleased your room in Boulder where you have lived for the last seven years to care for him when your housemates tell you they have been reported by a “neighbor” (a home being 'flipped' next door) for over-occupancy. Your cat, chosen family, and possessions are at the whim of a city inspector while you’re driving to chemo appointments and watching your father writhe in pain every day until his death at the age of 59.
This inspection happened twice in the six months I was away caring for my father. We were friendly with the two previous neighbors, but when they sold their north Boulder homes our right of free association, privacy, and how we defined our family was undermined.
You see, the 'unrelated people' occupancy zoning is directly rooted in the redlining efforts, post-Fair Housing Act of 1964. Via civil heteronormative recognitions like domestic partnerships, gay couples in Boulder have been somewhat embraced, but absent the desire to imitate our breeder and neo-liberal neighbors, we are consummately ejected. Lately, I’ve noticed a familiar feeling in witnessing Boulder residents clutch their proverbial pearls over a ballot measure that actually aligns city ordinance with the federal Fair Housing Act (Bedrooms Are For People). The image of those preachers with their little black Bibles and their fear of people like me is as vivid as ever.
Who are the supposed young people (students) relentlessly partying and trashing neighborhoods? They’re our daughters and sons, and their entitlement mirrors the values of a society that puts procreation and recreation far above the environment and community. Courts in California, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, and the Iowa legislature have ruled occupancy limits on unrelated people unconstitutional and obsolete. No — that’s not one bedroom per person, plus one – that’s getting rid of these arcane measures all together. The way I see it, Boulder had a choice — bigotry and money — or recognizing a smart compromise with the Bedrooms Are for People initiative.
Boulder chose bigotry and money. Yes, my right to who I have living in my bedrooms trumps your right to real estate investment returns and hatred of students, queers, and change. This queer is here to stay, and I’ve never asked breeder boomers with penchants for hyperbole for permission. Want non-made-up info? Google and closely read: Rademan v. City and County of Denver, Yoder v. City of Bowling Green, Ohio, City of Edmonds v. Oxford House, 'Changing Demographics of Unmarried Partners, 1996-2017' Infographic, and 'Zoned Out: How Zoning Law Undermines Family Law’s Functional Turn,' Yale Law Journal.
Oh, Boulder, evolve!"
Blake Josephine Stone holds a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Colorado Boulder, is a local poet, a former employee of Mesa Vista nursing home and Boulder Community Hospital; and is currently a graduate student at Naropa University.